unemployed hack is back … differentiating arses from elbows

I went to sign on today. After six months of being a part-time lecturer – with a bit of journalism thrown in – I’m now an unemployment statistic once more.

I arrived for my 9.30am appointment, clutching my CV, and “hopped” on the job points before I could be told to. I searched for lecturer jobs, journalism jobs, PR, even had a quick look for something in libraries but found nothing near where I live. Although, Salford MP Hazel Blears is looking for a parliamentary assistant, should you be interested.

There were a few jobs nationally I could apply for but were I able to afford to relocate – to get on my proverbial bike – then I doubt I’d need Jobseekers’ Allowance in the first place.

I found a seat, waited, looking around the Job Centre. The haemorrhoid-inspired decor remains. The posters haven’t changed either: we’re still promised “the work you want, the help you need”, “yes, you can get a job” and “jobs for everyone” alongside pictures of men with drills and women cutting hair.

A man arrived with an Eastern European accent. He looked as fed up as me but more bewildered as I’m an old hand by now. I wondered whether he’d be considered a threat to British jobs or a dole sponger for having rode his own proverbial bike and tried but failed to find work elsewhere: I suppose it’d depend on which right-wing fool was judging him on which day. With almost 25 million unemployed in Europe you’d think it obvious he’s not to blame.

There was a woman in a smart business suit at the job points next to a man in a beanie hat and another woman in a shalwar kameez. One man printed off reams of jobs to go for and I suspected he was new to the process and that his enthusiasm will soon wane.

After a 30-minute wait I was called to see an advisor. Some details were taken then I was asked to return in two hours for a second appointment with a different advisor. I then signed by Jobseekers’ Agreement and next week I’ll attend another interview with another advisor … at least there’s job creation at Job Centre Plus because it takes fewer people to make a Subway sandwich.

Conflicting information given led one man to raise his voice at an advisor – resulting immediately in colleagues checking “all was okay”. While I can’t condemn the support of colleagues watching each other’s backs – I can entirely understand the man’s frustrations. I was told by one advisor that I can’t claim Housing Benefit at Job Centre Plus but have to go to the library to do so. This made no sense to me but I was repeatedly told it was the case. So, I checked my local council website and the information provided there was the complete opposite. I asked again – at my second interview – and was told an application is made automatically when applying for Jobseekers’ Allowance. An inability to differentiate arses from elbows crossed my mind.

But rather than be undermined by the bureaucracy I’ve made a promise to myself not to let it get me down. I don’t want to lose sleep the night before I sign on then collapse in a stressed heap the moment I’ve done it. I don’t want to be demoralised by the thinly veiled put downs, the suggestions I play down my qualifications and experience or the looks of contempt as soon as you look like your unemployment could be a long-term reality.

And I still refuse to shoulder the blame for mass unemployment experienced by millions of workers across the globe and the 20,546 people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance in my city alone.

I also refuse to buy into the idea that it is somehow heroic, stoic, noble to take a job on National Minimum Wage rather than claim benefits. Of course Tories will cry “get a job, any job” and act as if supermarkets employ an infinite amount of shelf-stackers … ignoring the fact that someone with a degree taking that job means someone else is going without while further ignoring the fact that thanks to Workfare and money-grubbing supermarkets those “jobs” aren’t jobs but “work for benefits”.

I would ask that, if you are thinking of responding to me with the romantic notion that all workers will find a job just so long as they’re willing or that people choose to live on benefits, please read this article about people whose benefits are being withdrawn. You know you wouldn’t choose to live like that so why imagine anyone else would?

All in all not a great day but I was made to feel better knowing it could be worse – I could work for the Job Centre and, like any prison warden, spend my life in a place most people try to avoid.

The only thing to do now is to be more politically active … as brutal Tory cuts radicalise a lot of angry workers I’ll be campaigning with them.

Job to apply for: Part-time post 60 miles away from where I live so unlikely I’ll be able to afford travel expenses

Top Tops for Journos claiming JSA: Make notes in shorthand during the interviews – it freaks them out

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9 thoughts on “unemployed hack is back … differentiating arses from elbows

  1. I would say ‘welcome back’ but I don’t mean it in that way at all. I’m sure we would all much rather read about you doing good worky stuff instead. I hope this time is much better than last time and feel free to borrow my flying porcine any time you like x

  2. How much do you get for signing on?

    If you register as self employed and state you work over 35hrs you’ll get £50-odd quid a week in tax credits without having to go thru the demoralising process of visiting the jobcentre weekly or fortnightly. Seems like a much better option.

  3. It’s a nightmare they are refusing to pay me at all despite making me sign on every other week and refusing to allow me to do any re training for a new job They decided to class me as self employed since I tried to buy a franchise and failed because of lack of funding. Trying is obviously not a good thing these days

    • Get yourself to Citizen’s Advice, if you haven’t been already. There seems to be a culture of stopping payments – for missing appointments and other reasons – clearly intended to mess with the jobless figures. I was freelance before I signed on last time and it made no difference – and, with cruel irony, the dole these days encourages you to try to start businesses. They offer a course on how to do so. You could also write to your MP if it’s not a Tory?

  4. I’m in exactly the same boat as yourself, only job available to me in my area right now are call centre jobs. Even then they’re only for 6 months contracts or p/t.

    It used to be that you could get subbing shifts if you were stuck, but even then they are few and far between.

    I really want to start being politically active again but they’re going out of their way to criminalise that as well now. It’s so fucking depressing.

    • I think the only thing that will keep me sane is political activity! You’re right though I’ve survived before in shift work for many years – never ideal but kept the wolf from the door. Now it is just impossible to find anything … or you write for nothing for Huff Post while they make a profit!

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