I’m being given £25 as an apology from Jobcentre Plus for refusing me my right to poo. It’s true.
A few weeks ago I asked to use the toilet, explaining that I’m disabled, and was met with a firm “no” and a firmer shrug when I explained my potential humiliation on the journey home. I sought advice and I wrote to the regional manager. The money is not to put a price on my distress – or replace any ruined clothing – but as a goodwill gesture, I’m told.
I think this shows it’s worth complaining – not so Alan Bennett can write a series about you – but so you can ensure that yourself and others who may not feel able to complain are being treated properly and not dismissed like an irritation who happened to walk into the office.
I’m like an old lag at Jobcentre Plus now. I could be Bea Smith helping Doreen find her way, or Fletcher showing Godber the ropes. I realised this when a young man walked in.
I’d smiled grimly at the advisers, handed over my details and searched on the machines, as is obligatory on arrival. I’d broken the silence by laughing out loud at the lack of jobs before sitting down, people-watching. The staff wandered about, plastic-wallets in hand, passing them to each other like a slow-moving relay race while old-timers like myself went silently through the fortnightly routine.
This young man, I suspect, was a recent graduate. He looked a mix of fresh-faced, fed up and befuddled. He wore a long wool scarf and no jacket. On walking into the Jobcentre he headed to the reception point, a tiny table at which the staff collect to chatter, and just looked at them.
“Sign on?” one asked.
He nodded, not knowing he should immediately hand over his plastic wallet: this now identifies him, the cycle of his claim, his attendance point and time of signing. It also contains his Looking for Work booklet which is proof that he is a legitimate Jobseeker and, therefore, entitled to the Allowance.
He was reminded about his pack, they took it and he waited. The bouncers looked at the man, then at the advisers, then back to the man.
“Go on job point,” the adviser said.
The young man looked confused. I wanted to step in, to say “you can no longer expect full sentences. Be fair! These people could say ‘please could you go on to the job search machines and search for a job’ a hundred times a day.”
He eventually wandered to the machine. I wanted to tell him not to get his hopes up. Or down.
I people-watched for a while longer; the advisers staffing reception gathered, comparing flea bites. It seems there is an infestation of parasites: I hope no one tells the Daily Mail. The office itself is bright, the purple and red furniture arranged to add comfort. The staff are behind matching desks and they do try to be cheery – the last Tory reign saw them behind protected glass, their hearts put in to sealed tin boxes when they clocked on.
I was called to sign on. The adviser was satisfied with my efforts to find work – in fact, he seemed surprised at how much I’d done despite it being a bad fortnight. I’ve found only one job for which I am genuinely suitable, not over-qualified or lacking specific experience. I’ve applied for more.
I did find other jobs which I found entertaining: Energy Risk, the leading monthly magazine on energy risk management and trading, have “an exciting opening in its New York office for a US reporter” but I’m not convinced that blog posts angry about fuel poverty is what they want. I then found a job for Newsletter editor writing about bankruptcy aimed at financial professionals, a western European economy reporter role, and a writer knowledgeable about consumer and commercial credit. I wonder if six months on the dole and a new attitude towards finances would get me these jobs.
My own financial understanding has increased enormously alongside my maths skills. Today was no exception: I found seven pound coins in the pocket of a jacket I’d not worn for a while. Seven whole pound coins. I wondered what to do with it: a bottle of wine, perhaps? A trip into town to meet a friend? No, I topped up my gas meter. The dizzy excitement of this luxury soon passed.
I think my old bully of a maths teacher Mr Robson might be aiming the chalkboard duster as I type but I had:
£1.51 left of the £6 emergency credit used
£48.91 in unpaid surcharge debt
I added my £7 and now have:
£3.19 left of the £6 emergency credit used
£43.31 in unpaid surcharge debt
The machine took 70% of my measly seven pound payment – that’s £5.60 for the debt. Then it took £1.40 towards the emergency credit.
I should’ve got that bottle of wine.
Spotted: Three paid internships on journalism.co.uk and one unpaid, with Adfero.
Number of jobs I have applied for since last signing on: 6. I also did some networking, sought some voluntary work and attended entrepreneurial skills for jobseekers