It wasn’t festive at the Job Centre. There was no tinsel on the job search machines, no tinny Christmas carols playing over the muttering. A Christmas tree didn’t block the way to the disabled toilet. It all looked as it always did for my first pre-Christmas sign-on.
I don’t have to sign-on again now until January: the office is closed when I’m next due to visit. I explained to the adviser, not my usual one, I might be able to sign off temporarily.
“Take it,” she spat, with the excitement and ulterior motive of a busy mum feeding veg to a resentful child. “It will look good on your CV and –”
It was my turn to butt in. “If I can afford to I will but I need first to check that once pension, NI contributions and tax is taken out I can still afford to live on it. I’m in debt to HMRC, you see – ”
“If it’s part-time work at less than 16 hours you might be entitled to keep some benefits –”
“It’s seven hours a week at £33 an hour.”
“Right then, that takes you way above the limit for having additional benefits.” She thought for a moment. “I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to put this into the system.”
She started to type intensely as I looked on. She caught my eye momentarily then looked back to the screen before speaking.
“It seems like a con,” she said, “because it looks like your going for this job was the idea of Jobcentre Plus but no one here will believe that.”
I didn’t really care who took the glory for my having potentially found ten week’s work through my contacts, or whether other staff at Jobcentre Plus thought this woman I’d never met before found me work within minutes of our meeting: I needed to know about tax, NI contributions and this, I was told, is not in the Jobcentre Plus remit.
Once she had typed the information, making the Fairy Jobmother look like a slacker, she continued with the rest of the process. I had to sign-on, receive a letter explaining when my next mandatory meeting is, another letter telling me when I next sign-on due to the Christmas period: then I handed her my Looking for Work booklet.
I’ve added much to the booklet in recent weeks: I’ve considered teacher training, looked for funded PhDs, sent a course I’ve written to a local University, sent CVs on spec and applied for six jobs. This is more than my three things a week I have to do for my Jobseekers’ Agreement and is the sort of lateral thinking for which I want congratulating. I pushed the booklet towards her, like it was a Christmas card I’d made at school.
“Oh, I don’t look at them,” she said, the metaphorical glitter falling off my offering. “I keep saying there’s no point in us looking at them. I mean, you could write anything you want to in that.”
She’s right, of course. I could but I don’t. I might start putting in my dream jobs of Volcanologist and Bat Sanctuary Cleaning Attendant to see if anyone notices.
Here unemployed protestors take to the streets of London and one woman explains what it’s like to be a qualified worker attending Jobcentre Plus.