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