For the past six months I’ve been visiting the Job Centre as someone who requires their service as well as serving as their unpaid General Administrator for a brief period from October to December. I have to say I haven’t liked anything about my interactions with them at all and through my experiences I’ve realised that they’re a dreadful organisation and are a real problem at the heart of our society.
First, I’ll talk about what it was like to be a customer. I need to pay £60 a week as rent and they were giving me £57, so, they weren’t giving quite enough. It also costs £5 to travel there and back on the bus, but at least they do cover transport costs… Or, at least half of them; they have a ludicrous policy of not covering your travel money on ‘Signing Days’ which, for me, a person who is 21 or younger, is every other weekly visit. So they only really cover 50% of the travel costs, if that. They never bring it up and you can’t have them automatically add it to your payments either, so, if you forget to say something, you don’t get it. They never do back payments either.
I suppose the worst thing wasn’t that they only gave me £57 a week (which wasn’t enough) but the fact that they had decided that, until I left them, I would only have £57 a week. During those six months, I had little bits of part time and temporary employment here and there, which you would have thought would be a nice financial aid for me, but, nope! If I earned more than £5, every penny I earned was taken out of my payments. So, really, it makes applying for part time work, especially part time work that you don’t even like, almost a complete waste of time. It will be a new addition to your CV and I guess that’s all you’re supposed to take from it, because every bit of work you do while at the Job Centre will feel like it was unpaid.
But, maybe they’ve got really good customer service skills and are really helpful? Nope to both things. I can very quickly explain all the ‘help’ they give you in your job search; they’ll print off an advert for one random job in the area, tell you to apply for it and if you don’t they’ll cut you off. So, it just boils down to negative reinforcement, really. It’s also painfully obvious that you’re not seen as a person to them, rather just another number in the system. Despite the fact that I did a work placement there for a couple of months, even my allocated ‘work coach’ struggled to remember my full name the whole time (even though it was written on the screen in front of her!). Anything you tell them about the kind of work you’re interested in doing is always completely forgotten by the next time you come in (or probably as soon as you leave the room) and I can’t honestly say I was given any ‘help’ at all when it came to finding a job. No pointers on making CVs or cover letters, no advice on what a degree can do.
Though it was while I was working there on my work placement that I realised just how awful it was there. I had to sign a confidentiality form before I started, so I shall have to tread lightly in regards to what I can say now. One of my duties there was to sort their incoming and outgoing mail and, fairly regularly, the incoming mail contained complaints and these complaints illustrated quite clearly that the Job Centre is deeply inconsiderate of the unwell and the disabled. Not that they’re considerate of any of their customers; when I had to help customers on the computers (which was one of my duties) the staff would often make derogatory comments about them when they were out of earshot. Often, rather hypocritically, they would joke that customers were ‘slow’ because they couldn’t use the computers well, despite the fact that the majority of the staff there only had the most limited understanding of how to operate their computers. And if making fun of them isn’t bad enough, there were at least two occasions where a ‘job coach’ actively decided to lie to their customer before they arrived!
The customers really are nothing to them though; for a few days I was asked to carry boxes of files up stairs so that they could be filed later. I didn’t know the correct way to file the papers, and I told them so, only to be told every day that I’d be told how to ‘tomorrow’. Eventually tomorrow arrived over a week later and they told me how to file them (in two seconds “alphabetical by name” so goodness only knows why I wasn’t told sooner) so I went upstairs to file these ten boxes full of paper work, only to find that they had sent somebody up a little earlier to destroy them and they were already gone! I certainly hope that didn’t cause trouble for anyone, but it almost certainly did.
These are the only things I remember at the moment, though there are doubtlessly other stories of their awful uncaring attitude which I’m forgetting for a second. I’ve also said nothing of their sanction-happy mentality; they’re rewarded for sanctioning customers and cutting off their money and so are always keen to do so; I, thankfully, was able to avoid this, though my brother was given a two month sanction for failing to apply for a job which he wasn’t shown how to find online; how many of the less computer-literate customers must get sanctioned for this? And how many of them really need the money? How many will starve without it? It’s disgusting and I sincerely hope that some changes are made soon.