It was astounding how much the Jobcentre had changed.
When I was first unemployed a decade ago, following graduation in the summer of 2008, the queue usually went out of the entrance.
Today there was only one person in front of me with sleeves of tattoos, ripped jeans and a cap. He was sent downstairs to the long-term unemployed section. I had been there for one appointment before I finally got work. That is where you go when you have been down and out for more than six months. It is like going down into hell, a pit of despair and depression with “customers” who look like they gave up on life a long time ago.
Today was my first appointment at Jobcentre Plus plc. Hopefully my one and only, I thought, as I scanned those waiting. They were all on their phones with the exception of one young guy who had his headphones on. There was a chair for everyone today, I had never seen the Jobcentre this quiet. Five years ago in 2013, there were always people milling around the lobby as there weren’t enough seats to go round. There would be maybe 30 people waiting. Today there were probably about 8. The Jobcentre is a micro snapshot of our economy. From where I was sitting, the economy had never been so strong.
There were two mothers with prams and I was soothed by a babbling baby as I read a book about the experience of flying by a pilot. It was a thought-provoking and I was able to get absorbed.
I lost track of time but I must have been waiting at least 20 minutes. The advisor apologised. He was clearly rushing because he was behind, but he couldn’t do enough to help. He said that I needed to come to the office with more paperwork about my savings and that because of these, I would get around £20 per week to live on. I am not going to spend it though because that is for my future. I did not work and save for five years just to spend it all in hard times. There was hardly any point in going through the long, painful and irritating process for £20 a week. But at least it was something, beggars can’t be choosers.
In 2008 when I was claiming unemployment benefit, all you had to do was sign a piece of paper. When I brought in evidence of work the advisor smiled and said “it’s ok love, I don’t need to see that, just come back in two weeks”. Those were the days when you were trusted to get on with it without being pushed. It was relaxed and painless. In 2011 I was bounced back to the dole after a temporary job ended and I was told I would need to bring evidence of job searching every two weeks. That was no problem. Then I was told I needed to fill in a booklet instead. When I saw them two weeks later I’d finished the booklet with evidence of job searches and applications and asked for another. You should’ve seen the look on the advisor’s face.
Flash forward to 2018 and I have been asked to “follow the Jobcentre on Twitter” and “publish your jobseeker status on social media”. I have already broadcast my embarrassing job status on that I told him. I also said I thought Twitter was for twits and didn’t use it on principle, but he told me that that was actually how people got work these days. I was stunned. So in 2018, not only do I have to presumably show evidence of looking for work every two weeks, probably attend job skills workshops every month, register to their “job match” service, sign multiple times and in exactly the same way on a digital machine every two weeks, I now have to join the Twitter twits and “follow” companies. Then I have to sign a legally-binding contract agreeing to all that or I don’t get a penny. Next they’ll be telling me to “like” the Jobcentre on Facebook.
Someone give me a job. Fast.