Month: September 2014

There is no greater tedium…

So, I became unemployed again from the 1st September 2014.

20140929_210512_1I filled in my application for JSA online and descended to the upper level of the newly renovated jobcentre with a bit more caution this time round.  The interviewer was an unnervingly nice guy who appeared to be genuine and sincere and even spoke to me with respect as though I was a human being and so was he.

Maybe I had just been unlucky last time in being accidentally allocated an intellectually challenged, ill-tempered pre-cambrian monocellular lifeform as my advisor.  I began to allow myself to think positively, but like a london cabbie at a metaphysical relativists convention, the whining voice of realism in the back of my mind kept bringing me back down to Earth.

Then sure enough- just like the last time, after making my claim, thinking I’d satisfied all the requirements, ticked all the boxes, applied for free school meals for the kids, been to sign on again and waited- nothing happened.  Two weeks after making my original claim I received this characteristically unhelpful example of correspondence from the DWP.

Now someone at the DWP, someone who works in communications, is very proud of this letter template.  It achieves three things which although  unremarkable individually, when implemented simultaneously with such masterful precision clearly demonstrate the skill and efficiency with which the DWP goes about achieving its aims.

Its success is in first gaining control of the readers mental and emotional state which is then subjected to a violent psychological assault.  The genius however is in achieving this so efficiently as to provide no real useful informational content.  This means that the reader is brought to a state of alarm which then grows in intensity while he is compelled to keep reading and re-reading the seemingly simple sentences multiple times searching in vain for a clue as to what the correspondence is actually telling him.

Yet this is not all.  The violence of the emotional attack and the lack of any useful information or apparent cohesiveness would not in themselves provide any defense against the intelligent analysis of the most sophisticated reader able to retain enough emotional stability so that the sharpness of his intellect might be employed to reveal the underlying banality of the missive.   The faculties of even the greatest minds are however invariably thwarted when the smokescreen of ambiguity and scattering effect of the multiple  irrelevances are encountered for the first time.  Even seasoned veterans of of the system are sometimes left wondering if maybe on closer inspection there might have been some important quantum of information lurking within the confusion but understand the hazards of disorientation which would almost certainly defeat them if they were to read any further than their NI number before tossing such things directly into the bin.

My history with the DWP

20140929_210211The first time in recent history that I had reason to visit the jobcentre was on becoming involuntarily unemployed around about  July 2012.

I had worked at the small company for about nine years earning a pretty modest salary for a financial occupation in the City of London.  I lived then as I still do in a two bedroom flat in Hackney and I don’t own a car.  The flat is pleasant enough and would be quite sufficient if It housed a couple with maybe one young child.  My wife and I have three sons between the ages of four and ten so it is a bit of a squeeze.

Even my relatively modest lifestyle though left me with no surplus at the end of the month but that summer two years ago I wasn’t too worried. Apart from the fact that I fully expected to be in gainful employment again within two or three months, I was confident that the discerning folk in the firing line at the jobcentre would recognise me as no workshy benefit scrounger as I naively wandered down the road for my interview with an advisor.

To be fair, the first interview was fine.  I overlooked the condescending and offensive tone of the jobseekers agreement and happily signed everything to get out of the place as fast as possible.  But every subsequent visit lowered my expectations, drained my energy and left me feeling less relevant  As for the advisor I’d been allocated, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite so good at conveying with so few words just how much contempt they have for me, or just how vanishingly small the probability they ascribe to the notion that I may be telling the truth.  It’s difficult to imagine how anyone can ever hope to go anywhere once they’ve made the mistake of visiting the job centre.

After the second time I was sanctioned I think I ended up spending most of my time studying the advisers handbook and hardly had time to look for work.

The basic mistake I made was in thinking that, having paid the best part of £2,000 each month for the previous decade for the luxury of living in a modern society with an expensive welfare state, I would be treated as any customer who calls on his insurance policy to provide some benefit when the worst happens.  What I expected was at least a few weeks grace in which they would pay out my claim no questions asked.  I was prepared to be given a progressively harder time the longer I remained unemployed but that wasn’t the plan; I just wanted to cash in my national insurance policy for the six to eight weeks until I was bound to find something and be given any support I required.  I didn’t want to be worrying daily about how I was going to get through the week and feed the kids and pay the rent, all of which seriously impede the ability of the average person to remain positive, get interviews and ultimately secure a job.

Unfortunately that’s not how the benefits system in this country works.  Everything is set up ensure that once you are successful in making your claim there is a very good chance that you will be unemployed for the long term.  The process of extracting any of the benefits that you are due is so excruciatingly agonizing, liable to termination at any stage with no explanation offered and requires so much of the resources that are needed for actually finding work, that once the main benefit is being paid and all the dependent benefits contingent on the main award are in place, the unavoidable reaction is to dig in, bed down, keep everything ticking over and then start thinking about cash in hand work or drug dealing to supplement your income.

I was one of the lucky few who manage to find a way forward despite the curse of the jobcentre.  After about eight debilitating months on the dole, just when I had resolved to sign off anyway and go and sell my arse on hampstead heath as a better stop-loss strategy than continuing my sanctioned claim, I managed to get something together with a couple of former colleagues and re-entered the land of the living — for 18 months at least.