The Semantics of Signing

20141117_134557When you apply for JSA and are required to go for your first interview with the advisor to whom you have been allocated, you are required to sign a claimant commitment.  This sets out the deal in terms of what is required of the claimant in return for his or her £72.40 per week (£57.35 if under 25).   This is a three page form, the last half page of which is dedicated to “My Claimant Statement” which is a 10 bullet point list of things you are required to have understood and accepted or be committed to.

In case the claimant didn’t 20141117_140529understand the first time, and just to emphasize the contractual asymmetry in the obligations and responsibilities of the 2 parties, the same points are repeated over 4 pages of the “My Work Plan” booklet that must accompany every visit to the Jobcentre.

Now if we can see past the glaring omission of the responsibilities of the Jobcentre to the claimant and the lack of any effective process available to the claimant by which they can be held to account, there are a couple of things that can be said regarding the precise language used and what it reveals about the attitudes at the DWP.

It is as if these documents are the result of merging two distinct contributions: one the work of a balanced and mature individual, respectful of others and aware of the existence of alternative viewpoints, and the other the officious and preconceived invective you might expect from Alan Partridge if you took him out and bought him 5 pints of Stella.  For example, from the “My Claimant Statement” we have:

  • I understand I must attend the Jobcentre when required to do so.
  • I understand my coach may require me to take other specific actions to improve my chances of finding work.
  • I understand my coach may require me to take part in certain schemes to help me improve my chances of finding work.

Then a few lines lower:

  • I understand Jobcentre Plus may seek feedback from employers about any jobs they have told me to apply for.

Similarly from the “My Work Plan booklet we have on the first page:20141117_140820

  • I understand I must attend the Jobcentre when required to do so.

and later in the booklet under “Your responsibilities” it is explained that benefit will be lost for 13 weeks, 26 weeks or 156 weeks if you:

  • refuse or fail to apply for or accept a job which your Coach has notified to you without good reason.

Then on the next page under “Attending the Jobcentre”:

Remember – to get Jobseeker’s Allowance you must come to the Jobcentre each time we tell you to.

and on the next to last page under “My appointments”:

I will attend appointments with my Coach when I am told to.


The italics above have been added by me.  What seems to require an explanation is the departure from the polite language of requests that would be expected when addressing an adult and the apparently random adoption of an imperious tone which might better suit a Victorian classroom or the pages of the Slavery Code applicable to a 19th century cotton plantation.

Such considerations as these should not be dismissed as unimportant or without consequence.  They play an active role in the psychological decline of the claimant, aiding in the process of undermining his or her self image and aligning their expectations in order that they be commensurate with the treatment they are likely to receive by the DWP.

When I returned home after signing on the 17th October someone from the benefits centre did indeed call me.  Unfortunately they again called my mobile phone so I was unable to record the call.  However, I can remember fairly clearly what they said.  Apparently now the passport document had been acknowledged but this document having been missing from the initial application had now meant that it had been passed on to new claims so there would be a two week processing time from the time they decided to acknowledge the document.  We were now looking at a mere week to 10 days and I could expect a letter telling me of my entitlement and perhaps shortly after that a payment.  Yippee.

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