Jobcentre Experiences

It’s been some time since I had to make use of the JCP’s services, and this time round it was relatively painless.

The online form was fairly simple to complete and my appointment was texted to me within 48 hours. I went in this morning armed with my CV and ID; the paperwork wasn’t riddled with mistakes like last time. The first advisor was quick and efficient, the second helpful, not condescending and spent half an hour discussing the requirements for JSA with me. It helped that I had everything in place – CV, Universal Jobsmatch account, work experience organised – to start with. The second advisor recognised me from seven or eight years ago.

I’ve never had a problem with the jobcentre staff, they’ve always been helpful, polite and respectful; unfortunately I’m one of the few who can honestly say that.

As much as I’d like to think public servants are above prejudice and bigotry in their work, from what my friends told me today that really is not the case. We discussed our experiences over lunch in Grimsby.

I’m not surprised by what they had to say, just disappointed in the job centre staff. I tried to persuade F and E to write guest blog posts for me on the subject, but they wouldn’t, E because she reckons she’s not eloquent enough (not true, her writing is great – she was runner up in a Tumblr writing competition last week!) and F because she hasn’t enough time for her own blog let alone writing stuff for mine.

My oldest friend F is in a wheelchair. Not a big deal, for us anyway. Not so other people, it seems.

When we finished university we both went to the jobcentre to sign on and get help finding work. I didn’t need to show them my qualifications; my being white, able bodied and apparently middle class (I say apparently middle class because my family background is firmly working class, but we can play posh when we need to) was enough to prove my education. F is Anglo-Egyptian and disabled; the advisors assumed several things about her, most importantly that she didn’t have the qualifications she clearly has. They tried to insist she must have gone to a special school (she didn’t, we both went to the same state secondary school), and that she couldn’t possibly have GCSE’s, let alone ‘A’ levels and a degree. In the end F had to take her degree certificate to the jobcentre and wave it in their faces. That didn’t stop the assumptions though. F was asked, rather condescendingly, what she could do with her degree.

In a show of wit to go down in history, F answered, “Your job. Technically.”

Yeah, that’s right, the people who are supposed to give advice to the unemployed don’t even know the qualifications needed for their own job. Ignorance I can almost understand; Immingham isn’t know for its large graduate population, most people have a trade background. The advisors probably weren’t used to people with degrees strolling in and asking for job advice.

Their obvious bigotry is a different matter altogether. A persons physical or mental disability does not automatically disqualify them from higher education. As with every other employer, business and service provider, civil servants, which is to say the employment advisors, are supposed to treat everyone who uses their service equally, under equality and anti-discrimination laws and policies.

Clearly in F’s case they broke the law. I can only hope that the advisors at Immingham JCP have had a bit of training in the last ten years, and anyone in a similar position now to that in which F found herself will be better treat.

E has a few tales to tell about her experiences as a long term unemployed woman with a primary school age child and very few formal qualifications. She is a very good writer, knows her way round a computer, is skilled in a variety of crafts – she can crochet scarves in her sleep, literally – and has fantastic taste in suits. She has also been on some official scheme or other for the last eight years. In fact, she met her ex-husband on one. From her vast experience in these government schemes she has told me that without a shadow of a doubt, not one of them has been any help.

Not only are the government schemes useless, the attitude of JCP advisors has become increasingly negative and show a lack of understanding and compassion. For someone in difficult circumstances or with low self-esteem the fortnightly ego bashing that a job seeker receives despite their best efforts to satisfy the requirements laid down, must be detrimental to mental and physical health.

In E’s case she has been sanctioned for questionable reasons and hasn’t felt able to appeal because of the attitude of JCP advisors. I’m not sure what the JCP advisors have against E; she’s kind, intelligent and generous to a fault if you bother to get to know her. They didn’t and I suspect their ignorant prejudices were stirred by her ‘unconventional’ appearance and/or because she’s long term unemployed and has a child, which means they can’t tell her to just go work in a factory or shop, and do whatever hours are offered.

It’s not as though the advisors don’t have a record of making judgements based on appearance instead of substance, is it?

I’m told that the number of complaints made against Immingham JCP staff is so high they’ve been investigated by people further up the pay scale for imposing inappropriate sanctions, amongst other things; even the local library assistants, who regularly help people find work using the library computers, have warned me about some of the advisors. People talk in the library, news gets round; it’s a community centre in a way, and the library assistants will pass on relevant information.

I understand that in some places the jobcentre advisors are different, in attitude and professionalism. It’s a pity Immingham got the bigots.

I hope nothing goes wrong with my JSA claim, and that I get a new job as quickly as possible. I may have a privileged position which means they probably won’t give me much hassle, but that doesn’t mean I want to be subjected to the whims of ignorant bigots for long if I can help it. I don’t want people I love subject to them either.

No one, no matter their background, abilities, or appearance should have to experience discrimination at the hands of people who are supposed to be helping them.

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