Thursday, 30 September 2010

What people really think of the dole

Over the past four and a half months I have posted 10 or 11 blogs. What I was wondering the other day was, am I coming at this subject from the right angle or am I being unreasonable? I wanted to know if I was being fair about my dealings with the people at the dole office. Or was I just whingeing and feeling sorry for myself and thinking that they're not very nice to me? So, in order to find out what others think about having to sign on, and how they are treated by the staff at the Jobcentre, I decided to do a survey. Now obviously I'm not IPSOS-MORI or YouGov and what I did was hardly scientific but I was interested in other people's points of view.

I set out with three fairly open questions and asked people to participate in my "survey" as they left the dole office. There are three offices where I live, (there's a lot of people out of work and unemployment is higher than the national average) and I decided to divide my time between two of them. I wasn't daft enough to stand outside the dole office where I sign on with a notepad, as that seemed to be inviting trouble if anyone had got an inkling of what I was up to.

I was very conscious of the need to be fair minded. I'm not sure if it's part of our national attitude but there were quite a few people who were just not interested in answering any questions at all.

So these were my 3 questions and some of the responses from the public:

A - Do you think the Jobcentre helps you?

"Sometimes, sometimes not, seems to depend on their mood."

"No, they're just going through the motions."

"No they see you as an inconvenience."

"Up to a point, but not as much as they say they are going to."

"No they're rude. They're stuck up."

B - Do you have any experiences, positive or negative that you think other people should know about?

"They can be a bit irritating, they don't do what they say they they're gonna do, they lose things, you need a receipt for EVERYTHING, they try to make YOU at fault for being slack and losing things."

"They love to claim you haven't done x, y or z."

"Bane of my life. Pain in the arse. How many times have you been in there and they're chatting away, going for a fag break together, sorting out their social life and completely ignoring you."

"Their resources have got better and their staff are better as well, less idiots. People don't shout as much."

"There isn't fucking nothing positive about that place except they're not as bad as they have been."

"Lots of pointless bureaucracy. Lots of window dressing and ticking boxes."

C - How do you feel about coming here?

"You have to just remember your manners though they don't have none."

"You have to so you just put up with it. None of them can tell the fucking time."

"They love to make you feel like you're less than them. Shit I'd be ashamed to have that job - wouldn't do it, would you?"

"No fun, but they're giving you sixty-five quid a week."

"They won't get you a job, they're rude and they lose stuff."

"Not happy, the right hand don't know what the left hand is doing."

"It's the grade of people they use, they love making you feel small."

"Don't do this, don't do that. One time they gave me a mop test! They made miss a course over a bus pass - two minutes of their time was too difficult!"

"It's fucking humiliating."

So what conclusions was I able to come to?

That the Jobcentre were spectacularly inefficient even though their job shouldn't be difficult.

At every given opportunity the staff would try to make you feel bad about yourself.

They would always try to avoid responsibility and pass the buck.

The staff seemed to have rudeness built-in as their default position when dealing with members of the public.

I must stress that some people were quite relaxed and said that the way they were treated by the dole was fine.

All of this I found strangely reassuring, it seemed to mean that I hadn't been banging on unnecessarily and broadly speaking I'd been right. One last thing I learnt was that there isn't a swear word in the English language that I didn't know, but they seem to be in more common usage than I'd first thought!

Now I realise that the staff at the Jobcentre are under pressure and don't have an easy time of things and there are lots of boxes for them to tick, etc. I hope one thing my survey demonstrates is that the service they provide falls some way short of what one might reasonably expect from a Government agency.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Labour Party - leadership news

With thanks to Martin Rowson and the Guardian for the cartoon.

It quite probably won't make a jot of difference to the jobless nor to the looming cuts in benefits, but the Labour Party have elected a new leader.

My fervent hope is now the 4 (yes 4!) months of politicking within the Labour Party is over, that Ed Miliband and his new shadow cabinet can get their act together.

Let's face it, the coalition Government have been allowed to steamroller ahead almost unopposed in the House of Commons. Since the June Budget the coalition have been able to reel off a great big list of ALL these cuts they claim they need to make in order to save the nation. It seems there has been barely a peep of protest with the Commons.

I can only conclude that this is because the Labour Party have been looking elsewhere. They have been deciding who is going to lead the opposition. So while the Government has been lining up these huge cuts the so-called opposition has been navel-gazing.

So the very first thing I would like to have seen Ed Miliband and his new shadow cabinet do was to start to build a coherent, credible opposition to these vicious cuts. That would mean coming up with credible alternatives. I saw him interviewed by Paxman on Newsnight the day their conference finished, he failed to mention the Welfare State.

Right now I feel that the poorest and most vulnerable in the UK are crying out for someone to speak up loudly on their behalf. Cuts in benefits is State bullying of those least able to speak up for themselves.

Whatever happens come October 20, I'll probably be OK. (Depends how the Housing Benefit cap pans out.) I'm single and unemployed and I'm used to being skint and bitched at by the DWP. I've only got myself to look out for. But there are an awful lot of people who have more responsibility than me and are going to bear the brunt of this much more than I will.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Where do I go from here?

I'm lost and I don't where I'm going. Being unemployed for a long period of time is depressing enough as it is. I have been unemployed for nearly two years. I had to occasionally sign off Job Seekers Allowance so that I could, sort of, get my head around things.

You see they give you up to six months to find a job before they refer you to New Deal. This aims to help you find work, giving you advice, training, and work experience. The benefits of this scheme are to give you more confidence and obtain new skills that employers are seeking. I had to visit my job centre adviser every week. We would try and search for jobs that would be of interest to me through FJF (Future Jobs Fund) but didn’t have any luck.

I was put on a 13-week programme by the job centre adviser. The programme starts from 9:30am to 4:30pm five days a week. They enhance job search skills, improve on your interview techniques, build your confidence and help you find employment I was told.

The first week when I began the programme, I sat at the computer and searched for jobs, which I thought was pointless because this wasn’t any different from what I was doing at home. This is a depressing environment for me and for everybody else I met there. Most of them were just sat at a table waiting for the clock to hit 4:30pm as they felt it was a waste of time being there. The facilities were not that great; the centre is always short staffed so the adviser available couldn’t see all the clients, meaning some were left out. At times we did some sessions such as watching a DVD about interview skills, improving your CV and cover letter and confidence building sessions. I had a lot of help with the content and layout of my CV; also learnt how employers examine CVs, which was very useful.

I do think it’s not in fact necessary to attend the centre five days a week. It’s like I’m being trapped from 9:30am to 4:30pm. There is very little to do there, hardly any attempt to help me find work. But at least I have a reason to wake up in the morning. I'm currently on a work placement at Poached Creative and I'm just glad to be able to do something I have wanted for a really long time. Who knows where it may lead from here?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The cuts....

Well, we all knew it was coming sooner or later; news on the cuts. We get the full picture on 20 October. Details have been flowing out since the June budget, definite Government plans, so we've been told. These, and then non-stop speculation and conjecture from the written press and broadcast media outlets.

I've been expecting grim news for ages but that didn't stop me being furious on seeing George Osborne's pasty face on the BBC six o'clock news Thursday evening (9 September). He was telling us about an extra £4 billion in cuts to the welfare budget - I was seething. And then there's the look of utter distaste on his face as he patiently explains to the interviewer (Nick Robinson) why this situation just "cannot be allowed to continue". Apparently, he didn't even have the good manners to inform Ian Duncan Smith of what he was going to say. (Bear in mind that it's Duncan Smith's department that his latest announcement affects.)

He's making £4 billion in further cuts to welfare, in addition to the £11 billion announced in the June Budget. These are huge sums of money to cut from the poorest sector of our society.

The dole office always gives you a sheet of A4 saying "we have worked out how much money the law says you need to live on" so how come we all of a sudden need less? Is this bloke for real? How would some millionaire posh-boy have the faintest idea what it's like to get by on benefit? And then he's got the brass neck to say we're making a lifestyle choice!

Sure I can credit that some people will steer clear of shitty jobs being paid the minimum wage - it's a living wage that people need. In London the minimum wage is £5.80 per hour. The Living Wage Campaign have suggested £7.85. This has been set by the Greater London Authority. Were one to work a 40-hour week, the difference that makes to one's weekly pay is £82 gross.

It's just a fallacy that the feckless workshy have somehow bankrupted the country so therefore we must somehow claw back the money from them to prevent them making this "lifestyle choice".

So what's the Treasury doing to save money? I read in the Standard that they're getting smaller desks, so that they can squeeze more staff in - genius. "This is typical of the sort of savings we are looking for in other departments," a Treasury source told the London paper. In the same paper Nick Clegg further reassures us (Thurs 9-9) there is "no sword of Damocles that's going to come down straight away". This remains to be seen.

On the morning of 10 September it seems there were a few dissenting voices emerging after Mr Osbourne's appearance on the previous evening's news. The DWP said no agreement had been reached. In fact, Ian Duncan Smith was quoted on Newsnight on 15 September as saying he did not recognise the £4 billion cuts. Three Liberal-Democrat MPs crawled out of the woodwork vowing to vote against them and Bob Russell went on record as saying the Chancellor "was unethical". He went on, "it would be ethical to show an equal determination to tackle the cheats who avoid and evade tax".

This all seems a little late in the day, the saying; if you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas seems apt. George Osborne was unrepentant; "the welfare system is broken, we have to accept the welfare bill has got completely out of control."

Now, this statement baffles me. This man clearly has no idea how one goes about claiming benefits. He cannot know how many conditions one has to fulfil and prove umpteen times over to receive any benefit at all. I fail to understand how, when the rules are so stringent for every benefit one applies for, how it can get out of control.

Perhaps the figures are a little unpalatable to the Chancellor, but getting money out of the state in the form of benefits that one is entitled to is no mean feat. I think Mr Money-Bags Osborne should choose his words more carefully. Perhaps the phrase should have been: look this Government really doesn't like giving the state's money to the poor and needy and picking on them is a whole lot easier than getting big business to pay the tax that they owe us when they've got accountants and lawyers and stuff.

Google - a company so huge it has become a verb in the English language - doesn't like paying tax in England. They quite legitimately have managed to base their head office in Dublin specifically for the purpose of avoiding paying tax to the British Government. But I haven't heard George Osbourne on the telly telling us the tax system is broken. Vodafone, another company so proud about its connection to this country they used to sponsor both the English rugby union and cricket national sides, apparently owes £6 billion in tax. Question Time (23rd September) queried what Vince Cable was going to do about this.

The very morning that George Osborne was sticking the boot in to the poor, and the sick, and the elderly - again - there was someone on the Today Programme talking about tax. This person, who requested anonymity, worked for HM Revenues and Customs and was begging the Government to resource their department so that it would be able to do its job. Ie, to collect the tax, maybe not all, but so much more than they were able to at present. They iterated what I have said in my previous blog; that estimates of uncollected tax were upwards of £30 billion. And George Osborne wants £15 billion off the poorest! I only got an O level in Maths in 1981 so perhaps that's why none of this adds up to me.

I'm old enough, and perhaps old school enough, to believe in big government. I'm happy for the public sector to employ lots of taxpayers. It's an illusion that the private sector, (the Tories' beloved free market) is going to fill this upcoming gap in employment figures that will be directly caused by these "essential" cuts. (Let's face it, it's a moot point as to how much and how soon). And it's crass pronouncements like those from the Chancellor that inevitably raise class hackles.