What’s it like going to the job centre in modern Britain?

At the beginning of September, I found myself in need of a job. I was a civil servant on a fixed term contract which ended a couple of months prematurely, this without a doubt left me on the back foot but I wasn’t overly concerned; I figured I could get a job easily. I was wrong.

After four weeks of juggling job hunting, volunteering for Activate UK and spending every other waking moment wondering how I was going to pay the bills, I had to make a decision that the foolish prideful me never wanted to have to make. I needed help and so I went to the Job Centre to sign on.

My reasons for not wanting to go straight away were ridiculous. I worked with a lot of claimants in my voluntary work, I had no problem being associated with them, I saw myself as no better or worse than any of them. The problem for me was the DWP staff, I have read one too many horror stories of employees in the Job Centre treating claimants with disdain, horrific stories of sanctions and other such mistreatment; I am not saying that such things do not happen, but I want to write about my personal experience of going to the Job Centre and hopefully I can help someone else in a similar situation to mine reach the same conclusion as me far sooner.

I applied for Universal Credit online, after spending fifteen minutes on some rather cruddy online form I was told my application could not be processed online and I had to call a number (great start right?), I then rang the number, click a few dozen options on the automated system, to then be told this is the incorrect number to dial and I should claim online. At this point I started thinking how ridiculous this was, someone who is just trying to help is having to jump through pointless hopes just to speak to a human being. Slightly discouraging to say the least. Eventually after much googling I found the correct number and got to speak to a human, an actual human! I took about 40 minutes of some rather odd questions and then I eventually got an appointment at my local job centre, hurray!

I went to my appointment dressed in an open collar shirt and I sat down and looked around at the 20 or so people sat with me, bar a few exceptions most were dressed similarly to me; certainly not the stereotypes in tracksuits and hoodies. I went to meet my careers coach, Stuart and instantly all my previous expectations went out the window. Stuart didn’t grill me, he didn’t treat me like a second class system and more importantly he didn’t judge. Every question he asked me was centered around one thing, finding out about me as a person and towards the end of our meeting he said he had the perfect job for me. He slide over an A4 piece of paper and said “This isn’t you dream job, but it pays more than claiming and they are looking for someone exactly like you”. Ten minutes later he had spoken to the employer and secured me an interview and we joked that this could turn out to be the quickest turn around ever at the JC+, before I could go to the interview though I had to go back the next day to the “group signing” so I could actually be paid my benefits.

The group signing was a bit like an AA meeting, we all sat in a circle (15 of us + two career coaches) and shared success stories and tips about jobs. They told everyone about a course that is being run, you spend a week on the course, get a qualification and then get a guaranteed job at the end, about half of the group signed up to do it and I thought to myself how different the experience is from my initial assumptions. When I went back in to the JC just before my interview, I met again with Stuart and he praised my job seeking efforts over the last few days and we chatted a bit about my interview later on. When I went for the interview I was surprised, that one week training course and guaranteed job was provided by the company now interviewing me! They explained they were new into my area and wanted someone to engage and recruit people from the Job Centre onto their courses and the subsequent job. They offered me the job the same day and I went out for a smoke with Stuart and told him he under sold the job to me. I explained that the pay didn’t matter, but this job is amazing because I can actually help people. I sat on one side of the fence and now I can use that experience on the other side.

My experience on benefits was very different to what gets published in the papers and I think we all need to remember, that the papers are there to sell papers. They will only publish the most outrageous stories because that is what sells. It is not a true representation of what the system is actually like and for anyone in a situation like mine I can only advise this: Unbend your pride as soon as possible and just go. Everyone needs help sometimes and you are a fool if you don’t take it.


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