What is it really like to claim Jobseekers Allowance?

Prior to my redundancy I had been in consistent employment since leaving University.  Therefore, I had no personal experience of our Welfare system or claiming benefits of any kind.  I would consider myself relatively left-wing in my political views and I have always felt that the British Welfare System was something to be proud of.  I think it’s fair to say that, that is no longer the case.  For the majority of my career to date, I paid tax in the highest tax band and had 40% of my bonus taken on several occasions.  I can honestly say I have never felt resentful about that.  I choose to believe that the majority of those who have no choice but to claim benefits are decent and honest people.  I have never subscribed to “Daily Mail” stereotypes about who benefit claimants are.

That said, I was quite apprehensive the first time I had to attend the Job Centre to “sign on”.  I was made redundant relatively early on in terms of the recession timescale (in May 2008) and honestly believed that it wouldn’t be long before I found a job.  In actual fact I was job hunting for the best part of two years.  I can honestly say I have never filled in so many un-necessarily complicated, repetitive and intensive forms.  Now I consider myself a competent person, I have a degree in Law for goodness sake but I had to read the forms several times to ensure that I was filling them in correctly.  It doesn’t surprise me in the least that people give up and don’t bother claiming at all.  When I was no longer automatically entitled to Job Seekers Allowance I had to re-apply based on my financial circumstances.  It took 7 weeks to process my form.  Apparently, my claim was complicated by the fact that I had a mortgage rather than living in a rented property.  I literally have no idea how people who have no financial help cope while waiting for their claims to be processed.  I was able to borrow some money from family to tide me over until my claim came through.  Apparently there is an emergency fund that people can borrow from if they are suffering severe financial hardship while waiting for their claim.  I was not told about this, I found out about it after the fact.

I was treated relatively well by the staff at the Job Centre I attended, although very few of them knew anything about the Industry I had come from so were unable to help me find a job.  I had to attend the Job Centre every two weeks, tell them how my search was going, which applications I had made and if I had any interviews.  I had a “Job Seekers Agreement” which is a contract that you make with the Job Centre about what jobs you are looking for, how you are going to go about it and how far you are prepared to travel for that job.  Despite having interviews around the country I never claimed a penny for travel expenses.  The reason being, that I wasn’t told that I could until relatively late in my job search.  This is the problem you see, if you don’t “know” the system you don’t have the faintest idea about what you are entitled to.  It’s almost as if the Job Centre staff are told not to tell you about it.  The onus is entirely on you to discover what you are entitled to and how to go about claiming it.  I later found out that not only had I missed out on claiming travel expenses, I could have made a claim for interview clothing among other things.

The biggest issue I had was with Council Tax Benefit.  I applied for it and was told that I was not entitled to it.  I couldn’t understand how I could not be entitled to it but had no choice but to accept the decision.  It didn’t alter the fact that I couldn’t afford to pay it. The situation came to a head when the Council sent me a court date for non-payment.  During one of my numerous calls on the subject to the council I was told that the reason I had received a letter saying I was not entitled to Council Tax Benefit was because I had not supplied some of the information they required. This was not stated in the decision letter that they had sent me at the time. I had supplied the information and had a receipt to prove it.  It transpired that through human error my information had not reached the relevant person so they rejected my claim.  I immediately wrote a letter of complaint providing the aforementioned receipt and requesting my previous application was reviewed.  Upon review they back-dated my entitlement and the court action against me was dropped.  It made me wonder how often this kind of thing happens and people are unaware, so don’t challenge the decision-making process.  I could quite easily have ended up in Court with a CCJ through absolutely no fault of my own.

During my time on Job Seekers Allowance I didn’t engage with other claimants to any great extent. Interaction generally took place when I was sitting waiting to be called to sign and listening to other people having their “signing on” interviews (there is no privacy in these situations).  The thing that struck me was that there were people there from every walk of life.  Unless they were hiding, I never saw the deluge of Immigrants our right-wing press would have you believe are bleeding the system dry either. Yes there were people who would fit the “Daily Mail” stereotype but these people were in the minority.  As the recession deepened there were definitely more and more professional, well-educated people attending the Job Centre and the staff literally didn’t know how to manage them.  Regardless of background there were several things that every single person I saw had in common; total demoralisation, a sense of shame and an almost cowed acceptance of  the inevitably patronising tone with which we were greeted every single time we had to attend.

I appreciate that there is a theory that the more unpleasant the Job Centre is to attend the less likely people are to want to attend and therefore continue to claim.  I was told this by a member of Job Centre staff incidentally.  It does not work.  All the environment does is bring people who are on their knees down further and rob them of every ounce of positivity.  How are people supposed to feel motivated to job hunt or further still believe they are going to actually secure a job they interview for, when they are having the life sucked out of them every 2 weeks?

Once you have been out of work for a year to 18 months you are considered “long term unemployed” and expected to attend something called “New Deal”.  I attended it for a short period of time before I stopped claiming benefits altogether. To give some perspective I am well-educated and have my fair share of qualifications.  I also had over a decade of experience in a specific industry.  I asked several times if I could do a course of some kind, primarily to keep my brain alive and give my day some structure, but also to help me explore the prospect of changing career direction. I was told no absolutely not, I had more than enough qualifications to enable me to find a job so it wasn’t an option.  So basically if someone has qualifications but wants to change direction they are completely discouraged.  It’s almost as if you are being punished for being out of work.  People who have been made redundant are not allowed the luxury of changing their mind about the career they want to pursue.  At a time of recession I would have thought it made sense to encourage people to diversify and gain new skills. Apparently not!

New Deal is a back to work programme that you attend every day.  Some qualifications are available depending on the area within which you wish to work.  New Deal is essentially aimed at people who have little in the way of skills and education as the training provided is at a very basic level.  The only thing that was available to me was some Microsoft training in Excel, Access and Word.  I didn’t really want or need to do it, but it was better than nothing.  It was completely dis-organised and essentially consisted of me sitting at a computer and ploughing through a work book which was then marked on-line. You have to sign a register to show attendance every day but ultimately there isn’t enough to do so people end up either twiddling their thumbs, inventing reasons to leave or being disruptive.  The majority of people just end up doing their job search there rather than doing it at home, so sit on a computer all day long.  For the sake of my sanity I had been doing some Volunteer work prior to commencing New Deal and fortunately this was accepted as part of my working week.  If I had, had to attend the New Deal Training room every day from 9-5pm like many of my contemporaries did I think I actually would have lost the plot completely.  Another aspect of New Deal is work placements.  There has been much discussion of these work placements in the press recently as essentially people from New Deal are being used by large companies like Tesco as free labour.  Very few people are offered full-time positions when their placements cease.  These are basic, unskilled jobs so I refuse to believe that the people who are sent are unsuitable for permanent employment.  The fact is, it is not worth a Company paying them when they can get the next batch of New Deal claimants to work for free.

Do I think New Deal helps people back to work? No I don’t.  I think some people take any job that they are offered as a means to escape it.  I guess this is a success of sorts if you choose to view it that way, but I don’t believe it leads to sustained employment.  I think that for the majority of people New Deal just adds to the de-motivation that they already feel. It provokes resentment and anger and further erodes their self-esteem.  Attendance is compulsory and financial sanctions are imposed for non-attendance. One woman I remember specifically was typical of the kind of people I met on New Deal.  This woman was in her mid 40’s and had worked for the same High St retailer for 20 years.  The branch she had been working in had been closed as a new one was being  opened in Westfield Shopping Centre which was close by.  The retailer was obviously taking the opportunity to make some people redundant by recruiting a new team for the new store.  Existing employees were invited to apply, but ultimately they only took two staff from the store they were closing and they were both young.  The woman had been looking in vain for another position ever since.  Attempts to secure employment had included dropping her CV into every clothing store in Westfield.  The woman was desperate to work but understandably completely and utterly demoralised.  I was not in the least bit surprised that she wasn’t securing a job.  The situation had shot her confidence to pieces to the extent that I think she would have struggled to answer basic questions at interview, despite her years of experience.

I often wonder what that woman is doing now and I really hope she found a job.  I also think of her when I hear people discussing the “work-shy” and “layabouts” that are claiming benefits.  Of course there are people who play the system and don’t want to work, but I think these people are the minority and my own experience of the system backs that judgement up.  Anyone can find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own and it is extremely arrogant to assume that you are immune.  Thankfully, I had some savings and payment protection insurance to cover the interest on my mortgage.  My savings had gone within months but by hook and by crook we have just about managed to keep a roof over our heads.  Consequently, I consider myself very lucky, I know there are many others who have not been so fortunate.

Related Post: Why I oppose the privatisation of the NHS – a personal perspective  http://www.exfashionista.co.uk/2011/11/12/why-i-oppose-the-privatisation-of-the-nhs-a-personal-perspective/

 

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38 Responses to What is it really like to claim Jobseekers Allowance?

  1. PollyBurns2 says:

    OMG, this is awful to read (the subject, not your writing). It is many years since I was last in the benefits system and then thankfully only for 3 months and it was bad enough then, this just sounds dreadful. Especially the New Deal thing. How is that supposed to help? 9-5, Monday to Friday. You’d feel like giving up completely. I can’t believe this is how we treat people who, as you say, are out of work through no fault of their own. How many people have gone to the wall because of this system?! Glad you are OK. Polly x

    • exfashionista says:

      To be honest I consider myself very lucky to have a supportive husband and enough qualifications and self-esteem not to have fallen apart completely. The people I feel for are those that have lost hope and are trapped in a whirlpool of despair. The fact is that there are many people in this country like myself who have skills and qualifications but nevertheless are unable to secure employment. There are many more who have no qualifications, who might not have sufficient aptitude to gain any in academic subjects and also cannot secure a place on a vocational course. These people really do have no hope, they know the best that they can ever hope for is the minimum wage.

      It is a fact that when you have been out of work for 6 months or more you are judged by every person who interviews you and that person assumes that there must be something wrong with you. My interview processes were mult-stage and most took place over a minimum period of 4 weeks but most were 6 weeks+ . With this in mind 6 months out of work can pass very quickly indeed. Every time a member of our government with no mandate makes disparaging remarks about the “jobless” I want to scream at them to wake up and see the reality of the situation rather than their headline grabbing version.

  2. Helen Jones says:

    I am going to retweet the hell out of this post. Well written and impartial and honest. It sums up our frankly woeful Job Seekers System.

    I am a benefits advisor and the labyrinthine world of JSA baffles me at time. My advice when dealing with any branch of the DWP or JobCentre is: ask everything twice. If two different people give you the same answer, it’s probably right. Otherwise, take everything with a pinch of salt. This means appealing every decision if it isn’t the one you want to hear too. It’s time consuming, it’s infuriating but it might prevent something like the Council Tax nightmare you experienced.

    And if you really can’t handle it all yourself without losing your mind or your temper? Try the Citizens Advice Bureau. They will try to help with any benefits query no matter how small you think it is. Don’t feel like you’re not worth the help. You are. You still count to them. They are a charity and well worth supporting especially as legal aid drips away.

    Best of luck. I really hope things pick up for you. But send out a batcall on Twitter if you need more advice. You’d be amazed how many of us can help. And none of us have ever ‘played’ the system. We all wish we’d never been near it!

    • exfashionista says:

      Thank you. Fortunately I am no longer in the system as I am currently staying at home with my 13 month old. When I do eventually decide what to do career wise and go back to work, I will do all I can to avoid having to go anywhere near welfare. x

  3. suzanne says:

    This is fab, I am lucky that I am still employed but my partner is signing on. Having attentended the job center with him I can see its awful. The smell of despair and desperation is palable and yes lots of middle aged professionals there. No privacy at all and the staff although helpful did not seem to be able to do anything other than make sure the forms are filled in. My partner has had similar experience in being offered very limited, time wasting training.
    I wish you all the best in trying to find work, I think we have far too many values wraped up in what we “do” rather than who we are, you are clearly a talented person.

    • exfashionista says:

      Thank you very much. I started this blog to share my experiences but also in the hope that it will help me decide what to do in the future when I decide to go back to work. I am currently at home with my baby daughter. I’ve also discovered that blogging is great therapy and a lot cheaper. I hope your husband finds something soon x

  4. Anna Thomas-Holland says:

    I’ve run my own business for 8 years and had to make my company dormant in June when I started claiming JSA. In that time I have had one interview for a PT job for £7 an hour and didn’t get it because I was ‘over-qualified’! We are a huge niche of people who do not tick any boxes and are a total enigma to the Jobcentre. Thanks for posting this and the best of luck.

    • exfashionista says:

      I hope that you find something soon and I’m very sorry to hear about your business. That must have been very hard for you x

  5. Rachel says:

    I found this post via Anna and wow, this is sobering stuff. It should be on the front page of every newspaper in the country. My husband had to navigate the bureaucracy around JSA for a few months before we were married, and I know he found it hard going then, years before the recession hit. He agrees with you that the system has no idea how to cope with professionals who are out of work.

    As a former immigrant, I never dreamed of trying to claim benefits I was specifically excluded from according to my visa. But now that I’m a British citizen, it’s something I’m now allowed and might need to access to in the future, although I certainly hope that won’t be the case. I’ll remember your words and hope they help save another person from all the frustration you experienced.

    I will definitely be retweeting this, and I wish you all the best.

    • exfashionista says:

      Thanks so much for your positive comments. It’s such a shame that so many people have had such negative experiences. I hope that you don’t have to engage in the system but if you do that your experience is much better than mine Thanks again for visiting my blog x

  6. J says:

    Thankyou so much for writing this.
    I’ve been claiming ESA (sickness benefit) for 2 years and my partner has been on JSA a year. I hate the effect JSA is having on my partner – his confidence is totally gone, and he’s been forced to attend courses in basic literacy and numeracy, despite being qualified enough to do a degree! I’ve had benefit nightmares including 3 months homelessness whilst waiting to get my benefits (i was unable to claim due to having a place at university, even though my place was deferred due to my ill health), all whilst seriously ill. And then with no explanation with how housing benefits worked i ended up having to live in a hostel alongside drug-addicts and convicts.
    The system horrifies me. I’m proud we have a welfare state, but this isn’t what it should be like.

  7. Louise says:

    I spent four months on JSA of the income support based variety for which, despite working since the age of 15, I only qualified for six months of as my then husband had a full time job. The fact that he only received £8,500 a year for working full time didn’t actually seem to matter to them, he worked more than 20 hours or whatever their minimum requirement was.
    The whole experience was humiliating and demoralising and I would never consider doing it again no matter how hard it was financially. I am lucky to have a partner capable of supporting me through redundancy/unemployment and I feel so incredibly sorry for those who do not have that advantage.
    Having a Welfare State used to mean something, sadly it seems these days that the whole point of it is to be scammed by those capable of working the system while the people truly in need get shafted.

  8. Cath says:

    This is a brilliant post, thank you. I recently graduated from a top university and was unemployed for 6 months, and on JSA for 3 months (I didn’t sign on immediately, as I foolishly didn’t think I’d be out of work for long). The people who dealt with me at the job centre were unhelpful, impersonal, and brisk, completely uninterested in helping me out or helping me decide what field to work in – they just did as they were told and printed off all the job alerts in the area, and told me to apply for them. They had no sympathy for me, and didn’t offer any advice when I explained that I was rejected for being over-qualified when attending interviews for local admin jobs, but under-qualified for graduate jobs (it’s an employer’s market, so they’re being incredibly selective). They didn’t explain what I was entitled to claim (I since found out that I could’ve claimed back my travel costs; if I had known I would’ve kept the bus tickets and receipts), made me do basic literacy and numeracy tests which was no help whatsoever. As someone who left university full of hope and confident in her abilities, by the end of it I felt pretty worthless. Thankfully I’ve found a job now, so I’ve been gradually building up my self-esteem ever since.

  9. ladylikepunk says:

    Thanks for writing this – I think it’s really important that people speak out about how dreadful applying for JSA can be. I’ve recently given up as it’s not helping my mental health problems (or my other chronic illness) – and because I’m not recieving anything as I’m not eligible for JSA (I’ve not paid enough national insurance, apparently). It was hell, and while I’ve still not found a job, at least I’m not spending every thursday a sobbing wreck, after having to explain yet again why I haven’t been employed – my experience being much like Cath’s – and treated like an idiot.

  10. DarkestAngel says:

    Thankfully I’ve never signed on, not yet anyway. I have been to the job centre for work focused interviews and previous partners have signed on at various times in the last 15 years.

    At my last job centre ‘interview’ I was told I can attend basic numeracy and literacy courses. I have 2 GCSE A’s in English and a C in Maths. I don’t need the courses, I need affordable childcare and a proper job with a proper wage. That’s not likely until my two youngest are both in full time education, I could afford an hour a day childcare then.

    Signing on has destroyed the father of my two youngest children. We split up because he became so deeply depressed. He’d never been unemployed and was demoralised every time he was turned down for a job, he applied for everything. He’s still out of work after a few casual, temporary agency jobs. He refuses to sign on now. He’s living on thin air at the moment but still trying for every job out there. One disadvantage, apart from the obvious financial problems, of not signing on when out of work, is that he has 2 teeth which need medical attention. He can’t have free treatment because he’s not claiming and he can’t afford to pay either. Am just going to send his CV off to 2 jobs he wants to apply for, and keep everything crossed he gets one of them, otherwise I don’t know what he’s going to do. Excellent post by the way.

  11. Chelsea says:

    When I had my son, I was asked to go into the local Job Centre for an interview. I was unsure why, but I went along anyways. My son was less than a week old and they wanted to know if I was ready to go back to work. Needless to say, I was horrified.
    I really feel for those who have to endure this sort of thing on a regular basis, it seems like no one knows whats going on and just plays it by guesswork.

  12. Helen says:

    My daughter was a research scientist – the dole offered her noting but despair and hopelessness way back at the end of the 90s. After 6 months she took another degree course, this time a Masters to add to her biology doctorate. Once she had completed that, she couldn’t get a job anywhere for two long years. The dole forced her to take a course on how to use a computer (despite the fact she’d been using computers and the internet for almost a decade and her latest degree was in IT!)

    Finally after two years she found a job in 2000. The money was awful, it was a job and nothing more. Slowly things began to improve her salary increased though always remained shockingly low for the work she was doing. Then the company hit trouble and was bankrupt. That was her out of work. She sold her flat despite our advice not to. She insisted in April 2007 the world was going to go to pot and took off travelling while she had the chance to live. She was in Kenya when the bank problems became obvious. She carried on travelling to the places she had planned. When she came back she looked the healthiest and happiest I’d seen her for years.

    She’s been out of work ever since, dragged back down by unemployment the fortnightly tears and upset after each dole visit, the tears after each job rejection.

    I brought my daughter up to work hard (she had her first job at the age of 14 in a local shop on the weekends) and to study hard. We lived in one of the poorest areas of the EU. She had nothing going for her at all. A single parent family in poverty in a council house. No one around our area went to University, her school didn’t even have the forms she needed. But she went to university, one of the top UK universities and walked off not only with a science degree but with a doctorate too.

    And this country has done everything to slap her in the face. She’s judged as being a lazy idiot because she can’t find work, she can’t possibly be educated because she can’t find work, yet every employer who bothers to reply says either she has the no experience or is over-qualified. This country is a disgrace. It’s a job, a decent life and perhaps even a medal my daughter deserves, not a dole check, and the disgraceful treatment she gets from the dole office. The best they have offered her is guess what? A course on how to use a computer. Because obviously research scientists (whether they have a Masters in IT like her or not) presumably still use quill pens and an abacus I presume? I don’t call that help, I call that a fraud.

    PS
    So many of her friends have doctorates and so many of them can’t find jobs of any kind because they are over-qualified. I dread the morning when I find my daughter, my beautiful bright daughter has taken her life. I fear it. And it will be this country that has driven her to it.

    • exfashionista says:

      Your daughter’s story is heart rendering. I’m so sorry that she has been put through such a terrible ordeal and I really hope that she finds something soon. Thank you for your comment

  13. DavidG says:

    This is all too familiar. My experience of JSA shares many of the same features, but complicated by disability, you can read about it here: http://wheresthebenefit.blogspot.com/2011/01/inept-leading-clueless-jcp-jsa-and.html After that ended in a formal complaint to the Minister for Disabled People and an apology I was asked to move on to ESA, that ended up as evidence in a Select Committee Report… http://wheresthebenefit.blogspot.com/2011/04/wca-sick-joke-or-national-disgrace.html

  14. Paul says:

    Completely wrong about CCJ’s and council tax benefit…… the reason the council apply to court is to aquire for a bailif to recover council tax debt

    • exfashionista says:

      I think it depends on the policy of your local Council and your willingness to pay the debt back in installments. In my case they told me that they wanted to obtain a CCJ to force me to commit to installments. I agree that some Council’s would proceed to a “Warrant of Execution” which would enable them to send Baliffs to recover the debt. I was writing about my own personal experience.

  15. Rebecca says:

    I don’t like the classism inherent in your piece.

    • exfashionista says:

      I’m sorry you feel that way but I don’t agree. I come from a working class background and despite considerable challenges in my family life was able to go to University and gain a degree. I’ve worked for everything I have had in my life. My family are by no means wealthy and in fact several live in social housing. My post was about my personal experience as an educated person in the system and I wanted to represent a section of the unemployed population conveniently over-looked by the government and mainstream media. I don’t consider education to be a class issue and so don’t agree with your comment. However, we live in a democracy and you are entitled to your opinion.

  16. RandomPerson says:

    I was linked this by a friend. My situation is almost a carbon copy of your own. The only differences being i was let go in Dec rather than may, and spent 2.5 years out of work. I didn’t have the same trouble with council tax but had more than enough with the Mortgage Interest Scheme. Before 2008 i was blissfully unaware of the welfare system and now i’m scared of ever seeing it again. I am as of a few months ago in full time, worthwhile employment again. I hope others in similar positions find the same and i wish them all the luck for it.

  17. Tim says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. You speak for so many of us.

    I have just spent more than a year on JSA. I have qualifications and experience coming out of my ears, but, although I never thought myself “too good” for certain jobs, I never got even an interview because (I am quite sure of this) I am over-qualified and (more importantly) over fifty. I went through many of the same hoops as you and salute you for coming through the process in one piece.

    I have now found work through an agency, which is better then nothing but one gets mucked around just as much. They have just reduced my hours from 40 (on which I can just about pay my bills) to 30 (on which I can’t). I have no comeback for this – I have never found so much as the ghost of a union in my workplace. Some people say – and I used to understand that – that we would lose more than we would gain by a full-scale socialist revolution. Now I am not sure at all. Bring it on.

  18. Sarah says:

    “It’s almost as if you are being punished for being out of work. ”

    Or sometimes for actually trying to find it… I had to turn down several part-time positions while in receipt of benefits. Why? Because I’m under 25 and therefore ineligible for the support that would grant me the opportunity to work part-time and still support myself with reduced benefits. So I ended up staying on full benefits, at more cost to the taxpayer, presumably… How well thought out is that.

    Also: I did meet some well-informed members of staff at the job centre, but they were few and far between. At one point, I was actually informing a job adviser about a free IT course I’d discovered on my own. Surely that ain’t right…

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  20. Barnes Tagg says:

    Some New Deal work placements do result in perm. positions.
    I work in an IT company, and over half of our support staff (5 out of 8) came to us though New Deal placements. We had some people who weren’t suitable and they weren’t kept on, so it does depend on the company.

    My personal experience of JSA was similar to your own. Volunteer work managed to take the tedium out of daily routine. The New Deal wasn’t suitable and I had access to better resources to help with my job search & skill improvement. Fortunately I wasn’t out of work for too long

  21. LookingForAJob says:

    I was made redundant last Spring after a successful career.Like you, I thought I would get a job soon so didn’t sign on for JSA till last autumn. And I couldn’t agree with you more. It was only yesterday when I told my partner how you have very little information given to you. Different people at the job centre tell me different things every fortnight I visit them. And I didn’t know that I was entitled to travel expenses for interviews. Yesterday, after claiming JSA for 4 months, I was told that as a couple both out of work, we could have applied for income allowance. And while on the whole staff at my local Job Centre are helpful, there are several who don’t know how to manage well educated people. Like you, I was in the high income bracket and paid my taxes (including a margianal 62% rate last year) but I find it staggering that I am only entitled to JSA for 6 months. We need serious reforming of benefits to simplify the system. I would prefer a citizen wage structure which is transparent and is fair to everyone. The winners in the current system are the thousands of employees employed by the DWP who spend far too much time correcting their own errors in administering these claims. My own claim took 3 months because someone who sits in the processing office made an error and it took dozens of calls from me to get them to remedy their mistake. If I weren’t persistent, then that would have been the end. And everytime I am at my local job centre, I see the same group of 3 women and 1 man who seem to spend all their time at work gossiping. The real losers in this current system are the very poor and the ill educated who have no access to what they are entitled to. Next to them, come the likes of me.

    • FM1 says:

      Hi, It has been interesting reading all the posts and found your piece such an eye opener. I’ve paid into the system since I was 16. Always employed and always found work quickly when I wasn’t. Never ever claimed a penny. I am now 51. I was made redundant in June but didn’t seek JSA until August when I thought hey perhaps I wont find another job. I went to sign today (signing weekly) and I was told that I now have to sign on every day!! Yes you are right the JSA staff and G4S security guards (about 5 of them in my branch – walking around at a snails pace) have a great job. What is the signing on every day about? I suppose I should be grateful that they are giving me some extra support or perhaps its to crush me into miserable mush.

  22. Andy says:

    Personally, I’d rather starve than claim a benefit. I started a claim but was put off when I was made to feel a failure. I’m not. I have postgraduate qualifications. I’m a carer, unable to continue in the job I had because I was looking after an aged parent. Caring and working took over 100 hours a week and something had to give.
    I’m living off modest savings, for now. I gave up looking for means tested benefits, but there are others. Fifty-eight pounds a week carers allowance isn’t much, but would help. How less than a £1 an hour is seen as reasonable escapes me, but food costs money. I have given up there too. What went wrong? Perhaps my patent will do the decent thing and die. I think that’s what the DWP would like. Maybe it would prefer it if I shuffled off. Or both of us.

  23. Thiefree says:

    I recognise your experiences. The inner-city job centre I attended for the first five months of my claim was a similar place: dehumanising, demoralising, and prone to striking people off their system without notice if they missed an appointment. This is procedure, as I’m sure you know, but it’s a merciless procedure.

    However, upon moving away from the city and into a nearby but much less heavily populated area, my experience completely changed. The smaller job centre I currently sign at is staffed with friendly, helpful people who go out of their way to ensure I know what I’m entitled to. They have emailed potential employers on my behalf, rearranged appointments at short notice, and found ways around the unkind rules when I have made mistakes. I owe them a lot, and I hope to find a way to thank them when my new job begins in September.

  24. Sympathetic jobseeker says:

    I stumbled upon your blog while looking for a problem to my current situation.
    I myself have been recently made redundant and have been unemployed for 5 and a half months and my jobseekers allowance is close to coming to an end.
    Having worked consistently for the same company for 24 years I feel very bitter that I have payed my taxes yet can only claim for 6 months. How does this work?
    I agree with your comment about the demoralising situation that attending the job centre puts you in. Having been in a job which required a great deal of responsibility and confidence this has almost depleted by the bi-weekly visits to the jobcentre, witnessing the pantomime of events and excuses that some of our “jobseekers” give to evade work. This in turn gives us genuine jobseekers a bad name and we all get tarred with the same brush. It has also knocked my confidence in my ability when attending interviews.
    The only inspiration is that everyone who has posted a reply to your blog all agrees that the system needs to change.
    Wishing you all well in your search for employment.

  25. Giannina says:

    Hi, I am Peruvian and I have a lawyer’s degree from my country. My jobseeker’s allowance was rejected because I did not paid enough tax during 2008/2009. I was off work because I was raising my baby girl who was born on may 2008. They didn’t consider my qualifications and did not offer any training course at all. There is no privacy when the meetings take place and they try to keep in you in the system by signing on every fortnight even though you are not going to receive a penny from them. It’s very silly!

  26. Me says:

    Wow, a lot of this stuff is spot on and at least I can say I am not the only one who feels this way. Although I have secured a job now, the months preceding this were close to what you’d find in hell.

    why is it that people who attend job centres are treated like they’re some sub-human species that is only worth of mockery and complete disrespect. You mentioned that not all people claim benefits just because they dont want to work and in fact they are a minority; which was definitely the case where I am attending. For most people it is survival and not luxury. Living on £56 a week is nothing considering the cost of living today and completely inadequate if you are seeking some progress in your life AND that is IF you qualify for so much the first place.

    My advisor and perhaps most others dont seem to have a clue about my area in accounting and finance and it’s just a case of dumping you in any place…. Also whenever I go in that place, the energy and the vibe is just so dull and dark. People are left with no dignity and respect and when it truly boils down to it, is this type of treatment ever worth it? Regardless of who you are, it is important to show respect and understanding to everyone since we are all human and do whatever we can do to survive. There’s nothing precarious or dodgy about claiming. Thats what the true nature or essence of welfare is last time I checked. At least we are not claiming for bath plugs…

    The debt both sovereign and private is way beyond what we can ever repay as a nation; even if the richest gave up all their wealth for this very cause. The monetary system is not designed to suit the people of a nation but the interest of the elite ONLY. Which is why it still exists. Also there will never be enough jobs for all the people who are capable of working so why all this fuss? There’s no point. It’s all a farce anyway.

    Sort the system out. Not the few people who are just about affording a living.

  27. haarp says:

    lol, communists, socialists, statists, ‘progressives’ love welfare state. It eventually screws everyone over.

  28. Chipping says:

    Exfashionista thank you so much for putting “pen to paper” to discuss what I can only describe as the most soul destroying experience I have ever had to go through and agree with everyone who has suggested that your blog is published on the front page of every newspaper.
    I am a single mum who has worked hard for everything we have, like you I have degrees, loads of qualifications and experience. I was made redundant in the summer of last year and resisted signing on beause I believed I would get a job soon. Fast forward over six months later, I succumbed to my dwindling resources and was forced to sign on.

    For some reason, the adviser I was assigned seemed to think I needed to see her every week, wanted to send me on a one week 9-5 course where I would be taught how to write a CV (I declined that offer) AND on top of all the repetitive questions appointed nerself as my mentor in filling my applications that she had no clue about. By the virtue of the fact that I was sitting in front of her with my unemployed status, she had obviously misread my request for targeted professional help to mean that she was the right one to give it to me! Eventually she admitted she “was out of her depth and clutching at straws”. Don’t get me wrong the adviser is a nice enough person, but not the right person to help me find the job that I need.

    I left that meeting feeling helpless, frustrated and in tears – with an appointment for the following week. I had questioned why I needed to see her every week – apparently those are the rules; only to discover from these blogs that meetings should be fortnightly. For me, the weekly meetings are a complete waste of my time as I do not get anything constructive from them, even the thought of fortnightly meetings makes me shiver!

    Like you I also asked if there was an opportunity to sign up for a course to gain new skills as I did not want to continue in the field I had been working in for over 10 years and was promptly told that I would have to take any job that along within a 50mile radius from where I lived.

    Having paid into the system, part of the reason I signed on was because I had to, but also because it was my right to claim; I wished I listened to my gut instinct and never bothered. I feel so demotivated having signed on, I feel less of a person each time I go to the job centre and I end up feeling like a criminal on bail reporting every week at the appointed time with no say or choice in their future. Is this the way to treat people have worked, want to work and contributed heavily to the system?

    I feel so strongly about this that I would like to know if any one out there knows the best person to complain to about this process e.g. local MP, minister, raise awareness through a petition etc. The fact that this claim process seems to be “normal” cannot be right and needs to be addressed and quickly. When the hefty deductions were being made from my salary, it was just taken – no questions asked, there must be a better way to treat claimants with dignity and respect.

    I wish you the very best of luck and hope things turn/ed out well for you.

  29. Claire says:

    I’ve got here rather late! But it’s worthwhile and I found the blog rather good – thank you for this article in particular.
    I remember some 33 years ago newly graduated and feeling obliged to apply for a job at a very low salary – more the office junior school leaver salary, which wasn’t what I was expecting or looking for. I talked myself out of being offered the job by stating that I thought they should be looking for a 16 year old rather than a 23 year old graduate. What does it benefit anyone by denying a 16 year old school leaver the chance of such a job opportunity by making a 23 year old graduate accept it? I’m not being a job snot here either – I had done my share of shop work since the age of 15 and eventually took a job which didn’t really require a degree but at least had some job satisfaction and career development opportunities attached to it.
    What I was really looking for in my internet search was whether, these days, a jobseeker would be entitled to turn down a job on the grounds that the prospective employers are a bunch of evil tax-dodging, employee abusing blighters like that certain large company which started out selling books online. Or a soul-destroying job in a call centre? Is a job cold-calling angry office staff (who resent people phoning up asking for ‘the owner of the business’ when there ain’t no such thing in my workplace) really better than waiting until a rather better job offer comes up? Thankfully I’m not in that position but I do worry for my daughter who is about to embark on her university career. Perhaps she should forget all about becoming an architect and learn how to annoy people on the telephone.

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