I was having a conversation yesterday with someone who worked for the Department of Work and Pensions. I say conversation, she treated it like some kind of high cult-like authority in which thir word was law. There seemed to be some utter confusion as to why I not only disliked, but downright resented their policies and behaviours.
Now aside form the obvious tales buried in the shallow depths of independent media, whistleblowers coming forward to no fanfare and a long list of suicides that even the conroners involved have tried to point out related to the abusive treatment form DWP and it’s interest in seeing the unemployed, unfortunate, disabled and mentally ill as sub-human, I myself have some experience with them that clouds my judgement. I say clouds my judgement, but in reality – none of this has ever been countered by DWP and the best I’ve ever got in my experience with them was one tremendous work coach (who has since been released of duty) and one who couldn’t look me in the eye when he was caught out trying to break the rule (and the law).
So after that conversation – and the fact that there’s an IP address that’s been scanning this site linking back to a Job Centre Plus office for some reason – I’ve decided to throw out some of my favourites, my own personal top five greatest hits from the depressing times I’ve had the misfortune and audacity to be unemployed.
Let’s start with an easy one.
“So why isn’t your wife working?”
My wife (then girlfriend) was asked in for a work focused interview to establish her barriers to work and get her onto a work placement right away. They demanded to know why she wasn’t working and wanted to put her into their usual rotation of slave trade (involuntary voluntary work). She was nine months pregnant. The very next day she gave birth.
“Just cheer up!”
This was a personal favourite of mine in the Department of Work and Pensions great big book of customer service. I suffer from waves of depression. I have very little control over this due to a wonderful case of bi-polar disorder. I was in a major low, which is akin to the low you feel when a loved one has died – except it just happens without warning regardless of whats happening in daily life. It’s an absolutely horrid way to live and has effected pretty much everything in my life.
I don’t medicate. I did once upon a time and it effected me so badly that one day I sat in a hotel room as someone watche dme take my daily dose of pills and I realised that I didn’t really know who I was any more, just what the medication wanted me to be. So I found my own routine to keep as much of a balance as I could. The routine of being unemployed didn’t help this, it made me lose grip on more than one occasion.
The major low I was in at the time was was not effecting my job search, but it was effecting my morale and I found it incredibly difficult to keep going. But the Job Cente had a solution for me. They told me I just needed to cheer up and, I quote, ‘stop being such a moody git!’. And they wonder why the mentally ill top themselves?
“There’s a typo in your CV”
I have written one CV in my entire life. This is the same CV I have to this very day. The current draft was heavily edited by Hudson, the Department of Work and Pensions and finalised by DWP’s parter service, A4E. I was told to use A4E’s expertly written CV exclusively. Both A4E and the Job Centre complained that there were typo’s and inconsistencies. When I pointed this out to the author of my CV, I was threatened with punitive action for making errors.
My CV still lists some of my greatest achievements, including a stretch of time I was working with SWA. Most of the roster at the time were very aware that throughout my time at SWA I was not paid. Either as an employee or promoter, the entire efforts of the management team went straight back into the company to try and dig it out of the hole we found it in. I was also on the dole at the time I took my place at SWA’s big table.
The Job Centre was aware of this and Raymond, my work coach at the time, kept me whole in terms of making sure the DWP knew full well this was voluntary and unpaid. Though managers still like to drop hints that they’d investigate me for fraud. Yeah – if SWA was making that kind of money back then, I maybe would have owned some furniture.
“Not in the office today, and thats your fault.”
One day I attended an appointment booked for me because thats what you do on Jobseekers. It was at an external service (A4E) and my work coach was not available. After waiting more than an hour to be told this, I was informed to reschedule and that a letter would be out to inform me of the new date and time. That letter arrived and I went ahead with the new appointment.
Two weeks later I was sanctioned for not meeting with my advisor on that day. I appealed and asked them to check the sign-in book. “They don’t keep those records.” Except they did, and I found it myself weeks later when in the admin room. “Whats done is done.” They told me. Wonderful appeals process, right?
“You need to get out of bed and shower.”
That was the motivational support of DWP. After coming off a very intensive series of contracts as a sole trader with a part time side job, I found myself on jobseekers as contracts were drying up and a lovely lady form the local JCP convinced my work to hand over the jobs of myself and co-worker Jamie to workfare. What was the job centre’s solution? Workfare! Thats right, someone who’s out of work because of people offering freebies was forced to offer freebies – DWP are the gift that keeps on giving! Now, when signing on to this program (Mandatory Work Activity) there are certain rules to be applied. One is that it should not be the first measure given to you (it was – five weeks in!); it can’t be used to counter any doubt to your commitment plan (from language used, it was) and you must be given a strict run down of information in a Work Focused Interview (that never happened).
The only piece of information given to me was “You need to learn to get out of bed in the morning and shower.” Considering my work routine before this sign on started at 7am and ended 11pm, and I didn’t get days off, that was somewhat offensive. The manager apologised for the language being used. But never, not once, offered to complete the legally necessary steps to get me into the program. In fact, upon a second meeting she ret-conned his reasons, excused the behaviour and lied about her new reasoning (paper trails are a telling thing – I still have the conflicting documents showing the lie!).
The worst part about all this is that I could pick out another five things. Then another. Then another. In my time as a jobseeker I’ve even witnessed a security guard boasting about someone being likely to get sanctioned for missing an appointment (the person in question had collapsed outside the building, heart attack I believe), overhear someone being threatened with sanction because she was asking to attend an interview (she even had the letter) while JCP wanted her in a work placement (designed to give her confidence to find work!), I have seen people go without food for not completing unrealistic assignments, I have seen people begging for work and getting nowhere only to be punished while the regular few (you know the ones, the type the media likes to paint as representatives of the unemployed) are left to do as they please as long as they don’t cause a fuss.
The system is a shambles and there have been MANY situations where they have been caught and exposed (heres one, another, more, oh one more!) and they take no responsability whatsoever.
This is a government agency that is supposed to help people get into work. From my experience, as well as a lot of others, these people haven’t helped anything. In fact – the only way I got work was to stop what they were telling me to do and find it outwith their rules! Instead we now have a system of box ticking and number crunching, a system designed to cut corners and create results – not of achievement, but of lowering costs.
All it brings us is unhappy people stuck in a loop with no help or escape and a culture of breeding contempt for the needy.
I’m not sure why there’s an IP address form a DWP office stalking this blog. But I’m sure that person has convinced themselves that they’re doing the right thing. Who cares about the poor? Get off this site, get your daily sanctions in and go pat yourself on the back with your after-work pint.