You and I, the System Glitch: Job Centre woes
Editor’s note: Today I am very happy to introduce to you a new writer for The Money Principle. This is Alex’s first article and I hope you find it informative and useful.
There are many joyful surprises that come to light for jobseeker’s claimants in the UK, if you are to excuse my bitter sarcasm. How operations are dealt with seems to differ from Job Centre to Job Centre, and from staff member to staff member. I can imagine, in my astute evaluations of human and cultural behaviourisms, that the structure of class and average wealth brackets possibly contributes to differences in attitudes towards customers. The poorer the area the more humane people can be.
In a land of ‘equal opportunities’, which we know to be a fable of people’s ideologies and a politicians favourite tagline for rambling techniques, my experience is riddled with inaccurate and impersonal service but also faintly evened out by one or two more enthusiastic and caring employees in the benefits sector.
The issue I’d like to bring to light in this article adheres to the notion that the system is built to fail the individual, whilst the apparent failings of the individual seem of little concern to a system that is untouchable, invulnerable and protected by policy upon policy of nonsensical laws that are immune to questioning.
In late November 2012…
… my JSA (Jobseekers Allowance) was suspended, pending further information of a couple of shifts I had worked in September, helping behind a bar at a local private rugby club. The issue was that there were certain forms I hadn’t filled in declaring any money I earned in this period (all of £40, obviously making me rich). Now, all this would be understandable but my Job Centre ‘advisor’ did not notify me of such forms and when I asked what was going on with my claim her initial replies included phrases such as “It could be a system glitch.”
This ‘system glitch’ went on for almost three months and was repeated as a possible reason to me by another staff member in early January 2013. On top of that, face-to-face I was told I should have received the said forms in the post along with the notification of my allowance pending review back in November. I did not receive those forms, and although I may not be the most organised person on this planet I know through the pile of benefit letters I keep that these were never delivered to my address. One could say it was a breakdown in communication, but if the communication is that of a vacuum then I can surely expect them to carry out the appropriate actions, at least.
So the riddle becomes clearer, if not somewhat more sideways in its chronology of events. I spent at least 6 long weeks like a headless chicken deprived of a leg to stand on. An enraged bull bashing its forlorn head against a red door of ambiguity. A frightened and starving dog under the rule of an abusive and neglecting master. In truth I felt like nothing more than a glitch in their system, not a human beings with rights. During this time I had no JSA at all and only survived without finding myself on the streets because of support from family. What would have happened if I hadn’t a family able and willing to help?
In the summer of 2007…
… I attended a different Job Centre not too far from my current one. From recollections my advisor was jolly, understanding and reflected upon the workings of his procedures. Perhaps staff members like this are a dying breed as it seems that they can no longer sort out problems over the phone. They can no longer talk directly to the benefits office (or are too scared to do so), which is actually an office operating as an entirely separate entity.
In 2007 I had an issue with a late instalment of allowance. This was resolved pretty much on the spot via a single phone call. Now that I’m in my second bout of unemployment (after several years in retail management and three years at university) I have to speak directly to the benefit authorities myself, via post or a 0845 phone number that costs money I can’t afford to spend. I only hope others have found quicker and cheaper ways of influencing their own fate when it comes to getting benefit and receiving genuine humane reactions as opposed to the robotic and emotionless feedback I was dealt.
All in all, the way of getting desperate situations resolved is to beg the Job Centre staff for their attention, and therefore grapple with their language and procedures like they are what makes the Earth actually spin on its axis, and not at any degree to expect to be dealt with as a living being who needs food and heating to get from one day to the next.
Eventually I had the privilege of filling out the forms in mid January 2013, tamely handed to me by a staff member who seemed to understand that I was at least walking and talking and just about still breathing. The forms took about twenty minutes to fill in and consisted of me ticking box after box clarifying that I had not been working numerous shifts, and had not been trying to cheat the system. I can appreciate that indeed if you are to receive a particular benefit that you shouldn’t be actively getting or even earning money in addition, but the structure falls under that of a corrupt, or at least biased, one when it allows the authority to see everything but the claimant to be blinded and hindered in his/her actions by staff that do not care, do not understand, do not care to understand and do not dare even attempt to disturb the beast that is written law.
Policy favours only those who manage and police it, and you and I are not even a blip on an otherwise blackened radar. My struggles continue in a varied sense, but at least I know now if someone gives me a single penny it will be kept infinitely as a dark and mysterious secret to the authorities who intend to rob us all of our basic human rights to live.