A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about my experiences down at my local Job Centre as a recent graduate - notably my first meeting with my "personal advisor". If you want to read that blog post, or have read it before but want to refresh your memory, it is here:
I've felt compelled to write a sequel to that blog post, here and now, after watching a Channel 4 documentary entitled "Dispatches - Tricks of the Dole Cheats" which - and I still can't really believe this - was partly filmed in "my" town and in "my" job centre. If you want to watch it, the link is here:
although I imagine these shows don't last forever on 4oD so if you're reading this in 2014 - unlucky.
First and foremost, the title of the programme is VERY misleading. Channel 4 have history of doing this - they call a programme of theirs something outlandish in the hope that people will be drawn in by the title and watch it, as shown by a previous show of theirs about disabled, single people being called 'The Undateables'. So there's no "tricks" of the "dole cheats" here - rather, the documentary follows a few young people eager and looking for work as they attempt to prove that the Job Centre is a bit shit. One of them is a chap called Joe Paxton, and he's going into "my" Job Centre in "my" town armed with a secret camera and a job diary filled with...his shopping list. Yes, to prove that the people who sign him on every fortnight don't bother looking at the diary that he's meant to fill out and hand in, he's decided to write down his list of groceries needed rather than "Applied for a job here", "Looked at the website there" etc.
I have experience of this, and he's right - they don't bother looking at your diary. However, this bit of the documentary saddened me a little, as the woman behind the desk caught on camera being neglectful was a lady who has signed me on a few times. She's very nice - particularly when compared to others down there - and though in the documentary her face was blurred out, I, and presumably thus everyone who works down there as well, could tell it was her, just from her appearance and certainly her voice. I feel very sorry for her, and I suspect I won't be seeing down there again. The question is, was she at fault?
Because criticise the Job Centre all you want - and I do - but with 2.5m people now unemployed in the UK, the situation is beginning to get out of hand. I see it myself, when I go down there and I'm twelfth in the line to sign on. Once I'm done, I look back at the waiting area as I scarper out of the door and it's full again - it seems that there's a constant steady stream of people waiting to be signed on. When we're now dealing with these numbers, is it any surprise that Job Centre staff are cutting corners in order to get the stream of people flowing quickly? Is it any wonder that they don't spend valuable time with each person - proof reading their CVs and finding jobs for them?
The documentary made a big play on how their "Channel 4 Job Centre" manned by experienced recruitment consultants was "much more helpful" than the Job Centre next door, but it was a gimmick and scarcely credible. In fact, for all of their finger pointing and criticisms, not once did the documentary put forward any arguments or theories as to how the Job Centre can become more efficient, professional or modernised. Instead, it attacked the directgov.uk website, which I found surprising as I've always found it easy to access, navigate and use. Highlighting that the head manager of the Job Centre wasn't au fait with finding jobs on the site was perhaps revealing, but it all just felt a little flimsy and desperate.
So what's the answer?
I don't know, to be perfectly honest, and I don't want to try and work it out either. I just want to get out. Going down there every fortnight isn't a pleasurable experience, and I've only had to do it for a handful of times (at the time of writing). God knows what those unemployed for years feel like. However, there could be good news looming on the horizon. I've been invited to a "selection event" with a well known banking group (booooo) which will take place next week over in the Black Country. The job is only part-time, but it's in my home town, with decent pay, and quite frankly I'll take what I can get right now. If nothing else it'd be a start, a step on the ladder and the chance for me to earn money and do something rather than sit around waiting for Bargain Hunt to start.
So that's me, but when I'm away from the hell-hole, unemployment will still be around. 2.5m people - that's a lot - and with no end to the recession in sight, the number doesn't look like going down dramatically any time soon either. In fact, with machines now taking over the jobs formerly inhabited by people eg. in libraries and supermarkets, the number could very well keep on rising.