The Criminalization of Britain's Jobless

by JoHarrington

The UK's Job Centres are not benign places given over to the efficient matching of people with jobs. They apply pressure which would make criminals of us all.

As a British jobseeker (on four separate occasions) I've experienced first-hand the erosion of soul inherent in those places.

I've had opportunities for work actively thwarted by the unemployment system. I sat in a room full of people who could have been in work, right then, had they not been forced back onto the dole by Job Centre officials.

It is a failed system, which criminalizes the desperate and vulnerable individuals with no option but to be there.

Keep Calm and Carry On - Book of Motivational Mantras

That old Blitz spirit is alive and well in the dole queues of Britain. People like me are living it, in order to get out of claiming benefits.
Keep Calm and Carry On

Stop Reading! You are Aiding a Criminal Enterprise!

Each article that I write for Wizzley acts as an example in my job-seeking portfolio. But it also counts as work and that is subject to strict regulation.

Yesterday was Halloween.  As my gallery is full of articles about ghosts, monsters, horror movies and books, it was a busy day for me. 

My success at Wizzley depends upon the readers that I can attract.  Increased internet traffic means more interaction, more comments left to respond to and more polls or duel modules to monitor.  In itself, that's great!  Every writer wants readers.  But there's more too. 

Each person is a potential customer, reacting to the monetization all around.  The fact of that capacity to earn is why we're all here; and why the officials at the Job Centre treat this (quite rightly) as work.

It does not count as something done in my spare time.  Despite the fact that a potential employer could read an article here and offer me stable employment, it does not count as part of my job-seeking.  Each week, I apply for dozens of jobs as a writer.  My Wizzley articles are the examples that they demand to see.  Still it does not count as enhancements nor evidence backing up my resume.

It's work, plain and simple.

Therefore I cannot write on Wizzley for more than ten hours a week.  I cannot promote my articles, nor answer comments, nor tinker with any formatting, nor anything else that would ensure my success here, for more than ten hours a week.

And if you think that I did less yesterday, when readers were there and my articles were waiting, on the busiest day in the year, then you'd be right.

But it's left me no hours at all to write the article that you're reading now.  Stop reading, you are abetting my criminality.

Trailer for The Full Monty (1997)

I'm not the only person who's attempted to get themselves off the dole!

Buy The Full Monty on DVD or Amazon Instant Video

This hilarious movie is about a group of men trying to get off Britain's dole queues. Today they would be penalized for the attempt.
The Full MontyThe Full Monty - Fully Exposed EditionThe Full Monty

My Personal History with the Job Centre

I've been on the dole four times. This is the first occasion when I've attempted to pro-actively create employment for myself.

Nobody enjoys being out of work.  There's a whole slew of societal pressures working against you, and you have no money for anything fun.  Not to mention the havoc it plays with your self-esteem!

I've been there four times.  I'm currently in the fourth.  I tell you this solely so you know my experience here.

  • Number one:  I was straight out of High School and in employment shortly afterwards.  I barely count this one at all!
  • Number two:  Five years later, after full time employment followed by full time further education, I left University and ended up on the dole.  I was there for about six months and it resulted in finding work.
  • Number three:  Fast forward over a decade and I was made redundant from a government position within the local University.  This was my longest stretch at the mercy of the Job Centre, resulting in employment after roughly eighteen months.
  • Number four:  Here we are.  The recession took my last job and we're coming up to a year.

On the other hand, there's my job history as a counter-balance.  I'm forty years old and I've worked since I was fourteen.  The earliest jobs may have only been a paper-round and a stint as an Avon Lady, but it was work. 

In short, out of the past twenty-six years, just over three of them have been spent drawing benefits.  The rest was putting money into the national coffers.

Please note, when voting, that I am adhering to all of the rules laid out by the British government.

In between articles, I am responding to advertizements for employment.  By law, I have to apply for four jobs per week (and prove that I've done so).

I also have to declare all of the work that I've done for Wizzley.  Any money gained from it will be deducted from my benefit payment.

Should I Write for Wizzley and Other Platforms?

Child Poverty in Britain 2012

Britain has a global reputation as a rich country. The Empire is long since over and those falling under the poverty line are reaching epidemic levels.

What is it Like Entering a Job Centre?

It's a study in retaining self-worth, while being patronized on all sides, in a noisy, disorienting environment.

You are treated as an unruly infant from the second you enter the doors.  Security guards flank the entrance and more wait inside.

There's approximately twelve feet of carpet between the door and the reception desk.  In any other business or governmental building, the average adult could be expected to walk that straight line without need of guidance.  Not here. 

I was once stopped three times, with about twice as many steps, to show my documents to different security guards.  They did the same thing, gestured to the desk right before me. 

It's not about protection.  Direly worded posters all over the walls warn of the consequences of violence here.  The police will be called.  You will be arrested.  We are left in no doubt that the guards are poised ready to attack, should we so much as think about it.

But my bag remains on my shoulder, unsearched.  I'm not patted down.  My shoes and belt are not removed.  I do not pass through an x-ray machine.  Nor am I swept with a metal detector.

No, the whole purpose of the security guards is to ensure that I know that I'm too stupid, too infantile and worthless, to walk twelve feet to an obvious desk without guidance.

You reach the desk.  The person standing behind the podium will check their watch and shake their head regardless of the time.  I arrived ten minutes early once and was sent away.  I had to rejoin the queue.  I arrived ten minutes late once, due to traffic.  I was given a warning.  If this happens again, your benefits could be stopped.

The Job Centre's reception official tells you where to go.  For some this involves standing in a long queue.  Last time I was there, I witnessed a security guard bustle by demanding that those queuing move away from the glass office wall.  They all shuffled across a step or two.  Within a minute, a suited receptionist walked by and moved them back to where they were.

They all did as they were told.  Sardonic smiles flashed.  You have to find the humor in these displays of power over you.  Otherwise you'd sink inside.

I am directed to sit down.  In the past, this wait could last for a long time.  My record was forty minutes, eyes flicking between the waiting officials, trying to lip-read the moment when my name was called.  That seems to have been resolved, now that the younger adults have been sent to another building.

The noise comes like a battery assault.  I'm partially deaf and that engenders its own problems.

UK Benefit Cuts to Affect the Disabled

Please note that I'm not on disability allowance. I've heard enough horror stories not to even attempt that one!

Should You Tell the Job Centre that you are Deaf?

Having fallen for this twice, my answer is categorically 'no'. If you can possibly hide your disability from them, do it. It will be used against you otherwise.

When you arrive for your first ever interview, to begin your job-seeking claim, you will encounter a lovely, friendly individual. 

Their job is to collect all of the information about you to be added to their database.  It's all done in an atmosphere of jovial helpfulness. 

For those who have never experienced unemployment, this is the Job Centre as the government would frame it.  Happy, knowledgeable people on your side, whose whole reason to be is to get you into work as soon as possible.

That's not their real job.  What they are really there to do is to gain your trust.  In all ignorance, the new claimant gives them everything, which can potentially be used against them in a legal claim.

Back in 1995, I informed a new claim officer that I'm partially deaf.  It flashed up again in 2011, when I was back in a similar seat. 

"Oh!  You're special needs!"  He exclaimed.  I should have denied it.  I should have told him that, actually my deafness was cured!  It's a miracle! Yay!  Instead, I was so stunned by being called 'special needs' that I just mutely nodded.

Big smiles then.  I was informed that I could see a Special Needs Counselor.  She worked solely with the deaf and she would be able to help me much better.  I agreed to see her, as anything is better than that huge open office, where I can hear nothing at all.

It turned out that the 'Special Needs Counselor' was in an office even noisier than the main one. She knew nothing about deafness.  She was there to deal with problematic claims instead. 

At first, I had to see her every other week.  She took me metaphorically by the hand and did all of the things that I do anyway.  Her help was geared more to those with learning difficulties or the inability to read and write.

Over the months, this has been whittled down to once every three weeks.  She reviews all that I've done to look for work.  She does a job search for me. 

At least now we're in an office, as it became clear that I can't go through such long interrogations without being able to hear.  I still struggle, as the door is permanently propped open; but it's better than nothing, in terms of hearing.

Yet make no mistake here.  I have never, in all my trips into that building, had a conversation in which I could hear.  I am deaf in one ear and the Job Centre cannot cater for that.  I mostly lip-read or deduce what's going on.  The officials do now turn their computers around, so I can read the salient part about my claim being registered for the fortnight.

In terms of psychological impact, the Special Needs meeting is devastating.  Once every three weeks, it's reinforced that I have 'Special Needs'.  I am incapable of conducting my own job searches.  It's in this room where it's constantly underscored that the Job Centre find my Wizzley articles so suspect.

The problem, as I interpret it, is that it might possibly lead to a livelihood, and that would never do.

Unilateral hearing can result in some excruciatingly awkward social situations. A heart-breaking search query has led to this article.
Unilateral hearing affects a significant percentage of the population. How would you welcome a client or guest with this kind of deafness?

Claimants 'tricked' out of benefits, says whistleblower

Pressure to cut costs is leading to vulnerable claimants being 'set up' so their benefits get stopped.

The Job Centre's War on Employment

You would think it was the other way around, wouldn't you? After all, these are the people who are meant to help you into jobs.

In 2008, I had just been made redundant.  I had been working full time for years and the recession hadn't yet truly exploded. 

In truth, I waited a fortnight before signing on.  I was so confident that I'd just walk into another job, that I awarded myself a little holiday.  As I underwent my initial interview, it was with smiling anticipation.  I had a letter in my pocket inviting me for a job interview.  I was sure that I'd get it.

I told this to the new claim interviewer.  He read the letter and duly made a note of the date and time.  I was off to a roaring start! 

Then the documentation came through.  I was to sign on at precisely the exact time and date as my job interview.  There was surely some mistake.  I called the Job Centre.  No, that was my signing time and I had to be there.

After going through a series of managers, I finally negotiated being able to attend an hour early.  No sooner than that.  I arrived in my interview outfit, desperately nervous about what was to follow, once I'd got the Job Centre signing out of the way.

I was made to wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Eventually my prompting got me in front of the desk, where I was told off for my impatience.  The job interview was now half an hour away, in a different town.  I was asked to tell the Job Centre everything about it. 

The official asked if I really thought I was suitable for that particular employment.

I did get to the job interview on time, but with only minutes to spare.  I was hot, flustered and my nerves were in shreds.  I did not get the job.

I thought it an anomaly, just something messed up in the system, until I was offered another job later down the line.  I could be a First Aid Tutor - a job which I really wanted - but only if I had a PTLLS qualification.  It could be done in a week or two.  I had three weeks to get it.

As I was signing on next day, I asked if there would be funding for getting the qualification. If not, I'd pay for it myself out of my redundancy money.  I was assured that there would be, but I needed to attend another interview for it.

I did achieve the funding and arrived for the course.  But it wasn't PTLLS.  It was a work program tailored towards the illiterate and innumerate.  I was told that I had to complete thirteen weeks of it before I could go on my PTLLS course.  

By now, I'd missed the deadline to attend the intensive course paid for by myself.  I contacted my erstwhile employer and he regretfully informed me that he could not hold the job open that long. 

Beside me in the class was a man who could have had a job, if he'd just taken a day long forklift truck driving examination.  He was also here and his job had also gone.  Nor were we alone.  A dozen people sat in that room, in precisely the same position as us.

We all took the view that if we just saw this program through, we'd never be here again.  We would have those qualifications.

But eleven weeks in, the announcement was made.  The coffers were empty.  None of us were going to get onto our chosen courses.  Sorry.

Yet everyone there could have already been working.  If the Job Centre adjudicators had been honest at the onset, or had acted quickly with the bespoke courses, not one of us would now have been drawing benefits.

"It's their jobs though, innit?"  One man commented to me.  "If they let us all get jobs, then what's keeping them in employment?"  It felt like a fair assessment to me.

Britain's 'Lost Generation' of Unemployed

Degree? Say That You Went to Prison Instead

It was a comment so off the wall that even my unemployed friends, battle weary and broken by it all, couldn't quite believe it had been said to me.

I was so naive in 1995.  I skipped out of my graduation ceremony into the dole office, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. 

I'd got letters after my name!  I was going to waltz straight into the best job known to humanity, earning riches beyond my wildest dreams.

The Job Centre's new claims officer soon brought me down to Earth with a bump.  Back then, there wasn't that friendly veneer. It was like being interviewed at a police station.

"There's no work for graduates around here.  Leave that off your CV." 

I was a little stunned.  After all, I'd just spent three years of my life working hard for that degree.  I had been assured throughout that it would led to great things. 

"What should I put down for the last three years then?"

He shrugged, dismissive in tone and expression, "Whatever you want."

Feeling facetious, I quipped, "Tell them that I've been in prison or something?"

"Frankly, it would be better than saying you've been to University."  He told me bluntly.  "You're too over-qualified.  Leave it off."

But that was 1995.  I thought it would be better by 2008, when I now had a Master's Degree to add to the academic carnage.  While not as forthright as the previous occasion, it was suggested to me that potential employers might be put off by the MA. 

Nothing else said.  Just the implication hanging in the air.  I left it on my resume.  The Job Centre put me on a course to assist with my reading and writing.

UK Unemployment Reaches 17 Year High

The Pressure That I'm Under NOT to Write for Wizzley

There's probably only three people in the world who knew this before now, but here it is. If I caved in, I wouldn't be here at all.

The last time I cried over it was a couple of weeks ago.  Someone intimated that I should stay out of a debate, as I patently didn't want to make money at Wizzley.

I was sitting here with Job Centre forms beside my keyboard.  I have to fill them in, so to declare my writing, in order to even be here.  Money is tight.  I need this. 

There are no jobs in Britain.  I know because I've applied endlessly for them.  I put the hours into Wizzley because it HAS to work.  It's my ticket out of the dole queue.

Yet it's subject to a lot of scrutiny.  It's treated as something vaguely criminal and highly suspect. 

Not by all.  I should keep perspective here.  In fact, the lady signing my forms this morning was very supportive.  She asked after my writing and wished me well.  She genuinely appeared to me like an individual there who wants this to work for me too.

But the months are closing in.  Once that year passes, the clock runs out and I'm on a work program.  That really will be a full time job.  It won't be the ten hours that I put into Wizzley each week. It will be accounting for every second of my time until I get a job.

It will be working stacking shelves for the same money that I get for my benefits (or slightly less).  Fair enough, if it would lead to employment afterwards.  But forgive me if I look at the facts surrounding it and assume that it would not.

Wizzley remains my best bet to date.  My hits are soaring and my bottom line is rising close to the payout thresholds.

For now, I write under the certain knowledge that success depends upon putting in many more hours than the allocated ten.  Going over criminalizes me in the eyes of the government.  That any money that I make, while signing on, will be seized as soon as the payment threshold is met.

That the only way I can escape it is making enough every month to live on; thus leaving the dole queue forever.

The Work Programme and the Search for 'Hidden' Jobs

This is the sort of program which I will be on from next month.

Keep Calm and Carry on Motivational Posters

Updated: 11/01/2012, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 11/11/2012

Thank you for the confidence boost. We both will and you'll get back on the road again.<3

Ragtimelil on 11/11/2012

Jeez Loouise! I haven't been through anything that bad, but I waited until I was on Social Security. It's not much, but it pays the rent. Of course I can't afford a car, but hoping I'll be making a few bucks too. (no public trans out here...) You'll make it. I know you will!

JoHarrington on 11/10/2012

Companies like Tesco are certainly doing well out of unemployment. In fact, any nation has, which could have a free and extensive workforce, for which it had to offer no payment.

I would love to have heard what George Orwell had to say about today's situation, though he possibly already said it all in 1984. We're certainly the most watched nation on Earth.

The Job Centres may not be the Sustainable and Satisfying Career Centre, but they should be encouraging jobs. It's been my personal experience (twice) that they are not. They will actually act to stop you achieving employment, for all the guilt tripping and aggressively bureaucratic lip-service that they pay to that.

JohnTannahill on 11/10/2012

We often miss the fact that unemployment is actually a good thing for employers. The pool of unemployed is a resource they can use if they need it, and it's existence makes labour a buyers market which keeps the price down. Unemployment rates go up and down, but unemployment never really goes away. Businesses are quite happy with that, especially if they don't have to pay much of the cost. Full-employment would be a real problem to them if it ever happened. Given the important role of the unemployed, in helping to keep the economy dynamic and competitive, it seems especially unfair to treat them so harshly. But, the whole thing wouldn't function if unemployed people were allowed to be happy. I wish George Orwell were alive today, he'd put it across much better than I can, but his answer would probably be more socialism. Personally, I think we need more self-employment and small businesses, probably very small businesses. Unfortunately, Job Centres aren't there to support this, but you might find other organisations that do. For the over 50s, there's the Prince's Initiative for example. Sadly, the Job Centre will just do what it's meant to, and keep the excess workers on their toes. It's called the Job Centre, not the Sustainable and Satisfying Career Centre.

JoHarrington on 11/09/2012

What makes mine so disturbing is that I have it relatively good compared to some, and I'm certainly not alone. Worrying times for everyone.

JoHarrington on 11/06/2012

I can certainly relate to what you're saying about Disability Allowance, though fortunately it's at one step removed. A friend of a friend (really! I know that's cliched, but I swear it's true) was in hospital on her deathbed. She was told that she could still work and therefore wasn't eligible for Disability. She died shortly afterwards.

This happened in Liverpool too. A father came back from the hospital after witnessing the death of his adult son. The recently deceased had spent six months being denied disability and had filled in endless forms, while terminally ill. The father found a letter on the doorstep from the DPW once again declaring his son fit to work.

And the father got angry. He channeled all of that anger into a court case, suing the government for making his son's last six months Hell. As far as I'm aware, it's still on-going.

Thank you so much for your advise. Another Wizzley author has DMed me with much the same too. I'm certainly going to pursue it. As for the tax thing, I'm not worried about that. Before my redundancy, I was working for a Mexican tour operator, as an English language content writer for their website and blog. As I wasn't on a British P.A.Y.E. I had to declare my own tax in a self-assessment form.

I'm still doing it. I'm just declaring the Jobseekers' Allowance too.

Thank you for having my back here. It's very much appreciated. <3

humagaia on 11/06/2012

Jo, I can relate to everything in your article. Why? Because all this happened to me after I signed on following my coma incident. And you are right, trying to claim disability benefit is a joke. I could hardly walk, let alone hold down a job, yet the system deemed that I could do 'some kind of work'. Of course I could, they were right - but nobody in their right mind would employ someone who could hardly stand, had very short concentration periods and became tired after about an hour of trying to concentrate on something.
And like you I thought writing for a living would get me out of that situation.
But unlike you I found an alternative way of using the system so it worked for me, rather than against me.
This is what you should do ===
declare that you will be going self-employed, and that you will be working > 30 hours per week doing it. Ask for all the documentation necessary. Find out about Tax Credits for the self-employed.
If things have not changed (and it may be that certain payments were due to me because of my age, and the amounts may have changed) you will find that: due to your 1 year unemployment record, you can receive £100 for becoming self-employed (finding work I think they call it); receive £50 per week for 10 or 12 weeks as an interim payment; receive just under that which you are getting on the dole, as Tax Credit, without end; not have to sign on ever again; receive housing benefit and Council Tax rebate from your council because you receive less than a living income (until you start to see some return on your investment in writing at Wizzley); not have to worry that you could break the law; most certainly not be restricted to 10 hours writing ever again.
The downside is that you will have to declare your income for tax purposes, once per year; do same to Council twice per year; fill out the forms for Tax Credits once per year.
You will be removed from the unemployment figures.
The upsides outweigh the downsides 1000%. DM me if you want to discuss further.

JoHarrington on 11/04/2012

I'm glad that you think so. Thanks for reading.

Kate on 11/04/2012

An excellent article. Thank you

JoHarrington on 11/03/2012

Yep, that is precisely what will happen. It's what happened last time. I haven't even gone into detail about the thirteen week course, but that the lunatics did take over the asylum. Boxes were ticked.

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