Tag Archives: dole

Off the dole; what next?

I squealed with delight when the P45 form finally arrived in the post from HM Revenue & Customs, confirming my long awaited news: the JobCentre had officially sacked me.

In other words, I am off the dole. Off to a part-time freelance job.

Bizarre as it may seem, while you are claiming any benefits during uenmployment, the JobCentre Plus is technically your employer, the employer of the unemployed. Once you are off their books, you are “fired”, you get your P45.

And what a pleasurable dismissal it was too.

Signing off
On my last sign-on day, my amiable personal adviser Dennis greeted me with his usual enthusiasm: “How are you this morning, Mrs Elliott?” In keeping with our fortnightly routine, he moaned a little about the pain on his frozen shoulder while typing into the computer and preparing papers for me to sign.

“Oh dear. Is your shoulder still bothering you?” I asked, as sympathetically as I could, trying not to betray my glee at the prospect of never having to attend a  sign-on appointment again.

For once, the JobCentre didn’t feel like a dreadful place. I was actually glad to be there, glad to see Dennis, glad to talk about the hundreds of jobs I had applied for and didn’t get.

It is funny how drastically one’s mental status can colour the glasses through which you see the world. The security guard had smiled when I handed in my “dole book”, my latest personal adviser was friendly and helpful, even the JobCentre manager had shown a wacky sense of humour: a short time ago I had noticed the advisers at my local JobCentre were seated in clusters of two, with a sign above each pair named Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello… That’s right – the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Whether this was meant to entertain glum jobseekers or provide comic relief to their own staff from the drudgery of their jobs, I do not know, but I appreciated their attempt at humour when there is so little for the jobless to be amused about.

Random acts of kindness
My adviser made a note of all the information he needed for closing down my jobseeker file and asked to keep the protective plastic pocket into which I used slip my “dole book” – the government had cut their supply to JobCentres.

Then he stretched his hand and wished me good luck.

“Thank you. Thank you for all your help,” I said.

“That’s what we’re here for,” he replied.

“I hope your shoulder will get better soon.”

I must have been grinning like an idiot as I exited the building. As I walked past reception, T., who had once snapped at me for arriving too early for an appointment, stopped chatting to the security guard to say goodbye. I saw both their eyes were smiling too.

Later a friend left a hilarious comment on my Facebook page: “You should have screamed ‘cowabunga!’ before somersaulting out the window like a true ninja turtle…”

I laughed, but I felt the panic rising inside. What exactly was I somersaulting into?

Expressions such as “career dreams” and “professional aspirations” have now left my lexicon…I am no longer unemployed, yet not fully employed, living in a vacuum I struggle to describe, where all that matters is food on the table, heating for the winter and a little spare cash to buy a present or two for Christmas.

Having only just left the dole queue, it feels as if I am already standing in line again at the back of another long queue. Where it will lead me I do not yet know, I’m afraid of knowing.

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Week 26: off the dole and onto…Tarot cards?

If you claim jobseeker’s allowance based on national insurance contributions, your eligibility for the dole is for 182 days, or roughly six months. Mine ran out last month, so a fortnight ago I was summoned by the JobCentre Plus to the so-called “week 26 review meeting” , where a personal adviser is meant to draw up “a three-step action plan” to improve your chances of finding work.

What amuses me about JobCentres – and God knows there is very little to be cheerful about them – are the colourful personalities of the advisers you come across; if you are lucky, that is. There is nothing else to smile about.

Rehab?
My week 26 appointment was with a tall and lanky male adviser with long hair and a bushy moustache, who looked to me like a modern version of a hippie from the swinging 60s. I remember thinking he’d look good in a flowery Hawiian shirt and bell bottoms.

I always try to see the funny side to every situation, so I was secretly delighted.

My “beatnik” adviser turned out to be no dopey-head tough, but a straight talker who wasted no time in exposing his personal views on three-step action plans for jobseekers. He said:

“The fact is there is only one action possible for a person in your situation; and that is for you to look for a job and find one.”

I immediately took a liking to him. 

The reason most people find visits to the JobCentre degrading is that unemployment is treated as if it was a anti-social addiction, such as alcoholism, which needs to be treated “in steps”.

Does it not suffice that we spend day in and day out doing nothing else but looking for work, applying for work, thinking about work? In the view of the JobCentre, if after six months on the dole, you are still unemployed, you are doing something wrong that needs to be fixed, never mind the recession.

Terminally unemployed
At week 26 in my…condition, I am now classified as a “stage three customer”, a term with a distinctly morbid ring to it, as in “stage three cancer” or “terminal patient”. And, as a terminal jobseeker, my adviser tells me I am entitled to certain additional types of support, which I take it as being the JobCentre’s equivalent of palliative care.

Certain local colleges offer free crash courses to “help you get back to the workplace and support you with continued training once you are in a job”. Would I like to learn new skills, which could “open doors to a new career”?

All very well, until you read the small print on the training courses actually offered: health and safety in the workplace, food safety in catering, door supervisor (for bouncers??), first aid and…erm…. Tarot card reading.

I am not ungrateful, mind. I would love to learn Tarot card reading, and would appreciate being able to predict when I am likely to find a job. But how a Tarot certificate on my CV would enhance my chances of employment I am still struggling to comprehend.

But that’s only because I have the small mind of a bourgeois woman and am reluctant to accept fortunetelling as a career in its own right…

The best remedy
In order not to lose your sanity, you must learn to laugh at the foibles of the JobCentre. What little advice and support they have to hand out is not applicable to anyone with any level of decent education, let alone a degree. (Read graduate Kate McCann’s experience with the JobCentre Plus under Related Links below)

The truth is: on this crusade to claw back into the job market, you are a lone knight and your own imagination and resourcefulness are the only weapons that can save you from defeat by your own despair.

Everyone needs a card up their sleeve. Whether it will be the Tarot kind or not is up to you to decide.

Indeed, some jobseekers have found very imaginative, and amusing, ways of looking for work, without resorting to help from the JobCentre. Find out more by reading my next post

* Related links of interest:

Out on our own (Guardian): graduate Kate McCann on how JobCentre Plus is letting graduates down
– Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) report on UK labour market

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