A Lack-of Morality-Tale for our times


SCENE – Woman finds herself unemployed for no fault of her own and seeks help from the UK Job Centre to find work.  She enters the gloomy building at the appointed day and time and walks up to the Job Centre staff member

Woman:  Hello…erm…I’ve never been to a Job Centre before so I don’t really know what the procedure is.  Can you help me?

Staffer:  It’s up to you to learn how the system works.  We can’t offer any assistance.

Woman:  Oh.  Well, um, should I fill out a form, or wait in line, or do something with the computers?

Staffer:  Fill this in.

HANDS OVER A LARGE FORM

Woman:  OK, great, not a problem.  Then what do I do with it.

Staffer:  Everything is on the form.  I can’t help you. You can’t fill it in here.  You have to go home to do it.

Woman:  And then what?  Do I bring it back here?

Staffer:  Everything is on the form.

Woman:  Ah, right, I see…oh, it says to post it back, first class (at my expense I see) and wait for a new appointment.

Staffer:  Goodbye.

SEVERAL WEEKS LATER…THE SAME SCENE

Woman:  Hello again, I’m back for my appointment.  How are you today?

Staffer:  I can’t offer you any response.  The Job Centre is unable to help you with this information.  Please look online or on our website for further assistance.

Woman:  Right…erm…OK.  Well, I filled in the form and returned it and was told to come meet you today and you would tell me how to proceed with getting help to get a job.

Staffer:  Have you completed the form?

Woman:  Yes, I just told you that.  Didn’t you hear me?

Staffer:  I can’t offer you any response.  The Job Centre is unable to help you with this information.  Please look online or on our website for further assistance.

Woman:  Hmmm?!  Well, yes, I did and that is why I am here.  Look, to be honest, I am really rather embarrassed about losing my job, and I’ve never been unemployed before and I really want to get back in to work, any work will be fine, I just need your help to get going with it.  Well, I say I need your help, but I have already started applying for jobs myself, but according to your form these don’t count.  I have to come here, meet you every 2 weeks and be ‘helped’.  So, will you help me?  First of all I wondered if I could get any Job Seeker’s allowance, to help pay for all the applications and bus journeys and getting all the way here and back every fortnight?

Staffer: Let me look at your file…hang on…

SOUND OF TYPING ON COMPUTER

Woman:  Well?

Staffer:  We can’t help you.  You aren’t eligible for Job Seeker’s Allowance because you’ve been working.

Woman:  Well of course I’ve been working!  I’ve been working all my adult life!  I’ve paid my insurance and tax.  Doesn’t that entitle me to just a little bit of help?

Staffer:  I can’t offer you any response.  The Job Centre is unable to help you with this information.  Please look online or on our website for further assistance.

Woman: Argh!  Look, sorry, I know you are just doing your job, but surely there is something you can do to help?

Staffer: Fill in this form and bring it back in two weeks to be signed off.  If you don’t apply for at least 6 jobs every two weeks you won’t be entitled to Job Seeker’s Allowance.

Woman:  WHAT?!  But I’ve already given you evidence of over thirty jobs I’ve already applied for.  Don’t they count?

Staffer:  I can’t offer you any response.  The Job Centre is unable to help you with this information.  Please look online or on our website for further assistance.

Woman:  And what do you mean I won’t be entitled to Job Seeker’s Allowance?  You’ve already told me I’m not getting any?!

Staffer:  I can’t offer you any response.  The Job Centre is unable to help you with this information.  Please look online or on our website for further assistance.

Woman:  Aaarrghh!  Look…OK…right…I know it is just the system, not you.  So…I wanted to ask…I’ve been offered a job, a good job, but the employer needs me to have a certain qualification.  Now, I used to live abroad, in Europe, and while I was there I got the qualification, but it was obviously a European version.  Can you help me get it recognised in the UK so I can accept the job offer?

Staffer:  I can’t offer you any response.  The Job Centre is unable to help you with this information.  Please look online or on our website for further assistance.

Woman:  Oh for the love of Pete!  Well, if YOU and Job Centre can’t help, who can?

Staffer:  I can’t offer you any response.  The Job Centre is unable to help you with this information.  Please look online or on our website for further assistance.  It is your responsibility to research and contact anyone who can help you get a job.  The Job Centre does not help you get a job.

Woman:  Right!  So!  IF I can find someone to help me, is there any funding available to pay for the cost?  Or…if I have to retake the qualification can you help me with the cost of the training?

Staffer: The Job Centre offers no financial help with training or gaining job skills.  Since you have been working recently this is your responsibility.  Please fill out this form and return in two weeks.

Woman:  Aaaaarrrgghhhh!!!  Right, that is it…I’m off and I’ll sort it out myself.  Thanks for nothing.  Do you know how much help you’ve been to me today?

Staffer:  I can’t offer you any response.  The Job Centre is unable to help you with this information.  Please look online or on our website for further assistance.

TWO WEEKS PASS.  THE WOMAN DISCOVERS SHE HAS TO RETAKE THE TRAINING AT HER OWN EXPENSE.  SHE BORROWS THE MONEY FROM FAMILY.  THE TRAINING IS DUE TO BE ON THE DAY SHE IS MEANT TO RETURN TO THE JOB CENTRE.  SHE CALLS TO REARRANGE HER APPOINTMENT.

Woman:  Hello?  I was wondering if I could rearrange my Job Centre appointment on Friday?  I have a training session that day.

Anonymous 1: Please wait while I pass you to someone who can help.

PAUSE

Anonymous 2:  Hello?

Woman: Hello?  I was wondering if I could rearrange my Job Centre appointment on Friday?  I have a training session that day.  Can you help?

Anonymous 2: Please wait while I pass you to someone who can help.

PAUSE

Anonymous 3:  Hello?

Woman: Hello?  I was wondering if I could rearrange my Job Centre appointment on Friday?  I have a training session that day.  Are YOU someone who can help me?

Anonymous 3: Please wait while I pass you to someone who can help.

PAUSE

Anonymous 3:  Hello? Job Centre appointments.

Woman: Hello?  At last!  I was wondering if I could rearrange my Job Centre appointment on Friday?  I have a training session that day.  Is that possible?

Anonymous 3:  Training, you say?  Well, in that case just don’t come on Friday and call us on Monday to re-apply.

Woman:  Re-apply?  For what?

Anonymous 3:  How many hours training are you taking?

Woman:  Well, it is three days, 9 to 5 each day, so that would be 24 hours in total.

Anonymous 3:  Is your training for more than 20 hours?

Woman:  I just told you, it will be approximately 24 hours over 3 days.  Didn’t you hear me?

Anonymous 3:  I can’t offer you any response.  The Job Centre is unable to help you with this information.  Please look online or on our website for further assistance.

Woman:  What does it matter.  Surely my taking training to gain a qulification which will help my job prospects is something you would approve of?  What does the number of hours matter?

Anonymous 3:  Since you are training for more than 20 hours, we have to sign you off. You are now in full-time education and no longer eligible for Job Seeker’s Allowance.

Woman:  WHAT?!  But I DON’T GET Job Seeker’s Allowance!  And it isn’t full time education.  I am not a student.  I am re-qualifying for a qualification I already have because you wouldn’t recognise the original qualification!  Aaarrgghh!

Anonymous 3:  Please call back on Monday and we will start the signing-on process once again.  I hope this has be of help to you in finding a new job.

Woman:  Who are you?!  What is going on?!  Why won’t you people help me?!  I just want to get a job and not be a burden on my family and the tax-payers.  I want to do my bit, and earn money!  Why won’t you people help me?!

Anonymous 3: I can’t offer you any response.  The Job Centre is unable to help you with this information.  Please look online or on our website for further assistance.

WOMAN SLAMS PHONE DOWN

N.B.  This is based on a very true, very real-life story which is on-going.  I have been disgusted with the Job Centre and the UK Government’s approach to honest, hard-working individuals who simply find themselves out of work and desperately seeking new employment.  There is NO HELP WHATSOEVER.  What there is, instead, is form-filling, pointless appointments and heap loads of guilt and embarrassment.  The system appears to be setup for the feckless and work-shy.  Those who work at the Job Centres, while grossly characterised within this short play, genuinely seem to either be unwilling to find ways to help, or genuinely unable to help because the system doesn’t allow help to be offered to those who most need it.  We want people back in work, and we want them to feel supported and encouraged.  Right now, from my recent experiences, I can say that none of this is happening.  Shame on the Job Centre and shame on the UK Government.  All your big plans for benefit reform are great for the papers, but come down to street level and start fixing the almighty cock-up that is the day-to-day system.  Stop making it impossible for those who want work to get help to find work.  Right now, all I can say to sum up the Job Centre experience is:  EPIC FAIL!

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About hokusbloke
30-something radio producer/director/writer, owner & MD of Ladbroke Productions (the UK's oldest independent radio production company). Lover of far fetched fiction, scifi and fantasy, my cats and all thinks tech. I am also the Chair of the Radio Independents Group, a former Trustee of the Radio Academy, and a Fellow of the RSA. I co-wrote, produced and directed Robert Rankin's "The Brightonomicon" audio series, produce Dr Who audiobooks for the BBC, and directed several sci-fi radio plays for BBC Radio 4 in 2009. I am a strong advocate for more SF audio and radio...keep watching this space for upcoming news!

One Response to A Lack-of Morality-Tale for our times

  1. John Rivers says:

    Neil,

    I had quite a bit of experience with the job centre last year and I have to report that it was a happier experience for me, as I was attending to claim jobseeker’s allowance while knowing that my job search would mainly be conducted through external agencies.

    I did however almost lose it with the Job Centre after attempting to stonewall me over signing one single form preventing me from making an insurance claim, anything they perceive outside their remit is instantly referred to someone else, presumably because the training is so bad.

    The major problem I had was other people who used the centre. On my final day of visiting I had to attend a ‘Back to Work’ training session. The session was explanatory and well presented, however two IDIOTS decided to use it as their own personal platform to complain about how crap the job centre was and how they were no use at all. I know it seems tough when you’re on the sharp-end, but the abuse these guys get is unbelievable, the desire to help is no longer there.

    The job centre staff are now on strike over working conditions – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13110056 and I’m not sure I can blame them. The monitoring of call centre staff is a little too harsh. The cuts are biting and many of their customers are ill-educated morons who feel they’re entitled to something they’re not and they’re prepared to get abusive about it to get it.

    I understand your friend’s position here. There were many times during my unemployment I wanted to scream at the bureaucracy and buck-passing that occurred with the Job Centre, however I also feel a large sympathy for the people who work there, demoralised, facing cuts that may make them become the very thing they deal with everyday and taking large amounts of criticism and abuse.

    John

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