Signing on (or Euphemisms part II)

The Job Centre – or Jobcentre Plus, as my local branch has been branded – is a now part of my life. It’s not the first time I’ve been through the doors of a job centre, I had a summer job in the Benefits Agency and our paths crossed from time to time.

Being a dole bludger is not high on my list of aspirations, but when you have a mortgage to pay and food to put on the table £65 a week is £65 a week. And I’m claiming what is known as contribution-based Job Seeker’s Allowance, which means I have contributed enough NI Stamp to be entitled to six months’ worth of pay back – not bad for over ten years unbroken contributions.

Processes have changed since my day – it is now possible to apply for benefits online.  Once completed I was asked to attend an interview where I agreed a plan of action in a bid to get me back into work as soon as possible. I was now officially on the dole a Jobcentre Plus customer; officially just another unemployment worklessness statistic.

Having a structured plan to help me find work would be useful, so I suggested that I check industry specific job sites on the internet every day to see what opportunities are available.

“Hmmm,” said my worklessness adviser. “Perhaps you should say you’ll look at them every other day. We don’t want to set unrealistic targets for you.”

It was nice to know they had faith in me. So that was agreed and my plan of action was in place. Carry on doing what I had already been doing – only do it slightly less often. There was no offer of any sort of help with my CV, no one told me where I could get help or advice on job hunting or interview techniques – this really was to be a literal and metaphorical box-ticking exercise.

Fortunately I had already had my CV polished, but for many people losing their jobs after years in the same position their CVs would be out of date and in need of some work. I know plenty of people who have not updated their CVs in ten years or longer.

being in the system means I sign on every fortnight, having kept a record of what I have been doing to look for work. I tend to lie on the form and just miss out the days when I have been looking for work when I did it on a day that wasn’t part of the agreed “every other day” regime. So far I have got away with it.

Apart from the pretence I am perpetrating to my fortnightly adviser, I am also in a constant battle with the Jobcentre Plus bouncers security staff. These are a new(ish) addition to job centres. In days of yore staff sat behind toughened glass to protect them from disgruntled claimants customers. A few years ago the powers that be decided front-line staff in the benefits agency should be more open and approachable – it came during a major re-brand during which the DSS became the BA and claimants became customers. 

Needless to say this new approachability allowed a few violent nutters who were unhappy at being refused a payment because they had missed a couple signings through a heroin induced stupor to approach the staff in a physical way. So attacks on staff members increased. But to make sure the happy, open feel of job centres was not lost the physical barriers were not replaced – instead a bevvy of G4S security staff were employed to intervene in case things got hairy.

Now most people visiting a job centre are there to sign on and that’s it, so the security staff have very little to do. Which is, I assume, why they create little jobs for themselves. Every time I go I am asked what I am there for, fair enough – if I said I’m there to buy tickets for a Michael Jackson concert they could provide helpful advice, letting me know he is dead and that even if he weren’t the Jobcentre Plus is not for tickets.

But I tell them I am there to sign on – as far as I can ascertain, Jobcentre Plus’ raison d’etre. Instead of saying “fine”, they eye me suspiciously and ask me if I have my signing on book. When I tell them yes and go to move on they ask me to show them it, as if I am lying in order to sneak into the Jobcentre Plus. Maybe someone has done this in the past and they are just being vigilant – The question is why would anyone want to have an illicit visit to their local Jobcentre Plus??





Read all about it…

Two bits of news have jumped out at me over the past 48 hours – the death of peace activist Brian Haw ( or any number of other news sites) and a missive from the Daily Express ( about the lack of summer holidays that will be abound this year. The two items neatly bookend the past decade for me.

Ten years ago I was a raw recruit into the (un)glamourous,  highly paid world of journalism. In actual fact this was just before I started an to earn the princely sum of £10,500 in  my first reporter’s role. I was in the enviable position of having forked out some £5,000 to learn my trade.

One of the first assignments was a  trip to the big city where we were to wander the streets searching for scoops. We started off with a trip round the Houses of Parliament. As that ended we were told to head out in to the mean streets of London Town and not come back until we had two top quality stories – before being reminded that the coach was due to depart at 5pm sharp. As a journalist you are always up against deadlines.

Peace protester Brian Haw

Brian Haw during his decade-long protest.

So as my fellow trainee hacks made their way into central London to track down the latest news, I crossed the road to Parliament Square and asked the chap in the hat and tent if I could have a word or two. I told him I was a journalist and he said I was the first to journalist to talk to him since he’d arrived. A coup for me and presumably he hoped it would get him some much needed publicity – unfortunately my assignment was  read by precisely one person, my tutor.

Nevertheless we chatted about what he was doing and why he was doing it. (Camping and protesting for peace in the Middle East, in case you were wondering). He also told me about his family – a wife and seven children – whom he had left in Worcestershire to embark on his campaign (he was divorced in 2003). And when I asked how long he would be living in his tent on the doorstep of Parliament he told me “as long as it takes”. I doubt he expected it to take the rest of his life.

And in other news… This year we are a no longer going on vacation. Even staycations ( are out according to the Daily Express as the Squeezed Middle continues to be squeezed. Yes, next to important breaking news about the marital status of ‘Friend’ Jennifer Aniston, The Express reveals that some 18 million people can not afford a holiday – that’s a third of us (more if you include the inevitable children who cannot swan off to the Algarve without an accompanying adult).

This news is relevant in my household because our own holiday is very much touch and go. And if it is ‘go’, then it is very much going to be in a tent and in this country. A family wedding means we will probably be able to tag on four days in the Lake District, surviving off bread and sniffit if we are lucky.

From a first interview to a (possibly) last holiday in the space of a decade – it’s at times like this I wish I’d invested more of the £200 a week pay check from my first job.