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already had my CV polished, but for many people losing their jobs after years in the same position their CVs would be out of date and in need of some work.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??






Being in a consultation period was a pretty meaningless state for me to be in. My job was deleted in the re-org and my job description was clearly designed to be so specific to me that it would be impossible to move to another post – even if there were any available. This was, after all, a serious re-organisation designed to save hundreds of thousands of pounds (more on that later).

Now my job description and my job didn’t necessarily match up, but being new to the public sector I never realised how important this discrepancy could prove to be. So while I was never going to be able to save my job, it meant that I knew the outcome of the consultation period and could get on with planning for being part of the squeezed midddle.

It wasn’t that I was planning for an extended period of worklessness  unemployment. At the time I fully expected to waltz into a new and fulfilling career and be able to keep my dignity as I walked out shouting ‘nah, nah, nah, naaah, naaaaah.’

Despite my conviction that a new job was just round the corner there was nagging voice in my head that kept reminding me of some advice I had heard years ago.

It came from a fun-loving grasshopper who spent the bountiful summer enjoying himself. While others around him were busy making preparations for a harsh winter, Mr Grasshopper played with his fiddle and most definitely did not collect acorns to sustain him over the harsh British winter.

As this all happened some years ago the story has a happy ending. Despite failing to prepare (and therefore preparing to fail) Mr Grasshopper lived in a world where there was no need for a government sponsored Big Society. Instead, society looked after itself and even managed to care for those who had not made provision for times of hardship. (Check out the documentary here

I, however, do live in a world where we are increasingly expected to do the hard work of preparing for hard times on our own. Which is why I felt like I was in a slightly better position than some of my colleagues when the cuts were revealed.

Many were in a state limbo, but I knew I was a goner so was able to squirrel away some extra cash to help cover the mortgage in the unlikely event I wouldn’t get a job before the deadline rolled around.

It could be seen as an admission that, even back then I was preparing to fail (in my job hunt), but as I sit here playing with my fiddle I’m relieved that I have some funds to fall back on.

Job satisfaction then and now

I’d been in my job for about three years when we were given the news that we were soon to be surplus to requirements. For about two and a half of those years I’d been looking for something else.

It wasn’t just the red tape which wrapped itself around everything and everyone, stiffling any thought of innovation; or the ‘blowin in the wind’ management style that led to strategy after strategy falling by the wayside weeks after being proclaimed as the next big thing. It wasn’t even the fact I could do the job with my eyes closed.

What I found really hard to cope with was all these things and more being part of the same organisation.

So shortly after getting my feet under the desk I decided I’d rather like to leave – and back then it would have been on my own terms. I could have left with my gead held high, knowing I was moving on to bigger and better things.

But as the punks nearly said – ‘Apathy rools OK’.

So all my efforts to extricate myself from the job were somewhat underwhelming, consisting mainly of lazily emailed CVs to jobs I’d seen in the Guardian’s media section (online). The problem was although there was very little job satisfaction, the money was decent and it was fairly easy.

The major problems arose on the rare occasions one of the ineffective managers realised they should actually be doing something. This usually involved micro-management to the Nth degree or sweeping generalisations that were impossible to interpret and which invariably led to something being done three times before it was changed back to the way I’d done it originally.

Despite the fact my team were more or less all in the same boat – secretly on the look out for a new job – we all took pride in what we were doing and wanted to make the best of it. Largely we were successful, which allowed all those above us in the food chain to take credit for a job well done.

And so while I joined with the intention of leaving after six months (the bare minimum for a CV) I was still there when the restructure was announced late last year – somewhat forcing my hand. The only problem was swinging cuts across the public sector meant I was now in a much more difficult job market.

Looking for work when you are comfortable is never easy – unless you really hate your job you don’t have the motivation or the time. Filling in an application nowadays is a long drawn out process, and selling myself has never been a strong point of mine so it all feels a bit alien to me.

Job hunting is a full time job – it’s a cliche because it’s true. But I’ve been spoiled in the past – I’ve always been in employment in jobs I have liked and pretty much been able to follow the career path I’d chosen. I was prepared to play the long game and wait for the next step in my career to land at my feet – blissfully Ignoring the impending financial crisis and the fact that the media industry seemed intent on being the first into the abyss. (There is a whole other blog on how newspapers have lost their identity through under investment and poor planning – don’t get me started!)

Which all meant that once I actually did find myself out of work I got a rude awakening.

Firstly I realised that the recent wave of redundancies meant I was no longer job hunting as a hobby, I was involved in a cut throat game with increasing numbers of players.

Hundreds of people were now applying for the jobs I wanted (and now needed). I’m no expert in HR, but if I was on the receiving end of a few hundred CVs I’d shortlist from the first 20 and the last 20 (at best) – which means plenty will be filed straight under B for bin. No wonder so many jobs now come with the stipulation that you will only be contacted if you are successful in getting through to the interview stage – it’s not just the economy that’s gone down the pan, it’s common courtesy too.

The problem with my current job of job hunting is that there is even less satisfaction to be had from it. The only time I’ll get any enjoyment out of it will be when I find a new job – and by then it will be too late because I’ll have to give it up in order to take up my new position as an active member of the employment market.