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Saturday, 6 December 2014

Jobcentre as walk-in-and-out-cattle-pen?

By Dude Swheatie

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group Honorary Member Kate Belgrave and witnesses report on how the drive to get throughput in and out of Kilburn Jobcentre in a form of ritual humiliation amounts to number-crushing.

Tube trains carrying a workforce into their waged positions are often likened to 'cattle trucks'. A Kilburn Jobcentre customer cited by Kate complains of being treated like catlle under the daily signing regime made worse by a half-day-closure of that 'facility'. Instead of being relieved of the duty to sign on with the half-day closure, afternoon signers were ordered to attend in the morning, reducing 'quality time' all round.

Under such circumstances, the treatment given to jobseekers regarded as 'overstayers' — a phrase I heard applied to myself after a time on Labour's 'New Deal' expired in 2003 — it is obviously the person denied 'the help they need, when they need it', is treated as abuser of the system rather than the person abused.

And under such circumstances, I'm really glad that I accepted the fact that for me to carry on as a disabled jobseeker till retirement would make myself vulnerable with not worth the pain of that gamble. From November 1977 till I claimed Employment & Support Allowance in early 2009, alongside inadequately supported stretches of government funded training and 3 years as a full-time undergraduate, my sum-total of waged employment had amounted to a grand total of 19 months.

Of that 19 months, 11 months — May 2005 till April 2006 — were so part-time that I was submitting part-time earnings forms at the jobcentre on my fortnightly signing on dates. And against that backdrop I was also experiencing the frustration of not having my JSA top-up entitlement recognised even while the few hours I did as a £7.81 per hour careworker to adults with learning difficulties was below a single 24+ year old's JSA levels. Forget the idea that that income would allow me to travel by tube to shifts with my service users; I gave up that work when the stress of not getting the JSA top up I required earned me cellulitis in my legs as I walked about 3 or 4 miles to a shift and the same back for one of those shifts.

But I was not the only one let down by the system in those days of the 'noughties, as a Community Care magazine report suggested. The report by welfare rights specialist Neil Bateman sadly lacked anything like the coverage given to portrayals of benefit claimants as 'shirkers' has had. So, yes the current Government has made life much worse for benefit claimants, but the anthem with which the Blair Government was elected — 'Things Can Onlyu Get Better' — did not really apply to people let down by jobcentres even then.  Neil Bateman's report is well worth reading for the picture of a system in meltdown — Jobcentre Plus: Poor service continues.

Yet now that more and more and more people are being abused by the system, it is clear that the agenda has changed from 'cock up' to smear story fuelled malevolence. And of course, the involvement of private 'security company' G4S in jobcentres only adds to the context that jobcentres are now places of penal servitude for those whose only recourse is to seek state benefits to which they are entitled. So maybe nasty right wing governments of whatever political party's administration should formally rebrand the UK's 'jobcentres' as 'correction centres' as the American legal system calls its prisons? (Where are the jobs anyway? Right wing lobbyists are hooked on 'the pursuit of inequality' to the point that they want to drive wages right down and eliminate jobseekers' bargaining power.)

And of course, conversely in reality, when animals bred as food are treated well the nutritional value of the food source they become is improved. And that has parallels with the message of the book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always do Better.

To find out more about what Kilburn Jobentre was like this last Thursday, read Kate's blog-piece Reasonable adjustment for disabled people who sign on? I think not!

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