Archive for the ‘Diary of a Benefit Striver’ Category

Diary of a Benefit Striver #7: Contribution Exhaustion

30/04/2014

So my 26 weeks are up. My JSAC has expired. JSAC is the contributory part of the benefit where entitlement is based solely on National Insurance Contributions. This is time limited to 26 weeks (it used to be 52 weeks) and is paid at the same rate as someone who has never paid any NICs. This has long struck me as unfair.

Politicians are very fond of talking up the contributory principle. This is one reason for exempting pensioners from all the attacks on the benefits, because they have “paid in” to the system. (A more honest reason is that pensioners are more likely to vote). But I have “paid in” too. Why are my contributions worth less than those of a pensioner? When I worked in housing benefits, I lost count of the number of people I met who were shocked at just how little benefit they got, despite “paying in” for years. Time limit it by all means, but benefits based on contributions should be more generous. This is long overdue for reform.

JSA letter 10001

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Diary of a Benefit Striver #6: Running True To Form

14/04/2014

Hanley Job Centre were there usual efficient selves today. Queue for the first “Welcome Desk”, queue for the second, a surly “sit over there” where there were no seats, then a 20 minute wait with no apology.

My Arrival time: 13:49
Apppointment Time: 14:00
Time Seen: 14:15
Minutes late: 15

Diary of a Benefit Striver #5: Universal Job Match

17/03/2014

One of the conditions of claiming Job Seekers Allowance is that you have to use the government’s Universal Job Match system. This is run by online recruitment firm Monster. The system is fine in theory but I quickly discovered it has several shortcomings. If you believe the DWP’s propaganda, it is an invaluable tool to help the unemployed find work. I have always found “help” to be non-existent and that UJM is only used to monitor claimants. Thanks to the internet, there are more resources available these days, but UJM is probably the worst. When I started using it, it allowed you to store a CV but no covering letter: this was only changed this year; there were numerous ads with no employer name (listed as “company confidential”); and even more for catalogue distributors.

If a company advertising a vacancy won’t disclose its name, that suggests something dodgy: a bona fide employer would surely have no problem saying who they are. I won’t apply for these on principle. How far do you think a job seeker would get saying this:

“I’d like to apply for this job please”

“Certainly sir, what’s your name?”

“That’s confidential”!!

The catalogue distributor vacancies are little more than pyramid selling scams, requiring a hefty fee to be paid upfront and no guaranteed wage.

It’s also clear that vacancy ads are not properly vetted. A job for a woman to work as a prostitute in a massage parlour was recently on the site and was only removed when the press got hold of it. There have even been ads for hitmen and mafia couriers! I saw another for an “Administartion Assistant”, which required “attention to detail”, something the advert placer clearly lacks.

However, it gets worse. Recent investigations by Labour MP Frank Field, The Guardian and Channel 4 News have revealed that up to half of all vacancies on UJM are bogus or even fraudulent: multiple ads for the same job; ads failing to meet the DWP’s own guidelines; non-existent jobs. The DWP response to the allegations shows just how disconnected they are from reality: “The truth is that the vast majority of employers post genuine jobs, and we crack down on those who don’t play by the rules. We also regularly monitor the site and remove jobs that don’t meet our rules, such as duplicate advertisements or jobs for franchises.” This is yet another example of the incompetence of Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP.

Since these allegations were published, the DWP has removed 120,000 vacancies (about 1/5th of the total). I certainly haven’t seen any catalogue distributors for several weeks, but problems with the site remain. Claims have now surfaced that the DWP will be scrapping UJM in its current form when the contract with Monster ends in 2016, though they have denied this.

In the meantime, the unemployed are forced to use a flawed system that is there mainly to spy on them and which exposes them to the risk of fraud. The situation should never have been allowed to get this bad. Heads should roll. Starting with that liar, that incompetent fool Iain Duncan Smith. Fat chance.

Guardian reports:
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/05/government-universal-jobmatch-website-fraud

Channel 4 News Investigation:
http://www.channel4.com/news/universal-jobmatch-duplicate-job-franchise-mp-concern-job

Reports of UJM being scrapped:
http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/mar/16/dwp-jobs-website-universal-jobsmatch

UJM spelling error

Diary of a Benefit Striver #4: Advisor Interview

03/03/2014

Another meeting with the adviser on the 28th February. Followed a similar pattern to before really, but at least they sent me to the right place this time and I got a seat.

My Arrival time: 09.35
Apppointment Time: 09.40
Time Seen: 09.47
Minutes late: 7

Diary of a Benefit Striver #3: Punctuality

14/02/2014

I’ve always prided myself on my punctuality. I hate being late. Years of relying on public transport have made me something of a stickler for being on time, plus I think it’s only polite. Of course, things beyond my control can always intervene, but that’s life.

When I started signing on again, they made great play that I must be on time. I always am, I thought, with some irritation, I’m not a fool. It’s a shame that injunction doesn’t apply to them. They have never been on time, not once. Hanley Job Centre excelled themselves in incompetence today. I turned up promptly to sign, and had the usual ritual wait at the Welcome Desk. I then had to stand for almost half-an-hour (with at least twenty others) before they got round to calling me. No apology of course, I know better than to expect one.

This simply isn’t good enough. I don’t care if they think we unemployed have nothing better to do with our time, this is incompetence plain and simple. And it’s rude. Just because I’m claiming a benefit doesn’t mean I should be treated without courtesy, dignity or respect. I will be transferring the claim back to Longton Job Centre as soon as I can.

My arrival time: 10.03
Appointment Time: 10.10
Time seen: 10.35
Mins Late: 25

Diary of a Benefit Striver #2: Advisor Interview

10/02/2014

Two weeks into the claim and I had an interview with the advisor. Hanley Job Centre ran true to form: no-one at the Welcome Desk as usual, then I was directed to the standing area (can’t really call it a seating area when there’s only four seats and at least ten waiting) with others waiting to sign. This turned out to be wrong as I should have been directed to another part of the office. The result was I almost didn’t hear my name being called, which could have had unfortunate consequences. The advisor did at least apologise for the misunderstanding.

The interview followed a similar pattern to those I had last year. All very polite, and with some tips on using the Universal Job Match system, but basically useless. Which just goes to prove that it’s not about “helping you find work”, as help is either not forthcoming, not available or they don’t know how to provide it. The so-called “Job Seeker’s Agreement” is a good example. This is little better than box-ticking: as long as you apply for enough jobs, less questions are asked. Even if you apply for some you have no hope of getting just to make up the numbers. Changes proposed for April 2014 will only make this worse. Incidentally, I don’t yet have a Job-Seeker’s Agreement: each time I’ve visited Hanley, their printers have been offline!

My arrival time: 10.03
Appointment Time: 10.10
Time seen: 10.20
Mins Late: 10

Diary of a Benefit Striver #1: New Claim

19/01/2014

This is the first of what I’m thinking of making an occasional series.

With the end of my Christmas job at Royal Mail, I had to reclaim JSA. After completing the online process, I was summoned to Hanley Job Centre to complete the claim, and that had to return the following day to sign on. Why this could not have been done at the same time is beyond me, but it meant I had to pay out two lots of bus fares.

Unusually, a bus pulled up within seconds of my reaching the stop.

Potteries Day Ticket Please, I said. The machine flashed £5.00 and spat out a FirstDay.

No, the four quid one, I said

That’s the Potteries Day Ticket, said the driver.

Er yeah, that is kind of what I asked for… I know I sometimes speak quickly, but “Potteries Day Ticket” and “FirstDay” don’t sound remotely similar.

But I digress. After negotiating the building site that the city centre has become, a ten minute walk brought me to the Job Centre. I had previously signed at Longton, which seemed a much more efficient place. The same cannot be said of Hanley. First, you have to run the gauntlet of more security guards than you’d find in a dodgy nightclub, then you queue for the so-called “Welcome Desk”. They sent me upstairs, to another welcome desk, this one empty. After several minutes, someone ambled over, and I got a terse “wait over there”. “There” was a small area with only about five chairs, the last of which I took. The signing time was 10:10 and I had arrived a few minutes early – “you must not be late,” the officer yesterday had said. That stricture seems only to apply to me: I wasn’t seen until after 10:30, with no apology. By the time I was called, there were at least fifteen people waiting to sign, most having to stand. Is this inefficiency deliberate, I wondered, part of the government’s plan to make us all feel like undeserving scroungers? Well, fuck that, it won’t work with me. I have worked and paid into the system for years, so I intend to get whatever I can back out of it. And I won’t apologise for it.

I was glad to escape. I wonder how long it will take before I get the first payment this time. It took them four weeks first time round. I wonder if they can beat that?


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