I can’t remember where I read it but someone said that if you are looking for full-time work, you should spend full-time hours searching, applying and interviewing for jobs.
At the time I scoffed. There aren’t enough jobs to spend 40 hours a week looking for them! How long does it take to print out a CV? How can it possibly take all day to apply for the two or three new jobs you’ve managed to track down?
Well, now I know the answer to that last question. Firstly, you attend an interview in a remote town that requires to you leave the house at 7.55 in order to arrive at the interview for 10am. Then you try to get back from the interview and discover that the train you thought you’d catch simply hasn’t turned up. Next you tramp round the entire town again, to check if there are any new “Apply Within” signs up (and find three – one at the cafe who treated you so abysmally last time you applied to work there that even starvation wouldn’t tempt you to try again). Then, and this is the key one, you go to the JobCentre for a preliminary interview.
I’ve always made it a policy not to trust companies who can’t punctuate their own names, and once again I was proven right. The advisor I saw was almost comically inept, and the forms which I’d filled in online had somehow recorded me as male. There’s no way I accidentally put I was male – I had to review the application before sending it in, and then reviewed it again over the phone before I made an appointment, and anyway I was recorded as female on some of the forms and just not others. It reminded me that the Inland Revenue sent me a tax rebate cheque addressed to Mr Surname (obviously they didn’t address it to Mr Surname, but I’m not going to tell you my surname if you don’t already know it!) so maybe the government just can’t understand that I’m female? It seems ridiculous. I have one of the most female names in existence.
Anyway. We managed to correct that after about fifteen minutes. Then there was a long discussion about whether or not I was a student, which resulted in my having to find and produce proof that I didn’t receive Student Loans by Wednesday. Hmm. How do you prove that something doesn’t happen?
Just when it seemed like we were nearing the end of the forms, via a lot of “oh no, that isn’t the right form” and “oops, just got to go and check something with someone” and “oh dear, that wasn’t right”, I stupidly mentioned something about paperwork getting muddled in my move back from France. The advisor’s head slowly descended until it hit the desk. I hastily reassured him that I would find it – but that wasn’t the problem.
The problem was that anyone who had left the UK, for any length of time, for any reason other than simple holiday-making, had to fill out another form. I never managed to find out why this was: something about people trying to make a new life for themselves in Spain, a bit about the island of Montserrat and something vague about immigration (I’m not convinced he knew either, which speaks volumes about the government’s attitude towards their employees and “customers”. I won’t even start on the use of the word “customers”).
His main concern was that the form was very new and no one had used it yet, so he wasn’t sure how it worked. The answer turned out to be: badly. Not only did it require the poor man to fill out every single detail over again (date of birth, gender(!), address, NI number, phone number etc), it also asked questions such as “Did the customer bring any money back with them from the country?”. My answer of “no, it’s actually still sitting in a French bank account” didn’t suffice because – I kid you not – I must have had a few coins in my purse and that counted. We decided I was carrying £10 (it took five or six attempts to make the form accept that figure) and moved onto the wonderful questions “Why did the customer leave the country?”: “To return to the UK”; “Why did the customer return to the UK?”: “To live here”. I didn’t provide those answers, by the way, but I couldn’t think of any better ones. Why does anyone leave a country? Because they would rather be in a different one? Then there was the question “Does the customer have any links with anyone in the country?” which to me sounds like the kind of question you answer with a definitive NO if you want to convince the government that you aren’t a flight risk, but I was told that if I had made any friends during my time in Paris, that counted as a link. I find it hard to picture any scenario at all where someone might spend more than 13 weeks in a country and not meet someone who lives there, but hey. Why miss an opportunity to add another section to another form?
After more than an hour, we moved on to the Job Seeker’s Agreement. I agreed to look for jobs in three newspapers, to search online twice a week (that’s a joke – I search online at least twice a day) and to “ask friends and family” once a week. Really? Asking friends and family counts as job hunting?
Then again, I guess they don’t need to require particularly strenuous job hunting. It’s bad enough trying to get through all the paperwork. And the worst of it is that I have to go back on Wednesday in order to book another appointment to see a Personal Advisor, who will go through the entire application in more detail and then my claim will be assessed. We couldn’t make the appointment there and then, because the booking system was misbehaving – it would only offer an appointment in mid-July, which is well past the ten day target for dealing with claims. It’s not credible that there are no other appointments available; there must have been three dozen appointment desks dotted pleasingly around the room, at least a dozen staff members and maybe six “customers” in the whole time I was there.
Sigh. If it weren’t for the possibility of receiving £53 a week in Job Seekers’ Allowance (or as the JobCentre would put it, JobSeekers Allowance), I would give up on the whole thing. After all, their jobs database is available online to anyone, and I’m having far more success just applying for jobs in person than I am in filling out the forms which are supposed to be helping me find work!
On the positive side, I did find two more jobs to apply for today (neither of which were anything to do with the JobCentre). I also applied to volunteer at a local community centre – the world’s least forthcoming receptionist gave me a form to fill in and told me there were “all sorts” of types of opportunities. Illuminating. It’s been that sort of day, really.