It’s been a long time since jobs were advertised in jobcentres and you went there to look for work, but a jobcentre actively intervening to stop people’s own efforts to find a job places it firmly in the category of worse than useless. It’s not just that they’re making people waste time with pointless exercises. People are telling us about ‘work coaches’ making them stop doing things that would be genuinely helpful.
Frank has been trying to find bits of work through advertising his services locally – and was amazed as well as angry to be told to stop. Susan has recently completed a science degree as a mature student. We know that after three months on unemployment benefit you can be made to apply for all sorts of jobs even if they don’t match your skill level, but Susan had been specifically told that she was not to apply for graduate level jobs, and that the time she was taking putting together these more testing applications was being misspent. We reassured both Frank and Susan that they were quite correct to feel that the jobcentre was acting unreasonably and outwith the rules, and that they should insist on continuing with what they were doing.
Donna’s situation was very different, but her ‘work coach’ was equally unhelpful. We accompanied her to her interview because she was worried about being sanctioned for missing an appointment. She is six months pregnant with multiple health problems, and new medication had made her so ill she had just forgotten the date. As it turned out, she had informed the jobcentre as soon as she realised what had happened and her excuse had been accepted, so she suffered nothing more than a few days unnecessary worry, but her work coach is known for her thoroughness, and the interview was doubly uncomfortable. First, the work coach was keen to make sure that all the details they had about Donna’s situation were up to date, which sounds fine until you realise that meant Donna being asked lots of intensely personal questions by a stranger in an open plan office. The second part of the interview was frankly bizarre. Having ascertained that Donna was not only on ESA – so currently not fit for work – and due to give birth in three months, but also a recovering drug addict who needed a support worker, the work coach proceeded to ask her to sign up to Universal Jobmatch, the DWP’s notoriously useless job website. Donna protested that her main concern at present is proving that she is fit to keep her baby, and I made sure that it was clear that Donna would not actually have to do anything towards preparing for work until the baby was one, and wouldn’t have to look for work until she was three. The work coach accepted this, and that it wasn’t actually compulsory for her to sign up to Universal Jobmatch – but insisted that it would, nevertheless, be helpful for her to get into practice!