On Christmas Dinner and ‘Love Actually’

So first of all sorry for no post last weekend (I know many readers were heartbroken and had no idea when I would post again). I was sort of on holiday and it was a hectic weekend. Not much has happened of interest in either week so I’ll talk about both of them now.
In the first week as already mentioned I was on a sort of holiday, visiting friends who were still at the university I went to. I should mention that a sofa 30cm shorter than you isn’t the most comfortable replacement for a bed but there are worse.

Prior to that week I had never seen the movie ‘Love Actually’ which is a state I was not particularly upset about. I should point out that I am not a great fan of romantic movies, I am pretty stereotypical of being single and bitter. While not a genre I care much for it was tolerable and some of the jokes were amusing enough for a good way to pass time with friends. This being said watching Alan Rickman’s character cheat for a 3rd time in a week was getting rather tedious, especially being sober with my now drunken friends telling me “you’re awesome ya know” albeit in a slurred tone. I was also subject to another romantic movie that didn’t even have some good jokes – ‘The Age of Adaline’ which is based on the highly accurate scientific idea that a recently drowned woman is returned to life and remains eternally youthful due to being struck by lightning. Had she used this ability to become a crime fighting vigilante it would have likely been a film I enjoyed.

At the end of the week (when I was meant to be writing the post I didn’t) I had Christmas dinner with approximately 10 friends from my physics course. As it turned out we had 2 fewer plates than people eating so the other person cooking and I as a reward for our effort got to eat from bowls. Still this (having been a yearly tradition for a while) was our best effort to date despite only one oven and a kitchen the size of a small bathroom.

The next week (this week) however was even less entertaining as having returned on Monday (I don’t dislike trains but I do dislike people on trains) was mostly just spent setting up new PC and organising streaming again. So essentially I thought it would be writing off this week and merely discussing last week’s stuff, I also thought I would be stopping discussing the ‘Job Centre Plus’ entirely as it is now just tedious to complain about so repetitively but in a twist of fate my brother has had interaction with them this week. My brother was on Universal Credit a while back before being hired for a company and leaving it. How Universal Credit works is that if you find a job they keep you on file for a few months and keep it observed such that if you leave employment all your information is stored so you can return easily if it doesn’t work out. My brother was fired at the beginning of this week and only this morning received a letter saying he was removed from the ‘Job Centre Plus’ database.

The Dullest Conspiracy in the World

Sofas are not the most comfortable beds so writing this while visiting various friends (students) I am somewhat tired. It’s also not exactly been the most entertaining week so we may be stretching my limited writing talents but we see more evidence that the world is conspiring to mildly annoy me at every opportunity.

Having made various orders last week I have experienced a range of services, with varying degrees of success. Last Saturday evening for example I ordered a Christmas present and (to qualify for free delivery) headphones, the headphones arrived the next morning so I was thoroughly impressed by the 3-5 day delivery. The present (it will go unmentioned as it is for someone that sometimes reads the blog) when I checked on Monday was given a delivery estimate of Saturday to the next Monday, given as I was leaving on the Friday I decided this was too late and changed the option to expedited delivery (at about 30% increase in total price) which reduced the estimate to Friday to Saturday. Rather annoyed at how this was possible I contacted customer services to ask why I was paying more and it still would be longer than the free 3-5 day delivery. Not much later I received a response that it was unacceptable and I would have the items Thursday at the latest and they would remove all delivery costs from my account. With no other option I decided to leave it.

At this point I should mention I had also expected to have a PC that weekend, the exact details are complicated but I’d been e-mailed that I wouldn’t have it till Wednesday so I was at least accepting of why. On Wednesday I received an e-mail saying it was out for delivery and would be delivered Thursday. As this is an annoying place for me to change subject I shall but needless to say I did not receive it Thursday.

This week the Job Centre Plus was started in an aggressive manner by my regular “Work Coach” with her saying I shouldn’t have needed to turn up today. Holding my head high I removed from a folder in my bag the photocopy of my contract (signed and dated) from the job agency and placed it on the desk asking her why she believed there was no record of me joining them. I was offered no apology but at the very least she tucked her tail between her legs and stopped complaining.

Thursday morning came and my first delivery (the present) was not yet dispatched and in fact giving an earliest delivery date of Sunday at this point so I messaged customer services again asking how likely it actually was to arrive, the response essentially boiled down to Sunday was the earliest I could expect it. As it was now too late into the process I was not able to cancel the order, I felt at this point it would be easier to source elsewhere so I once again contacted customer services who were able to cancel it for me and gave me a discount to the effect that my headphones were now free. It strikes me if every department had been as good as customer services I may never have needed them in the first place.

Still on Thursday morning although now later (about half past 11) I was wondering about where my PC was and was left to discover myself that it would now be Friday I would receive it. In fact I did finally receive it Friday, an hour before I left for my friends. So it cost a lot of money (for me at least) and was also 5 days late, not too bad it seems but being away for 10 days it will now be the 18th before I get to use it at all. I’m not entirely sure yet but it definitely seems like the world is trying to inconvenience me to death.

Helpfulness is Less Amusing

As a devout and avid reader you probably believe this blog is merely a place for me to rant about the Job Centre Plus, you are of course wrong. The purpose of this blog is to note anything interesting/annoying in my life in a hopefully humorous tone, turns out the Job Centre Plus is just amazingly capable at winding me up. I actually thought I’d start this week by ranting about amazon but then they fixed my issues pretty quickly so I can’t, looks like it’s back to my normal ranting then.

Last week I received a letter about how I hadn’t joined the job agency (a lie) so before I visited the Job Centre Plus I decided to visit the agency. The guy I originally saw wasn’t around so I asked a lady there if she could find the contract I’d signed and could have a photocopy. I explained why and she agreed although they were busy so she would have to email me later. I had hoped I would have it for the interview but decided this was the best I could manage so I left to go eat a sandwich and wait for my interview.

Arriving to wait this time it was relatively quiet and didn’t even take long for me to be called over. Knowing I had a different “Work Coach” this week I was somewhat apprehensive. I’ve come to realise that I should expect everyone there to be useless and irritating, somehow even this week I was wrong. She was actually kind and helpful, a contrast that from a braced state caused me mental whiplash. I was probably there for the same amount of time as usual but it was no longer prolonged mental torture and therefore almost seemed like it was over too soon. I was finally given a genuine reason as to why they wouldn’t help with self-employment, in summary from what I gathered it’s essentially only possible for people selling physical goods. I was also aided in what to do about the letter and told how to ensure I’d have the time to send off my proof. This was my most surprising meeting and most helpful.

After this I went to wait for the bus thinking all the weirdness was over, I seem to be wrong in every assumption I ever make. After a while a guy shows up to wait for the same bus with 3 lengths of pipe insulation poking out of his bag, I thought this was mildly amusing shopping for the bus but kind of dismissed it shortly after. Shortly later, 3 stops to be precise, a lady walked on with a roll of carpet under her arm. If there is any lesson you should take from my blog it is: busses are weird places.

A Week of Highs, Lows and Lies

This has been an interesting week of both highs and lows including moments where I’m not sure if ranting or laughing is a more appropriate response. At the beginning of the week I received a letter from student finance asking about what I’m doing and whether I can provide evidence to see what interest should be on it, obviously I thought it would be easy to get my ‘Work Coach’ to sign the accompanying form and it would be sorted (I was wrong as you’ll find out shortly).

This time while waiting in the Suicide Capital of England, having learnt my lesson from last week, I nibbled a tuna sandwich I had prepared before leaving home to grant me the strength to face stupidity once more. Arriving in the Job Centre Plus (having climbed the flight of stairs inside anyway) I see the place packed with people, and still only 4/5 ‘Work Coaches’ (they’ve easily enough desks for 12). I took a seat on the sofa next to a woman arguing with her daughter (looked to be about 3/4) which was actually a pleasantly amusing discussion. After a while I’m eventually called over when to my complete and total astonishment my ‘Work Coach’ apologised for being late as they were busy, considering we’ve only started on time once I wondered what had caused the delays most other weeks. What happened next shook me even further, she actually complimented me on filling out my job search completely with enough detail.

After this I even felt confident enough to ask her about my aforementioned student finance letter but she wanted nothing to do with it and didn’t help me with how to sort it. This was followed by her telling me she didn’t expect me to be here because I should definitely have a job by now as the job agency would have given me a job because they have so many. I explained to her the agency didn’t feel I was suitable for any of their current openings which she said wasn’t possible they’d put me on anything if I didn’t tell them no. She went on for a rant about how all sorts of people get jobs with them and how a girl had started working for them and was climbing tanks and really enjoyed it. Annoyingly I didn’t think about this enough as I later realised how on earth would she know about whether the girl enjoyed it if they weren’t personal friends, I assume she was merely lying. Next she told me she’d contacted the job agency and been told they had no record of me, which is at least a different lie but still rather annoying. Finally she booked me in for an interview next week with a different ‘Work Coach’ as she won’t be there next week (small miracles). I thought with this my ordeal was over for the week, as always I was wrong.

Towards the end of the week I received a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions stating in large type “You could lose some or all of your payment”. Further into the letter it states (in a more reasonable size) “We’re worried that you did not register with [the job agency] by 3rd November 17 as agreed.”. Which as I’m sure you’ve been following this blog with great interest dear reader you’ll know I in fact did and this is purely based on the lie of my wonderful “Work Coach”, unfortunately I have no real proof of this at the moment. I have e-mailed the guy I saw at the agency but haven’t received a response yet, I will go in to see him shortly before my next meeting if I have to get a photocopy but it is leaving it to the last day I have in order to provide a defence. As a final kicker just to prove that they really are trying to wind me up (and are in fact greatly succeeding) the letter states “You can send your documents free using the envelope we’ve provided”, I realise that it’s hard to remember 2 pages of the letter and a page for the related form but they completely failed to include any type of envelope with it let alone one with free postage. I am starting to think that maybe they are running a competition to see who is capable of making me snap.

How Your Job Centre Plus Helps With Self-Employment & Voluntary Work

This week at the Job Centre Plus I thought I would try a different tactic with my ‘Work Coach’ where I would act happy and smile through whatever she said. This was something I knew would be difficult but approaching the town on the bus I felt surprisingly good about the idea. I even spent the morning handing out CVs and writing down where I’d applied in a notebook because I couldn’t put them on Universal Jobmatch at the time. During this bus journey the guy sitting in front of me was filling out a familiar form for the Job Centre Plus (as mentioned at the start of WHAT CAN THE JOB CENTRE DO FOR YOU), I considered telling him it was a waste of time but decided there were enough weirdos on buses already.

 

Sitting down reading the poster about the customer charter I chuckled to myself as I thought about how little it really meant to them. I was actually called over on time this week and my ‘Work Coach’ didn’t even bother to ask how I was, I assume my flippant answers thus far have made their point. In line with my changed approach I slammed down the notebook cheerfully informing her of what I had been doing during the morning which as far as I could tell she ignored (in retrospect I should have pointed out then how I had not had lunch due to these activities). I also informed her of my new E-mail account which was deemed acceptable (it’s based on my name now).

 

I was told that my entries on Universal Jobmatch were not of sufficient detail although when pressed the only thing more she could tell me to put was where I had seen the job role. I was also now grilled as to why I did not have a job from the job agency I was told to register at and told repeatedly I had to accept anything they gave me, failing to do so would result in my benefits being cut. I informed her that I had not in fact been offered anything but I don’t think believed me. She responded by telling me that she would have her colleague send a message to them that I would be visiting and she would call them later to check if I’d visited again, this is a threat I have heard often enough that now sounds meaningless.

 

Next I was queried as to why I had included details about my continued efforts at being self-employed in my activities, apparently being self-employed is my dream job and a hobby therefore isn’t worthy of their time. According to their website however I am eligible for “New Enterprise Allowance” (anyone else get tired of these grandiose names?) and I just need to talk to my ‘Work Coach’ about it, this is something I intend to do next week but I doubt will get anywhere. I did decide to ask about whether I could apply for voluntary positions (it would look good on CV after all) and was told it was actively encouraged… so long as it was outside of my 35 hours job search time. So basically I’ve just got to work the equivalent of 3 jobs to make this woman happy at the moment.

 

Upon leaving I was reminded once again to visit the job agency or be penalised, again getting tired of hearing it. So I turned up at the job agency to ask for the man I’ve been seeing, unfortunately he was on lunch break but a woman in the reception overheard and said she recognised my name from seeing my application (not only do I go I’m famous there it seems). I was informed that while they have many jobs they all involve heavy lifting that I’m not capable of so there won’t be anything for a long time potentially. These conversations are becoming rather tedious to repeat and yet the Job Centre Plus still deems it necessary to keeps wasting my time with them.

 

After all this I just want to get home but I’ve missed the bus so have to wait nearly an entire hour for it, there is only so much time I can spend pretending I enjoy shopping when I don’t even have any money. Eventually I do manage to get a bus back and just to rub it in there’s a guy eating fish and chips there while I still haven’t had lunch yet.

Continued Adventures at the Job Centre Plus

Last week the Job Centre Plus threatened me if I didn’t go register with local job agency so I had booked an appointment on Monday to see them. This Monday rolled around and another bus journey later I was sitting in their reception filling out paper work (actually a bus journey and 45 minute wait because bus times are awkward). Whilst writing my name and the date for about the 50th time a couple came in and spoke to the receptionist (it’s only a small room so I could hear everything said). In a brief conversation the woman spoke for the guy that had come in and mentioned that the Job Centre Plus had told him similar to me that he had to go here and sign up, on the other hand this gentleman had severe epilepsy and couldn’t stand for more than half hour without going into a fit. Obviously the job agency had nothing that could accommodate for this. I thought I’d been treated poorly but this is outrageous, all witticisms aside how anyone can possibly think sending him there was even remotely acceptable is beyond me. Anyway they said they’d call if they found anything I was suited for.

 

And so the time came once again to return to the ‘Suicide Capital of England’ to visit my ‘Work Coach’. Apparently “Well I’m not happy” isn’t a good response to how I am either, one day I’ll find a response that’s both acceptable and true. I was also told the e-mail account I’d set up for Universal Jobmatch was inappropriate, I admit I went a bit far with ‘universaljobmatchsux@hotmail.com’. I did apologise and explain that I knew it was the wrong method of protest but I had been angry at how bad the website was and how its account management was worse than could be managed by a fourteen year old I knew (this is an exaggeration he’s 16). After my apology I asked where I would have to go in order to make a proper complaint, she merely kept complaining about what I had done. After about 5 minutes of saying I was sorry but I’d like to make an official complaint and her saying it was all my fault her colleague eventually interrupted with who I would need to complain to.

 

After this she goes on to Universal Jobmatch to check out what job searches I’ve done this week to discover I had not given permission for the Job Centre Plus to look at my account activity. This was genuine mistake on my part, I had overlooked a checkbox in setting up the account. I was told to log onto one of the computers and change the setting in my account (a sound idea in theory) although I had to point out that I didn’t know my Government Gateway number (12 digit randomly generated), she said I didn’t need it to log in. On the first computer I tried I got an error message about the internet not functioning so I tried a second computer, the monitor was not connected. Finally I tried the third computer which finally worked and connect to the internet, lo and behold I couldn’t log in without a Government Gateway account number (proving how well my ‘Work Coach’ knows what she’s doing). After her scolding me for not having log in information on me (because everyone keeps all their accounts details on them all the time) I explained what I had been doing during the week. She then took the time to accuse me of having been offered work from the job agency but choosing not to take it and saying if I didn’t return to them that day I would be given a standard 91 day penalty, a threat that has got tedious to hear.

 

In leaving my ‘Work Coach’ gave me an appointment next week but said I shouldn’t need it as the job agency will definitely give me work and she’ll call them later in order to confirm I’d visited. I returned to the job agency once more, I asked if they had found anything for me and explained to the man I saw how I’d been forced into returning and it wasn’t me being impatient or anything, they still didn’t have any work but would call me if anything came up.

The Many Benefits of Universal Credit

As part of my agreement with the Job Centre Plus I had created an account on their online job search, Universal Jobmatch, a few days before my first meeting last week. The Universal Jobmatch website itself looks and feels as though it was made by a fourteen year old being forced to complete it for a school project and doesn’t care about the grade. As I have had previous experience with this years ago and it seemed at this point to have remained entirely unchanged so I assumed I’d have no other issues using it now.

 

As I am required to log my job searches on Universal Jobmatch I tried to log back in during the week and found an error that my Government Gateway number was incorrect, I assumed that I had written it down wrong and thought that I could quickly and easily solve my issues by clicking on ‘Forgotten your User ID?’. I was wrong. Very wrong. My attempt resulted in an error message reading “We are unable to find this user.” which is somewhat concerning considering I had already received E-mails from the account. I thought in a surprisingly lenient mood well I’ll just create a new account and chalk the wasted time up to technical difficulties. My renewed attempts resulted in the message “Email address already in use” so I now may or may not have an account which may or may not use my E-mail address but I can’t access it regardless. After many other futile attempts I made a last ditch effort where I decided to try a password reset, this sent me an E-mail to the address I was using however it didn’t help me log onto Universal Jobmatch as it still refused to accept that my E-mail was registered to an account. This is I assure you a very abridged version of what hoops I suffered trying to leap through that evening.

 

With an already somewhat irritated mood I returned for my weekly meeting with my ‘Work Coach’ and sat down waiting 5 minutes early. From where I was seated I could read the Department for Work & Pensions on a poster, this proved for an interesting distraction for 10 minutes. In my reading I learnt they would supposedly “Be helpful, polite, and treat you fairly and with respect” and “Do what we say we will do”. This from my experiences is objectively false, they have no interest in anything but getting me off Universal Credit regardless of whether it helps or not.

 

Eventually I was called over by a different ‘Work Coach’ than I was told I would have (which in fairness isn’t a particularly big issue). Apparently when asked how I was the correct response isn’t “wishing I wasn’t here” but I still maintain that it is true. I was initially asked if I had a recent bank statement on me, all the documentation I had given the previous week still hadn’t been sufficient. I was now questioned as to why I had not made an account for Universal Jobmatch so I preceded to try and explain the issues I’d faced but got cut off short. I was subject to a tone implying that I was at fault rather the lousy system and told that I had previously had an account therefore I would have to create another E-mail just to make a new Universal Jobmatch account. She seemed annoyed about having to repeat this, mentioning 2 or 3 times she’d said the same things in her previous interview, which merely serves to question why the problem wasn’t being addressed properly.

 

Next I was queried about whether I had signed up to a local job agency, I vaguely remember being told about it last week and they could help me but don’t remember being required to sign up. It turns out that signing up was in fact part of my ‘Claimant Commitment’ and so I was treated with threats that if I didn’t go see them today I would be penalised my entire benefits for 91 days. This essentially concluded my visit but I couldn’t help glibly asking if there was any jobs going in the Job Centre Plus. I was told I’d just missed out on an opportunity but if I did want to look into that area of work the best place to look would be www.civilservicejobs.service.gov.uk (I’m sure the irony of not using their own job search to find jobs there is missed entirely by my ‘Work Coach’).

 

Having left the Job Centre Plus I visited the job agency I was forced to and spoke to the lady at reception, she seemed uninterested in my cause and said I wouldn’t be able to sign up with them today as it was too busy for them but would contact her colleague to arrange an interview. Shortly later a cheerful lady in her mid-20s (I guess) came out to talk to me (I assume she was cheerful it may just be that by now I had seen so many miserable people that anything seemed overly happy). I was told that my CV was unlikely to fit any of the work they had but if I was desperate I could book an appointment for Monday morning, knowing they have factory work on immediate start I can only assume that I’ve finally found people that are aware it’d negatively affect me mentally and physically, this level of empathy was one I had not witnessed in weeks now.

 

In summary the Job Centre Plus so far has wasted a considerable amount of my time (that I could be looking for a job), degraded me, put me at a £10 loss due to bus fares, threatened me and given all responsibility of actually helping me to a private company. They have also managed to distract me from pursuing self-employment that I had hoped they would aid me with. All in all it’s not exactly a monumental success so far.

WHAT CAN THE JOB CENTRE DO FOR YOU?

As a 22 year old bloke having just got a physics degree (admittedly a third) from one of the top ten universities in the country the last place I wanted to be was visiting a Job Centre Plus but with threats of being kicked out otherwise I reluctantly applied. Prior to university I had claimed Job Seekers Allowance so I assumed I had seen the worst and knew what I was getting into, oh how innocent I was.

In my granted brief research into the “streamlined” Universal Credit I discovered little to encourage me however I optimistically carried on to filling out all the forms online. After hours of filling in my every detail from birth date and place of residence to inside leg measurement I was reassured I would be contacted within 2 working days to confirm I was eligible for my claim. 5 days later I was finally called to be asked everything I had entered online again and was told I would be emailed with details of my first interview and given a form to fill out to aid with my application. This form while rife with potential for at least bearable discussion however was never mentioned again by anyone involved.

Arriving in a town my father cheerfully refers to as “the Suicide Capital of England” brimming with optimistic naivety I took a seat in the Job Centre 5 minutes early. 20 minutes later I was called over by a gleefully condescending woman who confirmed everything I had entered online and said on the phone before assessing my provisional driving licence, passport, birth certificate and Blockbuster membership card.  I was told to sit and wait a minute for her colleague to call me over to deal with the job search and agreements side of affairs.

10 minutes later the oldest man I’ve ever seen working calls me over. Once again confirming all 600 questions I’d previously been asked although not even a trace of irony in his voice this time as he asked if I was pregnant, all the response I could muster was “not as far as I’m aware”. During a period where (we shall call him Graham for lack of better name) was struggling to print out yet another form for me to sign I decided to listen in to the interview going on next to me. From what I gathered the guy (who did look like a grade A prat) was having an argument with his “Work Coach” about how if he took the job he’d end up hitting his boss within a week while the Coach in question was merely threatening to dock his benefits. Under different circumstances I’m sure I’d dislike this gentleman but here he was my brother-in-arms against a sea of demented bureaucracy so I feel the need to defend him, how can anyone believe that he needed to be forced into a job rather than be given the psychological help he clearly needed is beyond me. This was only my first glimpse of the apathy possessed by the Work Coaches.

With Graham returned and his forms completed I went on to discuss my skills and what I wanted from a job, aha I thought (ignorantly) I am finally getting somewhere. So I told Graham that while science was no longer of interest to me I still enjoyed numbers and analysis and wouldn’t mind a job in that sort of field however what I really wanted to get into was E-sports and gaming, if possible I want to be able to stream games on Twitch full time (not easy to explain to him, I’m still not sure he understood it). Having discussed this the monotone response “So I’ll put you down for warehouse labour” did not impress me, in fact how anyone can look at a 90 pound nerd that can get blown away by a particularly strong gust of wind and think clearly physical labour is his calling baffles every fibre of my being.

Believing the worst to be over (apparently even I am not as cynical as I should be) I was asked about a previous job I’d had (cleaning toilets at 3am) and how I’d felt about that, getting irritated I responded that it had caused me a state of mental despair and my mother had found me unconscious in her bathroom with a bottle of whisky and multiple packets of painkillers having tried to commit suicide. This was purely hyperbole I thought may at least garner some emotional response but in his same monotone voice that by now I was swearing he had practiced for years to achieve stated “Well that is unfortunate but if you are asked to apply and don’t you will be docked your benefits”.

I am aware that it is hard to value a human life but it is an interesting experience to have it confirmed to you that the government believes your life is worth less than £60 a week. Thanks to this ordeal I have confirmed that the new “streamlined” Universal Credit system is perfect for getting you off benefits in any way possible regardless of how damaging it is to your health; mental, physical or otherwise.