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.