Thursday, June 17, 2010

Please don't call it a Dole

I finished my last exams, I handed in my last essays. I drank my last glasses of piss-poor rosé wine in the ambient settings of my union bar. I was free: fully trained in French and English after four years of carefree esoteric literary analysis and ready to launch myself and my multitude of transferable skills onto the unsuspecting Real World. My next move? I went to the Job Centre to get myself a job.

My first attempt was abortive. In the elegant settings of Stratford Job Centre Plus, where the security guards almost outnumbered the patiently waiting claimants, I queued for ten minutes in order to be given a very badly photocopied A4 sheet with 'Information for New Claimants'. Go home, I was told, and ring this number. (By the way, we call it Job Seeker's Allowance now. Whatever else it is, it is not a dole.) Darn, I don't come all the way to Stratford for fun, you know. You can sign on from the comfort of your own home? You guys should advertise this shit. Everyone would want some.

Got home, put my pyjamas on, made a cup of tea, rang the number. The initial recorded messages were scary and vaguely threatening, listing the huge piles of paperwork I would be required to complete and sign to remain eligible for my £65 a week. I took my pyjamas off and put on a suit and tie. I had finished polishing my brogues by the time a human picked up ten minutes later. I stood to attention while he briefly ran me through the most important aspects of the claim. What was my mobile network? Did I know that T-Mobile was very kindly cooperating with Job Centre Plus to offer me this phone call free of charge? Well, if it hadn't been free I would probably have been cut off already. Perhaps Job Centre Plus and T-Mobile should coalesce to let Job Seekers know this at some point during the first 12 minutes of the call? Good old T-Mobile. Are they hiring?
[T-Mobile PAYG rates from their website- To other mobiles & landlines (01, 02, 03, excluding Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle Of Man) 25p a minute]
Back to business. This phone call may take up to 45 minutes. Do you still want to pursue your claim? Er, yeah, don't mind if I do, thanks. I have no income, so.... It was a test. I passed. I'm hungry for it.

There followed an extremely probing interview. Had I ever lived outside of the UK? What exactly was my final Student Loan payment? How much money did I have in my home at this moment? I looked in my purse and under the mattress. About £6.72, but I haven't checked the sofa cushions or counted the 1p and 2p jar. Did I own property that I didn't live in to a value of more than £60,000? I patiently checked the mattress again for any unnoticed title deeds. How many years had I been at my current address? What were my reasons for claiming Job Seeker's Allowance? He was a nice man, and well-trained. After every set of five questions he remembered to test me again. You may be eligible for... pause while his computer works it out... Job Seeker's Allowance. Do you still want to pursue your claim? Well, I've started, so I'll finish. Then I can, like, buy food and stuff.

42 minutes into the telephone interview, he seemed to register defeat. Apparently I was going to pursue my claim and insist on going forward to the next stage of Benefit Crystal Maze, no matter how many questions they asked me. My next step was an interview (what had I just done? A flirtation over cocktails?) at my local Job Centre Plus, which was... long pause... Stratford. I was in! (This process has an extra layer of interest due to the number of vintage John le Carré novels I've read since finishing university, which means that during most encounters with bureaucracy I start imagining I'm in Cold War Czechoslovakia and that whatever they ask me, I mustn't tell them about the microfilm or they'll bust the rest of my clandestine agent network.)

I'm booked in to go to Stratford the next morning. I must bring my P60, P45, anything else beginning with P that I can find, passport, a letter from my university, a letter from the Student Loan Company, two proofs of address, bank details, my CV, dog licence, three pairs of shoes, an elastic band, the microfilm (damn! They just slipped it in there!) and an absolute, unbreakable, and proveable resolution to look for and find work. Bye honey, let's do it again sometime. Maybe next time I have the audacity to demand the trifling cushion from abject poverty for which I have made ten years of National Insurance payments? Goodbye Ms Grahl, and by the way... do you still want to pursue your claim?

NEXT: Pursuing my Claim


melinda_mars said...

Hello! Very funny. Did you get a job? Is that why you quit facebook (too busy)?
xxx Melinda

Sicily said...

Literally, bare lolz!!!