Back in March I asked the Job Centre to let me do work experience. It’s something the DWP routinely does. They paid my travelling but not lunch but I was happy with this; information usually comes at a price, even if that price is only effort and time. This was the culmination of a two-year long plan to get them to let me intern in a Job Centre so I could blog about it.
I’d originally imagined blogging every day- a sort of journal of my observations. But when the work experience rolled around, I thought it’d be safer to collect all the data first and then release it on the web- or to a paper or news site. But the Job Centre staff were criticising the unemployed and disabled all the time. Even before my work experience officially began I was witnessing unfair sanctions, and ridiculous sanctions and narrow escapes from potential ridiculous sanctions kept happening. Only two days- the first Thursday and Friday- went by without much incident. I was getting way too much information for a single article. I thought about doing a series of blog posts but even that seemed a bit of a waste and I didn’t know if people would want to read post after post. So I made it into an ebook.
Doing the observation was fun. It was more than fun. I don’t know of any single word to describe it. It was like living your dream and doing what you were always meant to do, and expressing yourself- all at the same time! I’d been observed and monitored often as a child and teenager so I was familiar with the process of it; noting down dates, times, patterns of behaviour. And unlike my enemies who’d observed me, I actually cared about getting the facts right. That meant that if Staff Member A told me something, I’d ask Staff Member B the same thing for confirmation. I talked to staff at different grades and doing different jobs- the manager down to the security. I also asked them to let me sit in on advisor interviews, which they granted.
It required a lot of focus though. I’d often have to check the time for accuracy and I was always hungry when I was there, no matter how much I ate for breakfast (no idea why). I had 4 hours- usually three and a half- to collect as much information as possible. I would memorise it and write it on my phone at lunchtime. We had an hour for lunch so by the time I’d bought food and returned to the Job Centre canteen I’d have about 30 minutes at best to eat and write. And that’s if I didn’t use some of the time to chat to any staff whose break coincided with mine- which I often did. I kept it subtle- I didn’t just join their tables on the first couple of days. But I soon discovered that they weren’t cliquey and the social bonds between most of the staff were not strong- they were happily colleagues, but not friends. (This may have something to do with the fact that some staff members were doing Universal Credit training and were absent from normal activities). Remembering every detail and the stuff I had to follow up on was hard. I’d email the notes to myself on the bus home.
My work experience was meant to last 4 weeks. It was stopped after two and a half weeks, for vague and nonsensical reasons (detailed in the ebook). I suspect it’s because the manager found out what I was doing. He used to be my advisor at another Job Centre two years ago and knows my views about the DWP. He also knows about this blog. For all I know he’s reading this.
The manager didn’t say I was being chucked out for potential whistleblowing or conspiracy to commit undercover journalism. But he did say “You’re not allowed to blog about this”. I assured him I wouldn’t, and I didn’t. I wrote an ebook instead.
It’s called JobCentre: Confidential, and it’s here.
Thanks to Rick B for the title (its working title was “DWP Undercover” but I thought that sounded a bit dramatic).