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Meg of the Ingeus Diaries: “I work for £51 a week to escape Jobcentre”

Remember Meg who previously told Slutocracy her story of the Ingeus experience (here and here)? She’s now working for £20 a week less than her Jobseeker’s Allowance just so she can escape the Jobcentre.

“I earn £51 a week working 2 days a week. My jobseekers was £71 but I can’t cope with the Jobcentre sending me here and there every two months,” she explains . (Meg had been sent to JHP and a 4 week workfare before being sent to Ingeus for 2 weeks.)

“I basically work for nothing because I get less than Jobseeker’s. But I prefer to work for nothing rather than be treated like shit by the Jobcentre. It lowers my self esteem and harms my mental health. My Jobcentre adviser cheerfully asked me if I felt “motivated” because I’d been to Ingeus. Bit being sent here and there against my will makes me less motivated, less confident and I feel like I am just their toy. I think some other people might prefer to work for less or the same as Jobseeker’s Allowance instead of going to the Jobcentre. I feel free now and I’m much happier. But not everybody can do this because nobody can survive on £51 a week. I’m able to because one of my relatives has just paid me back money I loaned her, but not everyone is so lucky. The money isn’t much and I know I won’t be able to live like this long term. I will have to get a job with more hours or higher wages in the next couple of months.

I enjoy my job and get on very well with everyone there. I can’t quit this job even if I wanted to because they need me to cover another staff’s holiday leave in August and it would be really bad to let them down. But I know if I went back to the Jobcentre they would force me to look for other jobs. They wouldn’t listen even if I explained to them that the only reason I was given a job is so they’ve got someone to cover August. They’d force me to let [my employer] down.”

 

You’ve got a job now. Does that mean that Ingeus did help you find work?

“Ingeus didn’t help me – there was no point in sending me there at all!” alleges Meg, “I finished the Ingeus course on Friday and got a phone call saying I’d got an interview on the Monday! And I forgot to show them my reference from my YMCA workfare but I still got the job. Nothing the Jobcentre sent me to helped me get a job. I actually felt a little nervous before the interview because Ingeus was always talking about dabbing water behind your ears and washing your hands so you won’t get sweaty or feel nervous. I’ve never felt nervous at an interview in my life but Ingeus made me feel that way, like an interview is a big deal.”

 

What else has happened since our last chat?

“Ingeus phoned me last week to ask how my job search was progressing. I think that’s a bit weird since I left the course in May. Jobseekers are not children, we don’t need to rely on their help. They think they are so brilliant that they can give us everything, make us get jobs after a 2 week course.

When I was doing my workfare at YMCA there was a man, O.  He didn’t turn up one day because it was snowing very heavily and he had to drive 20 miles in the snow. The snow was so bad in those few days that we all missed a couple of days of workfare because YMCA told us not to risk the journey. All O did was take an extra day off. O was sent to another workfare immediately after the YMCA one ended. I can’t prove that this was because he failed to attend his workfare that day but I believe it was. His new workfare was in a furniture shop. He is not a lazy man. He has decades of work experience and I think that’s why he can afford a car. I’ve bumped into him a couple of times and he’s always complaining about how he is treated by the Jobcentre. He wants to work but they act like he doesn’t.

That reminds me of when I’d just started claiming benefits and a little old lady with a zimmer frame was in the Jobcentre. I thought it was disgraceful that senior citizens are being treated this way after giving so much to the country. Then a smart looking middle-aged man in a suit came in and nodded to another man. He said ‘Jobless -feel like a criminal’ and indicated the Jobcentre. For whatever reason that always stuck in my mind.”

Memoirs of a benefits scrounger: Jobcentre sanctions me for getting a job

My transition from good-for-nothing benefits scrounger to upstanding citizen is only a phone call away. Yes, for the last couple of months copywriting and content writing work was harder to find and I’ve been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. Now that I’ve got a regular job again I went down to my local Jobcentre to close my claim. Turned out it wasn’t so easy.

“We can’t close your claim because you didn’t sign in on Monday so we have to take disciplinary action against you. Your benefits have been stopped and it’ll have to go to a hearing,” said Lauren, one of the Job Centre staff.

“But I was at training,” I explained. “And I sent you two messages saying I couldn’t sign in that day. I gave you a message online and got my friend to come in and give you a note.”

“That doesn’t make any difference because you didn’t physically sign in,” Lauren shrugged.

I pointed out that closing my claim would probably be easiest for them and anyway there was no point stopping my benefits because closing my claim would stop them anyway.

Lauren explained this was Jobcentre policy and said I’d have to answer questions about why I’d failed to sign in before my claim could be closed. This is how it went:

Her: Why did you fail to sign in on Monday?

Me: Because I was at training for my job.

Her: Well why didn’t you sign in on Tuesday?

Me: Because I was at work.

Her: Well why didn’t you come in sooner today?

Me: When my friend dropped off the note, one of your colleagues gave her a message for me that I just had to phone. They didn’t say I had to come in. The only reason I’m here is because I don’t have your phone number and I thought you might need to see me.

Her: Why did you fail to look for jobs in the last 2 weeks?

Me: I didn’t. I applied for around 20 jobs in the last 2 weeks.

Her: Where are they?

Me: They’re in my Activity History.

Her: OK, I see them. But why did you fail to apply for any jobs since last week?

Me: Because I got a job.

Lauren typed all that into a form and sent it off to DWP Hearings Land. “It’ll take 15 minutes to go through, so you might as well phone to close your claim from home,” she said. “You’ll receive a decision in a few months about whether your benefits will be stopped or not.”

I got up. So this was it. After months of Jobcentre harassment – including stopping my benefits for 3 months because I mixed up the address on a job I’d agreed to apply for (reduced to 2 weeks on appeal) – despite applying for 34 other jobs I hadn’t agreed to apply for. The Jobcentre had set my mandatory target at 2 jobs per week and by my advisor’s admission I was applying for over 15 jobs per week and was the person who applied fore the most jobs out of every Jobcentre “customer”. Three weeks later they stopped my benefits for 2 weeks for forgetting to go to a CV session at the Jobcentre. And a week after that they said they couldn’t reimburse bus tickets (£26) because I hadn’t told them I was going to the interview beforehand. Actually I had, but my advisor didn’t give me the form to fill in or tell me that I had to fill it in. I ended up getting the job – it was a temp job that lasted 2 weeks. The Job Centre then paid me much less than I was entitled to for months, because they thought I still had the job. It took three phone calls and two Jobcentre visits to sort it out because every time they told me the error was fixed, it turned out it wasn’t.

Well, after all that there was no “congratulations” or “well done”. They couldn’t even reimburse my travelling expenses for an interview I’d gone to a few days prior – apparently it’s up to Lifeskills to reimburse me now. (Which means I wasted a trip to the Jobcentre to fill out the necessary form. And I know Lifeskills probably won’t reimburse me because I didn’t tell them about the interview beforehand. Not that it matters because the cost of travel to Lifeskills would be almost as much as the reimbursement.)

As I left the Jobcentre for the last time, looking around and reminiscing about the indignities I’d suffered and wishing I’d blogged about them, Lauren said “See you later”. “See you, but I don’t think I will,” I said. “You might be back. I might see you again,” Lauren countered. I shrugged. “Yeah, you never know, with the economy and that.”

Then I turned and walked out of that door. It seemed an anticlimactic end to my time here. Hadn’t the Job Centre bullied me and forced me to grace their building with my presence every two weeks or oftener? Hadn’t the message that my main goal in life was to rejoin humanity by finding work been drilled into me over and over again? Yet they seemed totally unimpressed now that I actually had a job.

I’ll still be officially a benefits scrounger until I make that phone call. And somehow I don’t want to. I like being a benefits scrounger. I think it really focusses my writing.

Slutocrat (Scrounger #20616)

The Ingeus Diaries (part 2): Jobcentre stalking & benefits cut due to Jobcentre incompetency

DAY 2

Before I wrote my last blog, Meg told me that some people hadn’t turned up because the Jobcentre failed to tell them it was mandatory that they go to Ingeus. As a result, their benefits will be cut. These people still weren’t there today. Meg also told me she would only have to go to the Ingeus course for two days. But things quickly changed for her:

“Ingeus told us that if we take more than 2 days off from the Stairways to Work course, we’ll be chucked out of the course,” she explains. “The Jobcentre will know and I know that if I’m chucked out, my Jobcentre advisor will put me on another workfare much more quickly. So I’m going to have to attend for the whole 2 weeks. Most of the other jobseekers have realised this too, and they intend to keep going to the course.”

Interview transcript:

The other jobseekers from [Town 1] and [Town 2] were phoned by their Jobcentres. The Jobcentres asked if they had gone to the course. I feel that this is stalking. They felt annoyed and harassed. My Jobcentre didn’t phone me.

Today we were doing CVs which wasn’t helpful; I was told my CV was good and Ingeus didn’t suggest any changes to my CV.

The woman from Ingeus was talking about transferable skills and she held up her daughter as an example: her daughter graduated from University but after a year she couldn’t find a job which needed a degree so she worked in an airport and is still there now, two years later. I think it’s ridiculous that jobseekers are being told how to find work by someone whose own daughter is unable to find work suited to her qualifications. And that wasn’t an example of transferable skills, it was an example of young graduates having to settle for any work due to a lack of suitable jobs. It’s not a positive story – it’s a sad tale about the recession and our problems with unemployment and underemployment.

We had to do a test about our social skills and the French social worker scored 70, which is equivalent to 100%. I was the next highest and scored 70. We also were given a bit of paper with dots on it and told to draw lines to join all the dots. After we’d finished, the woman from Ingeus explained that she had made us do it to show us that most people don’t think of drawing lines outside the dots. This shows us that to look for jobs we sometimes have to look for jobs that are similar but not the same to the job we want to do. Like if you want to be a landscaper you could look for gardener jobs.

DAY 3

Today we sent out ‘spec letters’ – emails or letters speculating about whether there’s a vacancy. A middle-aged woman, Bethany, was copying a sample letter. She wrote “I have a lot of skills in housekeeping, cleaning and that sort of thing.” I burst out laughing. Then she’d written “Yours sincerely, Name” just like the sample. I fixed it for her because I can type fast. Mark, the social worker, also finished his letters quickly and spent the rest of the time helping others. The Ingeus woman was struggling to deal with helping everyone so me and Mark did it for the rest of the afternoon.

Bethany’s husband drives her to and from Ingeus. One of the young people, Daphne, gets driven to Ingeus by her mother. The amount they have to spend on the petrol is a lot because Ingeus pays less than 20p a mile.

We used the computers to search for jobs and just sat in a circle listening to what the Ingeus group leader said. Four others and I talked about how we weren’t learning anything useful.

The Ingeus Diaries: a jobseeker’s report of an Ingeus programme

Meg is a middle-aged migrant woman with a degree and 9 years’ experience as a legal secretary. She’s also been self employed and worked briefly as a waitress. Meg was referred to the Ingeus 2-week Stairway To Work programme by her Jobcentre two months after completing her workfare at YMCA and three months after completeing a course at JHP. All names are changed or invented.

Ingeus Stairways to Work course, Monday 6th May 2013
“Ingeus didn’t send me a letter or give me directions to get there, like the Jobcentre said they would. They missed out my name during the roll call,” Meg reports. “The woman who was leading the course went in and out to get notes for us to read because they didn’t have enough even though 5 or 6 people weren’t there. She went put to get paper, then went out again to get pens. It wasn’t organised.”

Interview transcript:

The Ingeus woman talked about goals, asked us do we have goals. She gave an example of her goal: to go to the supermarket, have coffee with a friend then do housework. She had a stack of cards. She went round the group asking each person to tell her if the card presented a good or bad goal, e.g. “I want to clear my debts by the end of the year”. I can’t see how this helps me get a job.

Then we had to ask the person next to us about themselves and tell the whole group their hobbies. I told my name and I said like dogs and driving.

There was a social worker who has been out of work for 13 years due to institutional bullying which led to him having three breakdowns. He grew up in France. I said to him “Ingeus should get employers here or tell us how to be self-employed. Getting us here won’t help us get jobs.”

We were made to go on computers and go to the Direct.gov site but nobody could get to it because [of security software installed by Ingeus] so the woman running the course had to hrelp every single person get to the site. We had to search for jobs, but there was no point to this because we all had computers at home. We had to print out our CVs and it took over an hour for all 13 people to do it.

Today was useless, just one more day for Ingeus to make money from jobseekers.

Benefits cut because of Jobcentre incompetency

“Five or six people didn’t go because they believed it wasn’t mandatory,” says Meg. “It isn’t mandatory, but once you agree to go, it becomes mandatory because it’s an ‘agreed action’. The Jobcentre didn’t explain this to these people so now their benefits will be cut for up to three months. [If they’ve forgotten to turn up to a Jobcentre interview before, it could be cut for up to three years]. It’s not mandatory that we do the whole 2 weeks, but the Jobcentre told me it was mandatory that I do 2 days.”

Who was there?

There were labourers aged 40-60 and three young people in their late teens to early twenties. One man was in his fifties. He’d worked for the same company for 10 years and was out of work only three weeks ago. Only 1 person had just graduated from college, all the others had been working.

I saw 2 people going to interviews at Ingeus [these people were not in Meg’s course]. They were in their forties and fifties and were interviewed by young women. I think it’s degrading they had to be helped by a much younger, less experienced person. One man’s partner and child were sitting on the sofa; they looked unhappy. The child looked about 10 years old.”

Ingeus reimburses travel costs at 20p per mile so they should have given me £8 but they only gave me £6.80.

How did it make you feel?

It was like a primary school lesson. I felt very degraded. Like jobseekers have no goals, no hopes, aren’t interested in looking for work. It lowers your self-esteem.

When I had a workfare at YMCA I was happy because I got on very well with the other jobseekers and people doing community serbice who were there. I was valued by the manager who viewed me as a hard worker.
Before that, the Jobcentre sent me to JHP for a Job Search programme where we used computers. Everyone there had worked before and all we did at JHP was search for jobs on the internet. We had computers, so that was pointless. One woman was always an hour late and this was tolerated.

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