Monday, 21 December 2009

Hopeless: Coming to Job Centres Near You

After months of constant ear bashing from my mum to 'sign on,' I had a meeting at the job centre. Quite possibly, I am the only person in the UK who doesn't want to be on benefits. Just the mention of the words 'job' followed by 'centre' makes my heart sink to my boots. Which I proceed to stamp all over. Many times.

As a British citizen it's my right to receive help when required. Instead of feeling indifferent and accepting of my unemployed position in these economic climes, I just feel ashamed. Should I really feel this way? Since when has asking for help been synonymous with shame?

Nervous, I hoped that my meeting would shake my fears and settle my soul. So I arrived early. Outside, as my shoes argued with the ice-slicked pavement and the threat of more broken limbs loomed, I stood looking at the grey building, the bright green sign. My stomach flipped. Breath white in the bitter air. Automatic doors slid open and the inside heat enveloped my cold bones, bewitching my feet.

Inside, ten angry/depressed/frozen faces met mine and five voices asked why I was there. Thought that was obvious. Job centres are self explanatory. Directed to a man far too happy at such an early hour, I grew annoyed. As he rejoiced over the cold weather (kills germs, apparently), I spied my surroundings. Inconspicuous desks. Bland faces. 8.20am and bored already. A good start.

Fifteen minutes and four forms later, I sat in the 'comfy' chairs awaiting the next step. The job centre's definition of comfy does not match mine. But you're not meant to feel comfortable. They want you alert, back rigid, on edge for questions. The edge of an IKEA chair perfect for torture. Or bad taste.

As the clock edged closer to 9am, cold air gushed in and out, repeatedly, as more people filed in. Old men. Women pushing prams. Children moaned, babies howled. The office pulsed with disdain. My feet itched to leave. I told them to shut up. I'd come this far...

Finally, twenty-five minutes later I sat opposite another cheerful fellow. He smiled, telling me the systems were down and my application would have to be completed by hand. 'Don't worry,' he shrugged. 'It'll only take an hour.' My returning smile did not reach my eyes.

As we talked about my endless search for employment, I started to feel better. Unexpectedly, it was a relief to discuss it with someone who knew how bad things were. My stomach fluttered with a feeling akin to hope. Then he hit me with it: 'I'm being honest now though, don't think you've got much chance for a while.'

Oh the hope was slaughtered. 'Yeah, if you want to get a job, I'd remove all of your education info from your CV.' It was like he had taken a bat and repeatedly whacked me over the head. He was Al Capone and I was the gangster who had betrayed him. My brains were all over the desk.

Not only will I not get a job for at least another month but I've apparently wasted four years of my life, and thousands of pounds, studying for two degrees. Seemingly, educated people can't get jobs nowadays. But if I lie about what I've been doing all this time, I may end up on someones payroll. It's true. You do learn something every day.

Alas, I left the job centre still hopeless. I put myself out there and asked for help. Where did it get me? Watch this space...


  1. It's impossible not to feel your pain when you describe it so eloquently. You're a brilliant writer, keep your chin up x

  2. Remove all ed from your CV? Bonkers.

    You should be writing professionally, with prose like 'My returning smile did not reach my eyes.' Brill

  3. Thank you for sharing. Keep looking and writing this amazing blog! I'll be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers!

  4. What an awful experience - keeping my fingers crossed for you.

  5. Fish: Thank you. That means a lot. I fear though that in a lot of your comments, you tell me to keep my chin up. I am sensing a sad pattern. Oh dear...

    Ubergrumpy: What a lovely thing to say! I'm touched. Of course, i hope to be a professional writer, so fingers crossed!

    Write here: Thanks! No worries, i will keep writing the blog. It keeps me focused. I actually hope to post more in the new year. You won't be able to get rid of me!

    Kitty: Yes, it was an awful experience but i wasn't surprised. My hatred for the job centre was not unfounded. My reluctance to go there was my intuition telling me to stay away. Should have listened! :)

  6. I'm very impressed by your blog. Keep up the good work.

    I always enjoy stumbling upon blogs where there's such an appreciation and passion for writing.

  7. take all the ed info out? that's crazy. what kind of jobs are they talking about? flipping burgers at mcdonald? keep looking. something will turn up. (sending positive thoughts)

  8. "My returning smile did not reach my eyes." Wonderful words there Lou.

    Something great will happen for your job situation in the new year. The job centre sounds awful. I'm sorry you had to go. But just hang on, it WILL happen. Get that novel done. That's where your future could lie. You have started it, right?

    I'm thinking about you. Prayers for you Lou. :)

  9. JCON: Thank you very much. Always happy to hear of new readers. Please keep checking back!

    Sarah: Yes, i may eventually have to flip burgers in McDonalds. Doubt i'll be good enough to earn those stars for my badge. Haha.

    Robyn: Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts! The job centre is truly awful AND i have to go back in 2 weeks time. Dreading it. Dreading. Feel like i want to throw myself down the stairs so i break a limb which in turn means i won't have to go! Desperate times and all that....

  10. PS: Yes, I have started my novel. About a third of the way through now. Though i'm just editing at the moment and have deleted a fair bit. Some days i lack the inspiration to add to it but i hoping that will change.

    Fingers crossed for 2010! :)

  11. Oh my God I know exactly what you mean. I was so happy to sign off because I simply hated going to the Jobcentre every fortnight or whatever - and feeling far too qualified for the sort of employment they were hoping to shove me in! I feel your pain!

    It's good to know you've started your novel. Hopefully that'll keep you sane!

    I don't know if it's worth a try, but have you ever considered submitting articles or stories etc to magazines or newspapers for payment? There are quite a few publications that pay more for a few days (or even hours) work than the Jobcentre pays for an entire month. The downside is facing a lot of rejections before someone says yes, but when they do.... And you write quite well too, a lot better than some bloggers I've read, so I figured it was worth a suggestion...?

    Pretty much what I currently do as a freelance writer, really :-)

  12. I think you can be a great writer someday. Just continue to write coz you have a great style. You have elaborate your story with life and ambient. It's like reading a pocket book with great detail and story. Dig up and you will find your talent and it can be converted into cash!


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