We All Sign On

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 7:20 | Filed in Life

It was pointed out by Spitting Image that ‘We All Sign On’ is an anagram of Nigel Lawson, Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1983 and 1989. Since ’signing on’ was a colloquial expression for the action of turning up to the job centre and declaring that you are out of work and seeking it — signing for your benefits — this is quite an appropriate anagram for a Chancellor during a time of high unemployment.

Unfortunately, the best I can manage from Alistair Darling is ‘na, all sit air grid’ which really doesn’t have the same impact.

Anyway, that’s what I went to do the other day. As this post was written in advance, ’some time last week’ is probably more accurate. But with my previous employment having finished on the 31st July, come the start of August (and without another job in place) I needed to claim unemployment benefits (most specifically ‘contributory based Job Seekers allowance’) in order to be able to claim for my redundancy insurance on the mortgage.

And so I had to phone up to begin my unemployment claim (all claims need to begin over the phone these days, which is a bit of a change since the last time I was in this position in May 1997. Unfortunately for me, my employment fortunes appear to be tied to Labour’s election hopes — I got a job the day Labour were elected in 1997, and as their poll rating collapsed terribly in 2009 I was made redundant. Assuming this is the case, I’m buggered if the Conservatives win the next election…

So anyway, I made my claim over the phone which had certain pitfalls. For a start, you have to give this automated thingy your postcode and then it tries to do voice recognition stuff on it. Unfortunately, this appears to be remarkably crap when faced with a Geordie accent. I start off with ‘NE16′ and get asked “Did you mean E16, London?” No. “Did you mean NG16, Nottingham?” No. “Did you mean M16, Manchester?” No. Bloody thing. Eventually I got through to a human, who seemed able to translate my postcode without any problem and they started to set up my claim.

Basically, they took a pile of details and asked me some set up questions (what is my nationality, am I currently in prison, have the Home Office placed restrictions on my movement, that sort of thing) where I could pretty much answer ‘no’ to all of them. I was tempted to answer yes to one or two just to relieve the monotony, but I tend to feel that official forms (and airport security) are not the right sort of place to take the piss about this sort of thing so I decided to give it a miss.

Then this led me onto stage two of the process: they’d set me up with an appointment in the local job centre, which I had to attend otherwise the whole process was borked and I’d need to start again. It was therefore vitally important that I got to the appointment on time, so I allowed myself plenty of time to get into Gateshead, and as I was approaching the job centre I was aware that I had a good ten or fifteen minutes leeway.

Which was possibly quite fortunate, because when I walked past the Blue Bell pub at the end of Gateshead High Street to where I believed the Job Centre was, I discovered that in this case the past tense of was applied. The Job Centre may have been there previously (such as the last time I’d been through all of this, back in 1997), but it certainly wasn’t there now. Instead was some sort of mixed venture thingummy between Gateshead Council and some National Youth something or other.

And as I’m now in my mid-thirties (I guess at 34 I can’t really claim ‘early’ thirties any more) this would probably explain why I was getting a strange look from the youths I was following towards the building until I realised that it wasn’t the one I’d been looking for. Fortunately, I didn’t actually speak to them or diss them in any way so I managed to emerge from the experience without being stabbed up a bit.

This only left one problem. I had an appointment in about ten minutes at Gateshead job centre, which was rather key to my ability to claim benefits and get my mortgage insurance and so on. Unfortunately I didn’t actually have any idea where this was. So after a quick phone call to the national Job Centre people to find out the phone number for the local Job Centre people to find out the address of the Gateshead Job Centre, this had me quickly rushing down to the other end of the High Street to get there on time.

The building was slightly less oppressive than the previous one had been, and didn’t seem to have as many people in it as used to be the case (presumably more people look for work online now, rather than go into the job centre specifically?). There were two interviews — a first one to check what sort of benefits I was entitled to, and where they would be paid (bank account details, nearby post office, that sort of thing) — and a second one to look at the sort of job I was looking for and what specifically the job centre could do to help me find it.

As I recall from last time, this wasn’t a particularly onerous process: basically you get a little booklet you have to fill in with details of what you’ve done to try and look for work, you agree to carry out certain jobseeking sorts of tasks each week, you agree with your assessor the sort of work you’re looking for/going to apply for, and then you’re expected to apply for anything you encounter which fits the criteria. This is fair enough, particularly as (certainly at least for this first stage) they don’t appear to think you’re expected to go for anything: you can look for something which fits your skillset as opposed to just being expected to take any job.

It was straightforward, and the people were helpful and easy to deal with. I’d not go as far as to recommend being unemployed (unless of course you are currently in my ideal job, in which case you should mention in your resignation letter that you think I would make the ideal replacement) but I would say that if you do become unemployed, there is certainly support out there you can access…

And of course they can provide you with support towards setting up your own business, by passing you in the direction of organisations which help you set up that sort of thing. Obviously, given the rebranding of this site as The Pickards Information Services, this is the current plan, and I know who I need to phone to set up an appointment to go down that particular route.

But that’s the subject of another post…

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5 Comments to We All Sign On

  1. paul canning says:

    August 12th, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Doesn’t the rebranding result in an unfortunate acronym? :’

  2. JackP says:

    August 12th, 2009 at 11:49 am

    …only if you have a double ’s’ :-)

  3. mark says:

    August 12th, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    when you eventually float it on the stock exchange and i buy shares, would i then have a p.i.s stake?

  4. JackP says:

    August 12th, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    …ah, right, I see where you’re going. No, you’ve both missed ‘The’, which is why it’s going as TPis.

    I’m ‘ThePickards’ here, on twitter, and in other locations, so I’m not going to drop the the….

  5. mark says:

    August 13th, 2009 at 11:48 am

    you’re no fun any more

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