Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Jobsworth Plus

I have been unemployed now for about 10 weeks, and have been living off the redundancy I got from my previous job (the one I was in from May 2005 to September 2012). Now that we know what is going on with my health, it is now time to turn to jobhunting.

Now, one place that is useless for jobhunting is the Johcentre - or as they have been rebranded, Jobcentre Plus.

This is an aside, but becomes relevant in a bit. One of my pet hates are those who discourage you and when it doesn't work out take a "Told you so, if only you'd listen to common sense" approach. Yes, there is a place for considering problems - but also what steps will be taken to overcome them. It's the whole "Know your place", "Don't give it a go as you'll fail and be disappointed" attitude.

And it annoys me when this is the message from Jobcentre Plus staff. I remember the last time I was unemployed for a few weeks in 2005 and going to Woolston Jobcentre Plus, in Southampton. And, oh, the negative attitude from staff. It seemed that if your lifetime ambition was not stacking shelves in a supermarket till you're 65, then you were a bit above yourself, a bit lah-di-dah.

My favourite (OK, least favourite) was the time I came across 5 jobs which were office based, in the financial sector. Just office work, but a foot in the door.

The problem was that for the staff, the best guide of what jobs you are suited for is not what your qualifications and experiences are, but whether you have a dangly thing between your legs or not. So the man I saw at the desk put the printouts of the jobs to one side and on his computer got details of 3 "men's jobs" (factory, building site) which I was then required to apply for or lose my Jobseekers' Allowance.

I guess a woman who approached the desk with the same jobs would have been given details of 3 cooking or cleaning jobs she would have to apply for.

And today, when I went to the Southampton Jobcentre Plus, had to deal with an oik at welcome desk, who explained the rules are that you are only allowed to apply online and cannot even apply by telephone so I would have to complete the online form. My problem with that is that as I have paid National Insurance contributions, I wish to apply for the Contribution Based JSA. The thing with this is that assets etc. are totally irrelevant in deciding whether one is entitled and, if so, how much one gets.

The problem is that on the form you have to put these in. In previous jobs, every year I had to sit tests on data protection. And I am aware that the third Data Protection principle in the Data Protection Act 1998 is that:

Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed.

Hence, the Department for Work & Pensions is breaching the Act if it asks for information which is irrelevant. The penpusher explained to me that there are no Data Protection issues with this - which is incorrect.

Jobcentre Pluses are funny when it comes to Data Protection - there is this approach that there is no need to deal with jobseekers' personal information in line with the Act. I remember when I had a brief period of unemployment while living in Andover, and used the Jobcentre Plus there. Those were the days when you had a little booklet (JS40, I think it was called) which was in a little plastic wallet. On the back was name, National Insurance number and when you had to sign on.

One rule was that when you turned up, you had to show your JS40 to the security guard from Group 4 Security and then she say you could go through and sign. And one day I asked to speak to the manager.

I asked whether the security guard was a DWP employee. No, I was told. And then I noted that only a few people have the right to see my National Insurance number - the DWP, employers and Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs. And hence, to sign on, I had to provide my National Insurance number to a lady who had no right to see it.

The manager agreed that this was a breach of the Data Protection rules, and after that when I signed on I would simply walk past the security guard. She never tried to stop me.

There are a couple of reasons why I am going for contribution-based JSA. The first of these is a practical one. In the good old days, you stayed with your employer for the whole of your working life. And now it's messier. One job was for 4 employers (as you ger merged, demerged, taken over, broken up, restructured etc.) - and from that I have free shares in two of the companies and pension schemes from 3 of them. And I simply don't have all the details to hand.

The second is philosophical. I have paid National Insurance contributions - but the JSA I would get is the same as someone who hasn't paid enough and who hence gets income-based JSA. This is something that needs reforming, so that contribution-based JSA should depend on how much you have paid in National Insurance contributions (which depends on your salary), rather than simply on the fact you have.

In some ways, the system is anti-contributory. Going back to Andover, and this was over 10 years ago, and I didn't have any noticeable heart issues and my high blood pressure had not yet been diagnosed, so the only thing I needed regular medicine for was the asthma. But even so I would still need help with NHS costs. And it states that you get help automatically if you get income-based JSA. For contribution-based JSA you have to then fill out forms and wait for a decision. So, if you have actually worked and paid your National Insurance contributions, you have to jump through more hoops to get help with NHS costs, which come automatically to those who haven't paid.

So, I decided to phone a DWP helpline and the lady I spoke to said that when I apply I should say that I have assets of over £16,000 and explain when I have my interview that I had to put that to ensure I just had to answer the questions for contribution-based JSA.

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