I have decided to try my hand at translation. The two languages are, grammatically, almost identical. I shall translate from Labour leader Ed Miliband’s English to my native tongue, plain English. I’m not qualified so there may be some debate on my translations. Some may call them clunky, or say I am over-stripping, that if I left in a little more bullshit the beauty of the original Miliband language might be preserved.
Ed Miliband has presented a Big Idea for cutting jobseekers allowance, based on the following maxim: “Britain’s young people who do not have the skills they need for work should be in training, not on benefits.”
No more jobseekers allowance for you, 18-to-21-Year-Old-Who-Hasn’t-Found-a-Job-Yet (I’ll call you “Tim” for short). Labour plan to end out-of-work benefits for around 100,000 Tims and replace it with another payment that’s means-tested according to parental income, and dependent on “training”. So, instead of getting money with which to buy frivolous things like food and shelter, Tim will be getting “training” and less money (because Tim’s parents are of course rich, by virtue of being old, and willing to give him as much as he needs).
This may seem simple but given the vast cultural differences between politicians and those of us who live in The Real World, some translation – and a massive slow clap – is needed.
They say: “Young people don’t have the skills for work”
Translation: “Businesses don’t want to spend money training entry-level employees, so demand that they come ready-made. They would be delighted to pass this cost on to the government if the government are ever stupid enough to offer.”
The recession and following job crisis is, in terms of recruitment, the best thing that ever happened to businesses. Remember the term “on-the-job training”? It went out of fashion in the last few years, when recruiters realised that they were buyers in a buyer’s market and could demand whatever the hell they wanted from potential employees, then sit back as thousands scrambled to appease them.
Hence ridiculous requests like “graduates with five years’ experience”, as a Central Saint Martin’s student was told he needed for an entry-level assistant job in a clothes store. Sure, he’d folded pants before, but he hadn’t honed his folding skills over five years so frankly, what good would he have been to them for £18k a year?
They say: “Young people who are out of work need need training, not benefits.”
Translation: “We’ve noticed that for some reason, young people are suddenly lacking in skills. This has never been a problem with any generations that came before this massive recession…what could the connection be? Oh! We know! Since school does not magically train young people for what employers need, and employers aren’t willing to do it themselves, we’re going to make taxpayers pay for it.”
I love the idea that suddenly young people are lacking skills previous generations had. Like somehow we got a bad batch of youngster, because it was the 90s and pregnant women thought red After Shock was good for the baby. The admission that young people lack training is baked right into their policy, yet no one is asking why this has to come from government rather than schools or employers. How have businesses managed to pass on the cost of training their entry-level employees without anyone raising a fuss? Should we fund their office space as well?
They say: “The ‘youth allowance’ will be means-tested on parental income.”
Translation: “Even though we’re doing nothing to incentivise businesses to hire young people, we’re passing the cost of unemployment benefit on to young jobseekers’ parents. Because all parents are present, willing and able to financially support their adult children.”
Hey, boomers! Congrats on being the generation that votes. It’s really gone well for you hasn’t it? Now, not only have businesses blamed your “unskilled” kids for their frugal employment freeze, but after all that tax you paid, you’re still expected to support your kids financially because the government just don’t feel like doing it anymore. They’re too busy providing all the training businesses don’t want to pay for.
This myth that the parents of the downtrodden youth are necessarily rolling in it needs to die with the Loch Ness Monster. Fat chunks of the supposedly affluent middle classes are one pay cheque away from bankruptcy. Employed people are claiming housing benefit in their thousands, because now even a job can’t lift people out of poverty. It’s all hanging by a thread.
They say: “The policy is not punitive, it’s designed to get young people the skills they need to get a job.”
Translation: “I’m a disingenuous tool, please throw long-expired foodstuffs at my eyes.”
Not only is this policy a mass reshuffling of who pays for what (with businesses once again getting the break), it’s another sneaky way to hide the fact that there aren’t enough jobs.
We’ve seen this same old youth-shaming and victim-blaming since the job crisis hit. Employment Minister Esther McVey had the nerve to claim young people lacked basic skills like “turning up on time” – quite an amazing remark to make about a group of people several million strong. Born recently? Late for work. Sure, Esther. That follows.
It utilises the now-familiar argument that’s designed to toss blame back on to jobseekers, “Well, young people, maybe you’re not good enough for a job as a cleaner”– as if there are plenty of jobs going, as if the only reason they’re jobless is their own brazen incompetence and manifest shiteness, as if managers are crying out for applicants who don’t turn up to the interview with breadsticks up their nose.
They’ve taken that argument, pretended it’s true, and used it as the basis for a policy.
If you’d all like to join me in a massive slow-clap…
Author – Erica Buist
Ok… round 2. I’ve now discarded the submissive attitude adopted for the initial interview and now its time to enter angry, cynical bastard mode (admittedly this seems to be pretty much my default state nowadays).
The adviser was allowed to play his hand in the first interview, and he proved himself to be one of those who would, if given the opportunity, steamroller the claiment into signing a Jobseeker’s Agreement (JSAg) designed to set them up for sanctions, presumably with no qualms about the ensuing hardship their actions would cause.
Remember this, and remember it well – it’s YOUR life they will be disrupting, possibly destroying. They will continue on their merry way, drawing their rather good wage and probably basking in the praise they get for hitting their sanction targets at your expense.
So what are YOU going to do about it ? Because its only YOU who can do anything about it.
Luckily its not so hard as you might think – or might be encouraged to think. Of course it helps if you’re a naturally stroppy person. Actually, I’m not, and once upon a time I’d have probably have allowed them to steamroller me too, but the passage of the long, hard years, etc – basically I’ve learnt how to play the part, studied how they play their parts, learnt the facts that they should know but so often seem ignorant of – pretty inexcusable when that knowledge should be central to the proper execution of their jobs, but there you go. It’s something you can use.
Knowledge is power, and can give you a little leverage – it’s up to YOU how you use it to best effect.
Archimedes said “Give me a firm place to stand, and I will move the Earth.” That’s a little ambitious perhaps – I’d settle for helping a few more cracks appear in the edifice – it may not be as dramatic as burning down the Jobcentre, but chipping away here and there has its effect.
Not much of one if it’s just me, but what if YOU join in, and YOU and YOU ? And all the other YOUs who accept having deadly JSAgs foisted on them without argument, then whinge about it afterwards ?
If everyone refused to sign sub-standard JSAgs at the initial appointment and took the adviser to a second session, that would instantly impose extra strain on the system – and probably on the advisers too. More cracks for you to insert your metaphorical crowbar into.
But its down to YOU to act in your own best interests. All I can do is record how I’ve gone about things – hopefully it may inspire YOU and give YOU a few ideas.
Anyhow, enough about YOU, how was I getting on back at the Jobcentre ?
Mr Submissive safely back in his box, Mr Bastard takes to the stage. As the adviser’s only previous experience of me is as the former, this apparant change of personality may throw him a bit.
Incidentally, I find it useful to take a few props along. Print out anything you think you might be able to quote at them, put them in a file, then add enough extra sheets (blank if you like) to give it a bit of weight so that it gives a satisfying thump when you dump it on their desk. If they query it, say “Just a few notes…I’ve been looking into the legal implications” or something on those lines. Leave it vague – let their imaginations fill in the blanks, however erroneously.
A reporter’s notepad is also useful. Put it on their desk to make sure they see it, but transfer it to your lap, out of their sight, to make notes. Actually, you dont even have to make notes – just appear to be doing so. doodle, scribble, whatever, it’s the fact that you appear to be making notes that is important. Once again, encourage their imagination to jump to conclusions. Oh, and dont forget a pen – you kind of lose points if you have to ask to borrow one of theirs.
The notepad can also be used to disrupt their flow, should you wish to. Just say “Sorry… could you repeat that ? I ought to make a note of that,” and then scribble something on your pad for a while.
Mr Bastard also attempts to take control. Mr Bastard is right in from the word go. He points out that the JSAg is a contract and that under English common law there are certain niceties that must be observed if it is to be considered valid, does Mr Adviser not agree ? Mr Adviser has obviously never given a moments thought to the subject, is caught on the back foot, and resorts to umming and ahhing.
“Well it is, and it does,” Mr Bastard informs him, and moves on to the next issue.
You might recall from Part 2 that this adviser changed one of my specified employment fields on the JSAg to “assembly”, despite me pointing out that not only did I have no experience in that field, I wasn’t even clear what “assembly” actually entails.
Mr Bastard points out again that he knows nothing of this field, and demands it is changed…but not back to the original job, instead he is willing to allow “Retail” to be inserted instead.
In actual fact, Mr. Bastard’s experience of retail is pretty much limited to working stalls at markets and festivals – still, that’s 100% more experience than he has of assembly. Mr. Bastard also knows that far too many retail jobs are part-time and zero hours, but he wont have to apply for those, as he specifies needing full-time work.
However, the important thing is that Mr. Bastard is seen as willing to compromise and allow the Mr. Adviser to change one of his designated jobs (albeit one that he did not himself designate to start with). Mr. Bastard makes sure Mr Adviser knows that he’s making compromises, that he’s willing to do business. All bullshit really, but this perceived willingness to negotiate will look good should you need to take your case to independent appeal.
Still pushing the illusion of being Mr Compromise, Mr Bastard also states that he’s going to allow the total of 6 compulsory job applications per week to stand – a 100% increase on the existing JSAg. Mr. Adviser upped it from 3 to 6 at the initial appointment.
Six applications a week may not seem much, but taken in the context of the North East’s job opportunities… some weeks it’ll probably mean applying for 5 jobs I know I’m not going to get. The one bright spot is that email means I dont have to waste money on stamps and stationary anymore.
Mr Adviser did attempt to rally behind his assembly fixation – what the hell is is with him and assembly work ? If its so great, why isn’t he doing it ? And, being Mr Bastard, I asked him that very question. He didn’t answer, but stated that assembly was where all the work is locally.
Aha ! said Mr Bastard, who had spent a profitable and instructive 15 minutes prior to the interview printing off jobs from the Jobcentre’s jobpoints.
“Funny you should say that,” says Mr Bastard, “I’ve just been working my way through the top 100 local jobs, and guess how many assembly jobs I found ?”
Mr Adviser is not up to guessing games, but Mr Bastard tells him anyway – “Two !” He dumps the job slips in front of Mr Adviser and goes on to point out that both require previous experience and arcane qualifications, neither of which Mr Bastard – as he has repeatedly pointed out – possesses.
Mr Adviser shrugs. But there’s more – Mr Bastard dips into his other pocket and extracts a far larger wad of job slips. “By way of comparison, in the top 100 jobs on your job points I found no less than nineteen vacancies for self-employed leaflet distributors.”
And that’s the way of it folks – 2% assembly jobs, 19% leaflet distributors. In fact its probably worse than that – had I counted several other door-to-door, catalogue selling, commision based non-jobs in with the leaflet non-jobs, they’d have accounted for at least 25% of work available on the Jobcentre’s (and thus the government’s) own job points.
Its the unpalatable fact that they wont acknowledge – last August the Financial Times highlighted a survey of vacancies by Adzuna.co.uk, described as “a search engine that collects every online job vacancy.”
According to this survey, London and the southeast accounted for 46 per cent of UK vacancies… compared with just 3.3 per cent in the North East.
Anyone having to live on benefits in the North East knows this. Anyone looking for full-time work knows it’s even worse than that – once you’ve weeded out the part-time jobs, the zero hour contracts, and the 25% of “self-employed” scam non-jobs – what’s left ?
We know it , they must know it too, but refuse to acknowledge it, and insist we continue to chase vacancies in which we have neither the specified experience or qualifications, which we know before we even send the application that we wont be considered for.
If you wanted to design a system that seems guaranteed to destroy self-confidence and morale, look no further.
Mr Bastard makes these points, but Mr Adviser is obviously not interested. After all, he has his job, his little bit of power over the plebs, and is fulfilling the the trust invested in him by Iain Duncan Smith admirably.
The session petered out around now, with Mr Adviser saying that he will have to book a double-session for next time, as Mr Bastard has to agree to the revised JSAg or it will be refered to a decision maker.
“WE have to mutually agree on a contract, subject to English common law” Mr Bastard reminds him, and exits, feeling he’s probably come out on top – and still hasn’t signed the JSAg.
To be continued …