A Conversation with a Jobcentre Advisor

kamsandhu —  November 20, 2014 — 35 Comments

Thomas Barlow – @tbarls

Like many people I have been in and out of work over the past couple of years.

Every job is temporary, or low paid, or unspecified hours, or all of them together.  And all of the jobs come to an end.

Recently I decided that I was going to stop this cycle and follow my dream of becoming a writer.  This is it,  this is what I will do, or die in the process.

So when I was told, suddenly, by my advisor, that I had to come in every day to the jobcentre for the next two weeks at least, I finally felt confident enough to speak back.

Though not at the time I was told.  As my interview was ending my advisor told me

“Oh, and you have to come in every day for the next two weeks, starting tomorrow”

“Really?  Oh ok” I replied meekly and got up to go.  Oh come on Barlow, you are supposed to be a Welfare rights journalist, try again!

“Actually, um,” I sat down.  “Err, could you tell me why I have to come in?”

“Oh I don’t know, we don’t have time to cover that here.  I have booked you an appointment with your special advisor to help you sign off as you are going to declare yourself self-employed.  You can ask them”

“Ok, when will I meet them?”

“Three weeks.”

“Is this really necessary?  I just want to sign off with the right support, do I need to come in?”

“If you don’t come in you’ll be sanctioned.  It is as simple as that.”

I half expected her to say ‘I don’t make the rules…”  Or “Just doing my job…”


I go home.  Raging.

It is the straw.

There is no explaining it, but all the humiliation and fear and shame of years of sporadic employment wells up within me, and makes me unfathomably angry.

From the outside it may seem perfectly reasonable.  You don’t have a job, you should do what you’re told, and shut up.

And that is part of the fear and misery of being unemployed.

You don’t feel like you have the right to be treated like a human.  It is perfectly fine to be treated like cattle, for the mere crime of being unable to become a wage slave.

I am signing off.  Forever.  All the years of being treated as ‘less than’ finally bubble up through my usually meek and polite barriers.  I am going to talk about this.


I arrive at 10.30am, on the dot.

“If you can just take a seat here, I will sign you in.”

“Why am I here?”

“If you can just take a seat…”

“Why am I here?”

“Has no one explained?  Well I am afraid I can’t tell you.  All I know is if you don’t sign this and sit here, we can take your benefits away.”

“You mean my right to live?  Why?”

“I’ll see if I can get someone to answer your questions now, then.”


I am introduced to my special advisor.

“So why am I here?  This isn’t in my jobseekers agreement.”

“Quite frankly Mr Barlow, we can do what we like with you.  You have to come in when we tell you to, or else we will sanction you.”

“You mean you will take away the means for me to live.  Fine.  You have the gun to my head, why am I here?”

“You shouldn’t see it as a gun to your head.  This is an opportunity.  I have loads of clients who wish they could be in here daily.”

“Well I don’t.  And it is a gun to my head.  You can take away all of my money, make me homeless and allow me to starve.  You know sanctions kill people right?  It’s a nice word for a dirty act.”

“Look Mr Barlow, quite frankly we have got the powers we wanted.  Not everyone sees it that way, but I do.   There are people who do spend their time actively job seeking. If you are not willing to search for a job for 35 hours a week…”

“We deserve to die?”


“Because that’s the crux of it isn’t it?  You are saying that in a world of plenty, where there is way more than enough to go around” and there is you know, more homes than homeless, more food in the bin than the hungry could eat, more energy in the world than we all could use  “that if I refuse to be disciplined by you and the state, then I should die.”

“I know what you are saying, I used to be a job seeker myself”  They always have been, job advisors. “I know how hard it can be.  I was refused benefits for months, you don’t have to die.” Nice change of tack.

“How did you get through it?”

“I lived with my mum who supported me.”

“So what about people without family, or without means, or without space, or spare cash?  I mean isn’t this the point of Welfare?  It is a way of looking after each other, because we all have – or should have – more than enough. It isn’t supposed to be disciplinary.  It is not supposed to be something you punish people with, force them to do unwaged work, or make them feel small.”

“That’s not what I want to do.  I want to help people back into work.”

“But that isn’t what you do any longer is it?  You have to find ways to take our means to live away from us.”

“Well it is not what I want to do.”

“OK.  So why am I here again?”

“Because if you don’t come in you’ll be sanctioned.”



I spent the two weeks writing articles and emails on my phone in the job centre.  The computers didn’t have access to email (though they did have access to facebook), so i just made do.

After making a fuss about the pointlessness of the whole exercise, I was left to my own devices.

My fellow ‘jobseekers’ (I would prefer to think of them as human beings, but there we go), spent the two weeks bemusedly looking at Facebook and LinkedIn, before occasionally asking if they could leave to go on a job interview.  They twiddled their thumbs and kept their heads down.

I guess that is what they want from us all.


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35 responses to A Conversation with a Jobcentre Advisor


    ” we can do what we like with you” is a bit worrying. You are articulate and fully competent but waht about vulnerable people? The claim was sinister.


    Reblogged this on markcatlin3695's Blog and commented:
    And in my local JCP they’ve taken out the free phones to install four new computers for just this purpose, when I was in there a couple weeks ago I saw people at those pc’s looking bored and to be honest, slightly bewildered. After reading this I feel I know why!


    Franz Kafka – welcome to your nightmare.


    Terrible scum he is
    They are meant to tell you why and not just because they feel like it
    Sounds like he needs reporting


      Indeed they are! It was lack of clarity/info that got the DWP in c*ap last year re: workfare (Cait Reilly et al. VS DWP), sounds like the same attitude here – if it isn`t explained then you can`t make an informed choice re: consent, therefore you haven`t consented.


    I believe this is akin to Nazism. Didn’t thet Nazis say the same thing to the Jews? “We can do what we like with you”. This is a very disturbing scenario. No wonder IDS is being compared with Heinrich Himmler.


    I Hate Jobcentre’s too, Two Million Sanctions is there target otherwise they loose their jobs, I was told this back in April 2012, the whole system Stinks.


    I’ve been lucky so far, in that I’ve always had the better advisors, but in all the centres (Job Centre, A4E, Phoenix etc.) I have overheard other advisors saying things that made me feel sick with anger, and shamelessly bullying other clients.

    My son was sanctioned because, in his advisor’s opinion, he hadn’t done enough job searching; despite not being told what was expected of him, and despite the fact he’d only been signing on for 2 weeks. I had done his job search with him as he was unsure what to do, and he did the same amount as I do, yet mine was fine. On the day he was sanctioned he was also ordered to work at Amazon (the big tax evader) for 6 months, 4 days a week, without pay (and without benefits, as he was sanctioned), and he hasn’t been back to the job centre since. He’s one of the 500,000 sanctioned people who have ‘disappeared’. He’s a shy, sensitive lad and just can’t handle that kind of intimidation. I had to go with him on his first visit to make his claim, but the advisor told me he’d have to go alone after that.

    There are some advisors; like mine; who will only sanction someone if the alternative is likely to be losing their job, and who go out of their way to try to keep your benefits in place as long as you’re making the effort (and knowing first hand what’s in store if they become unemployed, I can *almost* sympathise with them), but the rest are scum – plain and simple.


    I’ve had a similar experience… I’ve been looking for a job for a year now and most of the positions that have suited me have been in Oxford and Bristol. All fine and dandy, except I live in Liverpool at the moment and had to travel to to the interviews, and I was getting plenty around one a fortnight.
    But I always was pipped at the post by another applicant.Then when I went in to try and get the funds to travel down for a number of interviews (4 in 3 day, 2 in Oxford then over to Bristol for the other 2) it was suddenly decided this was no longer viable. When I asked why I was told I had gone over the limit they could help. However, after enquiring with my MP, I was told that there was no limit. When I took this email and again enquired, I was then informed that it is discretionary and it was obviously my interview technique thats at issue here… I’ve since gone back to my MP trying to get to the bottom of this, but have missed out on 8 other interviews, and counting in the mean time.
    How the hell is this helping me find a job?


    I definitely think this is a case of being super unlucky with the advisor you got. Not all of them are like this and do try to help and explain their actions if you don’t understand.


    What a tame, lame report about what it is like out there! Who wrote this a Daily Mail reader?They give me crap and santion me always, I fight it and win, they lie, so I get FOI to prove them wrong. In the meantime bills add up, because they don’t pay back pay. One time on the Anniversary of my brothers suicide, due to being sanctioned, there was a report in the Metro that I learned about the day before from the web,about someone killing themselves, due to being sanctioned, so I stormed in there, full Matrix long coat and sunglasses on, invincible; and saw 3 supervisors and the manager withing .5 of a second. But they still bait me, they dont even ask me questions now or look at my diary, have been taken to signing weekly/advisor, which means sanction. I attend their courses, dont get a certificate for a year, I attend another ‘course’ slave labour, breaking upvc frames up, got the place closed down under h&S rules from H&s themselves.Ended up in hospital collapsed myself due to smoke inhalllation, and ended the course 2 days early due to being in hospital, but on the FOI request, it says I ‘must reattend’, Still they bait me. The stress affects my relationship, and my partner of 18 years leaves overnight, been arrested 3 times due to stress, she had been under mental health watch due to all this; still they bait me. Signed on on Wednesday; told would get a call back Wednesday, I know the rules and timeframes, gets a callback Thursday, OOOHHH!!!! PAID! It will go in in 2 hours, 5 hours later it was paid in, so more lies! You need to speak to them, dole says you need to speak to call centre in Brighton, or Newcastle or wherever you manager to get thru to on their premium number. Can’t get a food parcel, because the council says I had too many, 4, so when I got paid Thursday, supposed to be Monday,then why pay single person with mortgaged house, nearly £300? for 2.5 weeks? When they have messed everything up My history, my life, my bills, due to a click on a computer? I regularily get 5/10/15 letters IN ONE DAY from the DWP, all contradicting one another, so I cannot know where I stand, all POSTED on the same day And no, do not critisise me for my spelling not being able to get a job, I am typing internet speek, so people understand, rather than the normal concise English text that people would expect in a formal letter. Unfortunately the Poacher has turned Gamekeeper, so most if not all critisism is tracked down to an individual, and used against them. Fortunately I use Tor. For the idiots at DWP reading this means that you don’t know who I am, for everyone else who lives in the real world you would.That is why the ask you email addresses, so they can analyse your type of writing, then search ur FB, etc, and Gateway sign up details says they can remotely access your computer, and look at anything you have ever done (Monster.com owns this – remember the one that lost all the accounts of people a while back?), Sorry to hack on, but some little scroat was filling my bin with their crap, dirty nappies etc, buzzing flies (don’t know why they kept buzzing flies as pets, or why throw them away?), Eventually found an address dumped in my bin, with that I found out all about their life, and if I register free, get even more info, from 192.com, the computer said it was from an address a mile away from mine, doesn’t make sense? Dig deeper, found on FB, saw history for years, without knowing them, how much they paid for their house, if they have any CCJ’s against them (extra), and all their history. Just by Google. And you folks are writing on a forum populated by the people that sanction you! Sorry to bang on.


    Well said. I’m in the same position.


    @Sarky Wytte You are entitled to request to have someone with you.


    I was threatened with sanctions the very first time I ever signed on. And now after months and months of being made to feel a miserable unworthy money grabbing failure, as part of some twisted government policy to pitch the haves against the have nots, I get a job and do everything they tell me I should have done, play by the rules, and here I am unable to pay my rent, feed myself or my child and I can’t even afford to top up my Oyster to get to work on Monday.


    I would have said prove to me you have the required qualifications to raise a sanction doubt. If not then Foxtrot Oscar


    Avanta are another company that delight in getting people sanctioned, over a period of 6 months they started sending me appointments out from their office on the day of the appointment and immediately ringing the DWP and getting me sanctioned, I spoke to someone at the DWP and he checked their computer system to see when the report of sanctioning went in it was 1 minute after the appointment time! All this because I mentioned I would like to go self employed and start a business, I have sat in their office and listened to them on the phone with “clients” threatening them with sanctions if they don’t come to their appointments. Phone down and its right what course shall we send him/her on I will make their life hell (direct quotes) I emailed Avanta head office and I am still waiting for a reply 2 months later, I am no longer with them thank god but now the DWP want to send me on 6 weeks unpaid work, I have heard this is illeagal against your human rights so I aint doing it…..


    One must remember that most of the staff at the job centre are there because no one else will employ them. The reason is that they nevr know what they are doing.


    Interesting and thought provoking!


    My heart goes out to everone that is experiancing hardship due to this current welfare policy.

    I had the misfortune of briefly using the jobcentre breifly a couple of times when I recently graduated about 10 years ago, and was shocked at how unprofessional and counterproductive the advice from my jobcentre “advisor” was. It was quite a traumatic experiance. That was about 10 years ago, before the draconian and pointless sanctions targets this current tory party have introduced, that do nothing to help people back into work, put thousands into unmanageable debt, and contribute to the deaths of vulnerable people that die from starvation or suicide.

    I dont consider myself “socailist” or Left wing” or “anti capitalist” but find it uterly shocking, shameful and disgusting that about 15-20% of the population the 7th riches country in the whole world lives in poverty.

    I wish everyone dealing with the indignity and idiocrity of this pointless and cruel system finally finds the way out, to a better life. To finally do meaningful work that actually pays a living wage, that thy strive to do, instead of precarious zero hour low paid slave work.

    The only advice I can give to you is to keep written and recorded records of every conversation you have, be it by phone, email, writing or in person, and this way if you are lied to, you have some eveidence you can use as some kind of protection. Trust no one that works within this “welfare” organisation, Assume that they can lie of turn on you to fulfill a statistic or target on thei quota without notice. Assume that they are sociopaths that get a big thrill from bullying people with no power for the sake of it because that is thier idea of having fun. keep recordings of everything as evidence because this is your only possible way of protecting yourself from unfair and unjustified sanctions or diciplinary measures.

    If enough people can expose this organisation for what it is, to expose any human rights infringements then perhaps things can improve.

    Good luck to you all.


    I detest the DWP, they are so unprofessional. They treat unemployed people as if they are committing a crime. The DWP are trained to be condescending and threatening. They enjoy the sense of power they gain from sanctioning people. Who, exactly apart from the Tory’s are they representing? They are a law unto themselves. Their training causes them to develop too many bad habits, which just makes them unable to get any other positions. I just hope they lose their jobs and have to sign on everyday too.


    my niece stopped signing on, because of an officious little madam in Birmingham, who told her that if she did not comply with the demands made by her then she would see to it that every penny that her family got in benefits would be stopped, my sister cares for her severely mentally impaired adult daughter(my eldest niece) who cannot even speak, her husband is 67 and has cancer, they are a family in crisis. The only “Job” they could offer my youngest niece was cleaning toilets at Asda, for £2.25 ph, the girl has triple distinction passes in IT and game design. When she went home in tears, my sister told her never to go back to the JCP, she telephoned and wrote to the manager, no response to her complaint. The cheeky bitch at JCP also told my niece to go out and buy some decent clothes for interviews. The girl stays at home and has become her dad’s carer and the rest of the family try to help out with pocket money for her. I would personally like to slap the bumptious bitch at Aston JCP.


    brings back a most awful period for me. well reported. look forward to hearing about more humane practices – where there is indeed clarity of word and action – and humane dialogue.


    Reblogged this on Carole… and commented:
    I want to say shocking but unfortunately hearing more and more like this…the comments and replies on here are worth reading too.

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