Monday, September 17, 2007
<<<<<< OFFICIALLY USELESS !
I've now been 'officially' unemployed for 3 months. My last job was working as a watchkeeper on the Velux Round the World yacht race which ended in May. Before that I was unemployed but not a Government statistic. Reasons - personal illness, family responsibilities, two house moves and an element of choice.
I was lucky to be offered the Velux race job by virtue of having an RYA Race Officer qualification. I get a regular newsletter and there was a request for assistance in there. I thought it would be an unpaid volunteer thing and was pleasantly surprised to get paid for something I really enjoyed. My Myspace blog has some details of my time on the race.
When I signed on, I expected to go straight on to unemployment benefit - the first hurdle was the fact that we didn't get any holiday pay during the race, a mistake made by Clipper Venture's payroll person who was not aware that even temporary contract staff should get it. So we got a back dated payment for the Christmas and Easter breaks when the yachts were in port in Fremantle and then Norfolk USA. I'm still fighting this one, because it means that there is another break in my NI contributions. That was the job centre's/DWP's first cockup.
Then they decided that my 6 months work were not sufficient to merit contribution based Job Seekers Allowance which is based on your last 2 years work NOT your entire working life contributing to the British economy!
Yes, I have savings, from what I inherited from my Mum and the sale of my previous property. That money was supposed to provide retirement money, but is mostly gone on living expenses since John left. (He hasn't paid even a half of the mortgage for most of this year despite agreeing through solicitors to do so!). However the amount of interest I get from it is barely sufficient to pay my council tax for the year let alone give me a regular income equivalent to JSA.
Basically my premise is that your local Jobcentre is a waste of space. If you've never had to set foot in one because you have always been employed, you are very fortunate. They appear to be staffed by dummies who are fine finding jobs for people at the very bottom of the job market, but useless for anyone else.
Example. I have to 'sign on' every two weeks. At my last visit to the Job Centre on 3rd September, the person I saw was showing me vacancies on their online system that were supposed to match my skills. I have 20 years plus in I.T., since the industry started, but jobs are highly specialised which this particular dummy could not understand. She showed me a job for an electro-mechanical engineer which just happened to have the word 'software' in the description and was completely unable to understand why my skills and experience were totally unsuitable and it was pointless to apply.
When I first signed on, it was suggested I should go on a course that would update my IT skills, which I agreed was a good idea. Too late I found it was an NVQ in the most basic of MS Office software which I have used everyday for years and know pretty well inside out. When I told my Job Centre representative after two weeks that I was learning nothing new and it was a waste of time, she told me that if I pulled out, even my NI contribution would not be paid. I lost count of the times in the next few weeks I had to bite my lip because the course tutor very obviously didn't know what they were talking about. I even spoke to his boss and suggested that I re-train as one of their tutors so that their clients would at least learn the subject properly, but they were unwilling to admit their shortcomings. In the end, I got permission to complete the remainder of the work at home on my own PC and via LearnDirect's website.
Today was my 13-week unemployment review. Over the summer, there have not been a lot of job ads that were relevant, but the numbers have dramatically increased and I have some applications to get in this week. I also had an interview on Friday which went well and looks very promising.
Today, I saw someone else - I think my 4th different person at the Job Centre - she was at least humble enough to admit that the systems and rules that they worked with were not flexible enough to give people the help they really needed to get back to work when they needed it, not leaving them on the scrap heap for months.
A friend who worked with me on the Velux race is also over 50 years old and also still unemployed. He has had to go through the same rigmarole and frustrations with the same Jobcentre. The only difference is that he was actually registered as unemployed before the race job and I wasn't. He has been invited to receive extra help from the Government's New Deal 50 Plus scheme - I haven't and won't be eligible for another 3 months. I have asked for financial assistance to take a home study course in a web development language (PHP5) that will help me in finding the sort of work I want. Refused. Well I thought it would be.
Ask yourself this - if the Government's anti-age-discrimination legislation of last year was working properly and being observed, should there be a need for ANY special scheme to help older people back into employment?
The local council (Havant Borough Council) advertise their vacancies on their website - that is the permanent or long term contract ones. I asked the Job Centre, then the Council HR department how they recruited short term office staff - thinking I might be able to find some temp work. The Job Centre didn't know. The Council HR department refused to consider me on the basis of seeing my CV and would not tell me if they used an agency and if so which one it was. I've now taken it up with my local Councillor Jackie Branson. As a local taxpayer I think I should have some confidence in how efficiently the Council are using their staff recruitment budget and I most definitely do not at the moment.
While I've been blogging, I've had a phone call. I now have an appointment for Wednesday to see one of the Job Centre managers. I don't expect anything to change, but at least my grievances might get passed up the line and eventually result in a better service in the future.
Posted by Jenny Fletcher at Monday, September 17, 2007