THE BLOG

Jobseeker's Allowance Needs to Come Into This Century

10/03/2014 12:21 GMT | Updated 07/05/2014 10:59 BST

If, during the 1990s, you had been anywhere remotely close to a television, there is absolutely no way that you would be unfamiliar with the now iconic image of Richard Ashcroft, sour-faced on a grey East London street. The definitely-not-self-deprecating and highly serious video for The Verve's Bittersweet Symphony is one of the most recognisable videos of that decade (so famous that Keith Allen could rip it off... err... I mean parody it... the following year).

What few people know is that if the video had started about 100 yards further back, Ashcroft's sulky mug would be found at the door of Hoxton Jobcentre. His "everyone's a c*nt" glare makes perfect sense to anybody who's ever had the misfortune to have to sign on.

"Haha! Povvos!"
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I've been unemployed for roughly six weeks, now. In my first interview to find out if I was eligible for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), I was told that since my skill set was too professional, that I should try and source my own employment. Great.



The most irritating part of signing on, if we discount what unemployment does for one's self esteem, is the government's Universal Jobmatch site - released in late 2012, but with an interface that appears so very Web 1.0 (one browser tab at a time, guys), it's an ugly, £17million waste of taxpayers' money that you have to use or face losing your benefits.



Since most of my professional experience is in managing a band that has had modest success in a very narrow niche (mostly writing press releases and managing social media to tell the band's story through these channels), my first search on the Jobmatch site was to find a job as a copywriter. Seven results appeared - each was a vacancy for a GP in Essex. There must be thousands of GPs on the dole. Another search for the more broad term "music" led me to a job ad for a sommelier.

Work and Pensions Secretary and ironed-out bollock impersonator Iain Duncan Smith thinks that the Jobmatch website is going to "revolutionise" the way people search for work. He would be right if he were attempting to turn State-funded jobseeking resources into a Dadaist attack on conventional job hunting.

Upon its release, concerns were raised about the security of users' details, and adverts appeared for hitmen and pornographic actresses. Nothing seems to have changed in the year and a bit since launching. Labour MP Frank Field has this week said that the Jobmatch site is "bedevilled with fraud".

While I've been relatively lucky (the useless search function and bad grammar in job ads aside, clicking through to the recruiter's website often reveals that the job is nowhere near your location, pays less than minimum wage, or the listing has expired), many others are getting conned on this government website as they pay £65 for bogus criminal background checks for jobs that don't exist. The Department for Work and Pensions has told Field that more than 350,000 job adverts listed potentially break the website's rules.

Jobcentres are miserable places. Hot and noisy and open plan, there's no front desk. The only person that can help you find your way to the person you need to see isn't a receptionist, it's a guy employed by G4S to intervene when things kick off who has no idea who the person you're meant to be seeing is, let alone where to find them.

It's in the interest of the taxpayer to make it difficult for those who need to to jump through the benefits hoops. However, this goes further than that. This is a system in need of immediate, wholesale reform. IDS has worked to make the whole jobseeking process online, which is great, but putting an old-fashioned bureaucracy onto the internet isn't the same as modernising it.

The Universal Jobmatch website costs £6million a year to run and simply does not work. The excuse that it's a "work in progress" doesn't hold water for a publicly-funded service that's been live for over a year.

Vulnerable people are being exploited, and if the DWP themselves are willing to admit that more than 350,000 ads on their own job search website potentially break their rules, why isn't Iain Duncan Smith taking responsibility?

On the off-chance that anybody from the DWP might be reading this instead of doing real work, I am not getting any remuneration for writing this.