This is a day that is penciled into the diaries of all the unemployed. My day was always a Thursday, which compelled me to ask "why must I always attend on a Thursday?" The answer is it is all down to your National Insurance number, so there you have it; a little fact threaded through this blanket weaved of self-reflection and contemplation. I digress, signing on consists of a mandatory fortnightly visit to the local Job Centre during which you must sign the dotted line, explain how you trying to better your situation and endure your environment.
As I have previously mentioned, this was not my first experience of taking advantage of a very lenient Government. As such I have gained familiarity with two different Job Centres, most recently Skipton, but initially I was introduced into the non-working world via the Shipley Job Centre. A joy! And by joy I mean all antonyms of the word joy. However, I will not focus on Shipley, as I suppose no Job Centre is ever going to be a "home of witty banter" (cheers Dave) and/or a place of life affirming positivity. Moreover, it is a place in which your presence must be formally acknowledged, simple.
I would awake on the second Thursday of the month allowing the sombre to enter and the optimism to leave. A countenance now fixed with misery is shaved, in spite myself I do want to appear unemployed to the world, so I make an effort which is matched by my choice of apparel; casual yet clean and respectable, I mean I don't want to get turned away at the door for wearing Henley's do I?! No, wait, Henley's and all other "chav" attire is perfectly acceptable, if not desired. Anyway, I now feel it is only my cheerless chops that could give me away as I walk to my destination, as I am well dressed, clean shaven and my sign on booklet has been plunged into the depths of my jacket pocket, neatly mind.
So, I have arrived, usually wet, as it likes to rain on this special day and I am met by the bemused and often aged security staff. I am still unsure as to what their role is, but each Job Centre seems to employ a person to greet you and take your sign on book to be filed (thrown in a basket). I guess that any environment where "Jezza Kyle" could handpick an entire years cast would need security, but the nearly retired are hardly the population for such a role. Anyway, so I sit and I observe. What I observe really doesn't need describing, head to a bookies and exchange a few of the senior citizens for the younger, rougher generation and you are nearly there. However, as I survey the desperate and concerned expressions I am sadden at the variety. There are people like me, graduates, school-leavers and perhaps the faces that trouble me the most; the older generation, a generation that has always worked, some who may once have had good jobs, careers, but due to the current economic crisis they have been forced onto their hands and knees to crawl through the gauntlet of unemployment until they find a job, any job. Of course this is speculation and my opinion, but you do get the sense that there are people there who are genuinely down on their luck.
On the other hand, some are present simply to take what they think they are owed, desperate to continue receiving other people's hard earned money. Those that will stalk the cash machines of rough estates or town centres at midnight of the day their job seeker's allowance and/or benefits are due. Thanks to 999: What's Your Emergency I have witnessed this actually happen; pyjama and dressing-gown clad women queuing at the cash machine ready to spend their winnings on things that probably would not take precedence in the mind of your average person. Despite my sarcastic and down beat tone when narrating my visit to the Job Centre, I am incredibly grateful for what I have received. The money literally paid my bills and went towards food shopping.
Nevertheless, I am obliged to play devil's advocate and voice my concerns at how easy it was to claim and the process of checking that you are making legitimate attempts to find work. The signing of the sign on book consists of simply saying that you have been using the internet to find work and declaring any interviews you have attended or are yet to attend. In my last visit I explained that my latest application for the Manchester United job was turned down due to a lack of experience, but my application to NASA is looking promising. Of course I am joking... I hate Man United and I am scared of flying. But in all seriousness, it does seem very easy to make the claim and maintain it if you are that way inclined. I personally find the whole dole dossing lifestyle depressing and thoroughly unrewarding, unless you count increasing your rank on Call Of Duty: Black Ops II as rewarding?
We are very lucky to have a Government that will provide, and I know first hand that their financial assistance does help, but it is those who abuse the system that stigmatise the unemployed who are simply enduring a difficult time through no fault of their own. So I leave you with some serious questions; does the Government give too much? Do they give too easily? Do they give to the wrong people?
My final bit of advice to anyone that has to sign on in the future; do not speak to anyone but staff, you will only regret it. Oh, and expect a good degree of condescension.