In recent years, those heading down to the Job Centre for their weekly meetings has had an overhaul. Rather than those with few qualifications or experience, there’s been an influx of experienced and qualified graduates unable to find work and having to ‘sign on’ to get by. David Cameron said the unemployed should work 30 hours a week for their benefit after six months of being on it. Benefit sanctions for the unemployed are being introduced, and we can’t help but think that everyone is assuming one thing: people enjoy being on jobseeker’s. I mean hey, it’s free money right? How great is that?

But claiming jobseeker’s isn’t fun at all. You don’t want to be on it. In research done on the Youth Contract, a scheme to offer 100,000 opportunities to young people in 2012, insights were found into the Job Centre, claiming that 36% felt pressured to take part in activities not suited to their circumstances and 23% were dissatisfied with the service. The Centre for Social Justice looked at how the Job Centre should be reformed, and found young people were ‘badly let down’ and received little help. Their qualitative research included quotes such as “it was literally box-ticking“. The research argues that the Job Centre Plus is more focused on the withdrawal of benefits. It’s not a great experience. It’s embarrassing. People want to avoid it. But sometimes it’s unavoidable. Here ‘s the realities of what it’s really like, from those who have been through it, and still are.

“It was a last-resort option.”

Scott Wright was on JSA for seven months last year, between February and September. Contrary to popular belief, he didn’t sign up to receive his allowance as soon as he found himself unemployed, it was something he was forced to do, when he really did run out of money. “I was reluctant to start JSA but I had ran out of money and a lot of confidence in getting a job I wanted so it was a last resort option,” he told us. “The main benefit and reason was that JSA were able to fund my travel to interviews.”

Daniel Hall admitted that, as a graduate of Media and Cultural Studies, being on benefits made him struggled with social anxiety and depression. “I didn’t openly choose it. It had a massive impact on my life, from not seeing my friends and avoiding social nights as much as possible. That’s what this system does to you, I like many others across the UK feels lost with no place to go.”

“It affects your confidence and state of mind.”

Learning how much being on benefits can affect young people emotionally was overwhelming, with stories of it changing their confidence patterns especially in social situations. “The initial reaction to being on JSA from friends was just a few jokes but as time passes and you’re on JSA for an extended period of time these jokes can start to turn into serious questions about what you’re actually doing with your career/life,” admitted Scott, who was on it for seven months. “It starts to not just affect your confidence and state of mind but you start to shift your career ambitions to suit any job you can find, you lose direction of yourself.”

Scott explained feeling like just a number on a screen which they just tick off if you’ve done what you were asked in the week between your last meeting, “that feeling had a overall negative effect on my confidence to be able to walk into an interview as a person on JSA and get that job.”

“I eventually signed off without finding a job.”

Kara Godfrey felt that the stress of being on benefits wasn’t worth it, and signed off without having a job to fall back on, “It was soul destroying having to go along every week to the job centre to show I was applying to about 5 jobs a week (when I was applying for about 50 a week).I jumped through so many hoops and got so much derision from them that as soon as I moved back home, I stopped it. The £70 wasn’t worth it.”

Scott also signed off without having a job. “I felt a lot of guilt for spending JSA money on socialising with friends who had jobs. I used using the excuse of personal problems effecting my job search which was a cover for my own depressed state.”

“The worst part about being on JSA is the routine and processes you have to undertake to be able to sign on, it’s not a case of just turning up. You have to document your job search, go to job interviews that you don’t necessarily want and accept unpaid work for the experience.”

“My adviser didn’t know how to help me,”

An anonymous user of GoThinkBig was unable to attend a shadowing opportunity due to restrictions from the job centre, with them not realising how helpful it would be. “It is my dream,” he told us. “However the job centre said that I cant do this. They said that working in media is unrealistic and that I can only look for work that is in fast food or customer service as I am not allowed to gain experience in any other field.”

Katlin Allen, a graduate who is finding it hard to get her foot on the ladder said she isn’t receiving practical help for her search. “I’m really just made to apply for jobs that i’m overqualified for which have a tenuous link to my previous work experience. I’ve been offered no help with CV’s or the like either.

In a similar situation, Daniel found he was forced into opportunities completely irrelevant to his media degree. “They didn’t know my abilities or situation. I’ve gone through a lot with them forcing me to work on a farm to gain ‘experience’ (workfare).”

“It’s embarrasing, I feel like I’ve failed”

Several young people we spoke to admitted to feeling incredibly embarrassed to admit they were claiming benefits. “It is difficult to attend the meetings, because as a graduate, it kind of feels as though you’ve failed” said Kaitlin.

Kara described it as “added pressure that wasn’t needed when I was applying to a ridiculous amount of jobs a day,”.

What do you want from the job centre?

So if being on benefits is making young people suffer from depression, increased anxiety and a lack of confidence, what do they want to Job Centre to do, to make it better?

Scott: “I initially just expected to be able to continue my job search whilst gaining the monetary support for interviews travel and other expenses, and this was certainly delivered. However I did also expect to be guided in finding relevant jobs and improving interview skills but these never really happened.”

“I think in this digital age there is increasing possibility that the job centre could remove some of the mundane paperwork, face to face meetings with all young jobseekers. When I was there they said I could record my search online but they still insisted I filled in the paper booklet also, which actually just doubled the amount of information I had to enter. If they truly digitise this process for claimants where possible it could be a much more seamless and less stressful ordeal.”

Daniel: “Initially I thought that the Job Centre would be the place to help me reach my goals in the working world.  However, I quickly realised that they didn’t really cater for someone with my skill set IE, someone with a degree.

“There needs to be more for young people and graduates with specific skills. In my own personal experience I’ve been forced to go to group meetings with people who struggled with reading, writing and constructing a coherent CV. Maybe if they gave more support to claimants, such as placements to gain experience in a profession they want to pursue, then there could be steps to make things better. Things like Workfare/zero hour contracts don’t help the situation either. By forcing young people into working at a horses stable or a recycling plant for 30 hours a week for 12 weeks (as they tried to do to me in the summer, I refused to do it) doesn’t actually help the individual, it just creates the illusion of a drop in unemployment figures; which is all that matters at the end of the day.”

Kara: “I expected a certain level of understanding: just having got a degree, feeling a bit lost so signing up short term. What I got was judgement and ignorance, either completely uncaring or almost mocking that I had to go on it when I’d only just graduated.

“What they need is to just not dismiss young people. One man there was so kind and didn’t ask me to do the number tests as he said he understood this was a short term thing and that I obviously had some level of intelligence. But there were so many hoops to jump through, so little help and so much judgement that I felt embarrassed to be needing help when its hard enough to get a job these days!”

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Why claiming benefits doesn’t make you a scrounger

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Photo Credit: VFS Digital Design