The realities of a daily trip to the jobcentre in a wheelchair

Film: a journey to the jobcentre reveals the near-Kafkaesque experience many have of the UK government's system of 'support' for jobseekers.

Kate Belgrave
19 June 2014

One journey shows so clearly the realities of George Osborne’s ironically-named “Help to Work” scheme and the UK government’s useless Back To Work concept generally:

The woman in these videos is Angela Smith, who lives in Wembley in London. Angela worked for about 20 years and was laid off from her most recent job (working with young disabled people) in 2011. She signed on then. She has a university degree.

Angela also has cerebral palsy. She uses public transport to get around and to attend her fortnightly signing-on days at the Wembley jobcentre and to see her work programme provider at Reed Partnership in Harrow. At the moment, those are her two obligations. She describes both of these days as a complete waste of time. Having attended one of these days with her last week, I see her point. We travelled all the way from her house to the Wembley jobcentre on the bus (an almighty drama, as you’ll see in the video below) for a 15-minute wait and five-minute handing over of jobsearch papers. That was it. Angela took a folder of paper for a bus ride to the jobcentre, dropped it off, and left. There was no discussion of jobsearch while we were there, no offers to help find work, or to fill in application forms – nothing. I said it before and I’ll say it again – this jobcentre process is beyond Kafkaesque. People are made to turn up to jobcentres to show evidence of searches for jobs that don’t exist, or for which they are unsuited, or unlikely to hear anything of again, and then they leave the jobcentre – often to do the job hunting that they had to put off for a couple of hours to attend their pointless signing-on session at the jobcentre. It really is a pointless exercise to beat all.

With Help To Work, people who have been long-term unemployed must take part in that pointless activity every day. They either must travel in to sign on at their jobcentre, or participate in workfare schemes. Angela has been out of work for two and a half years, so has some concerns about the scheme and how she’ll get on, if she's still unemployed after three years it might apply to her. With that in mind, she wanted to show what her trip to the jobcentre already looks like. She finds it a challenge and you’ll see why in the videos below. I accompanied her to the jobcentre last week on London’s so-called accessible public transport.

It went like this:

Bus trip to Wembley jobcentre

It was raining, which meant the bus was crowded. There were two buggies in the wheelchair space and nobody offered to fold theirs, so Angela had to sit in the doorway in her wheelchair – hardly ideal, as you’ll see. Then, things escalated – par for the course in a crowded bus with space taken up by buggies. One of the people with a buggy had to get off the bus before we got to our stop. Angela pushed the button to call for the ramp so that she could get off the bus, make room for one of the people with the buggies to get off and then get back on. Unfortunately, the driver didn’t realise all this was going on and he shut the doors on Angela’s foot as she tried to get back on. When she did get back on, he came over to remonstrate.

He asked Angela what she’d been doing – and then he did something that people often do when dealing with disabled people. He asked Angela who she was with (the assumption always is that disabled people can’t be out and about by themselves) and when he worked out that Angela and I were together in some capacity, he started to address his questions to me. He asked me if Angela was all right. I told him that it was probably better to put that question to Angela, seeing as it was her foot that got stuck in the door. He said to me – “but is she all right?” I told him again that Angela was probably best placed to answer that question. He asked me again. I told him to speak to Angela. This went on for some time. He was obviously worried that there’d be trouble because of the foot incident and he needed confirmation that there wouldn’t be trouble. He seemed to want that confirmation from someone who wasn’t in a wheelchair. Bit of equalities training needed there, I think. Boris Johnson, our very own self-styled Mr Accessibility, might want to get onto that.

After all of that, we finally got to the right stop and headed for the jobcentre. The meeting we had there was pointless, as I say. We waited for about 15 minutes for someone to see Angela. The man who saw her was pleasant enough, but he didn’t say too much about helping Angela with her search for work. He just took up her papers, had a quick look and then told me that Angela would need to fill in the space for her email address. I’m not sure why he told me. I told him to talk to Angela about her papers. Angela explained that she isn’t able to physically write (she uses her computer) and so couldn’t fill in the box for the email address by hand. She said she could read her email address out for him. He said it would probably be best to do that with another adviser at another time. And that was that. Then, Angela went home start work on a job application she’s writing. Interesting that she had to get her trip to the jobcentre out of the way before she could get down to applying for a job.

As Angela says in the video: “Imagine doing that every day.”


This article, published May 12, 2014, is re-published from with that site's permission.

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