As proof that life is indeed circular (which feels, on occasion like a downward spiral), this blogger returned last week to the very reason this blog was started in the first place, namely namely the dole office, or more accurately the acute misery, accompanied by absurdities so extravagent that Jean Genet himself would blanche.
As you may know, the occupier of these words has currently completed his degree, with a degree of success that was nearly surprising. I say nearly, because frankly, I expected to pass. The cumulative marks up to Christmas meant that one would have had to do something absurd, such as fall over a large pinkish cat while attempting to use the bathroom late one night without turning on a light or applying one's spectacles, smashing one's head against the windowsill resulting in a fractured spinal bone and severe concussion a few brief days before completion of one's final assignments, thus making the task of completion impossible, for one not to have passed. Fortunately, there was not, as has been recently confirmed by X-ray, sufficient spinal damage to prevent one finishing the essays. The extent of my passing was somewhat unexpected, as not only did I obtain a First class degree but have also been awarded a prize for academic achievement. In the tradition of English people, I shall describe these results as 'quite satisfying', and that I was 'somewhat pleased' with the way things turned out.
None the less, graduate or not, after my degree, the question obviously arises, what next??? That question is a little way of having a definite answer, but for now, lets just focus on how I attempted to take care of immediate necessity by "signing on" for dole, as I am now officially unemployed. To be completely accurate, I wasnt really seeking, or expecting a payment of any kind, due to a chequered work history and RHB's wages (the UK system is a bit odd, but both are deciding factors in whether EI is granted or not). My main reason for making a claim was associated with something called National Insurance Contributions. If working, these contributions are taken from wages. If a student, they are credited to you. If unemployed, they are granted when you sign for dole. It is important to realise that no actual money changes hands concerning NI contributions when you are unemployed, your National Insurance record is just credited, but a complete National Insurance Record is a vital for all sorts of reasons to do with health care, old age pensions etc etc. So, I decided to claim.
I was initially delighted to find that three years after making some earlier observations on the subject in this very forum, a new, more efficient system has been introduced. These days, you can, claim online. 'Great' I thought ' In cases like mine, where no money is involved, and I am not in financial distress this is a great way of saving everyone time and tax-payer money - money we are told that is in such short supply in the UK these days'. Then I thought further 'Seriously, this is a really good, and proper, use of computing power. I will simply fill in an online form, the computer will very quickly link to the records from the tax office, see that I have not made enough contributions for earnings based EI and that will be the end of that. I will just be told to sign for National Insurance credits, and everyone will be spared the lengthy, frustrating and expensive assessment procedure that accompanied my last, similar effort'.
How wrong it is possible to be. Actually what happened was:
STAGE 1: Fill in the form online. About one hour. This time, fortunately, there were no stupid questions about whether I was an escaped prisoner or survivor of Monserrat volcanoes. AT the end of the process, I recieved a message saying I would get a phone call from a human in the next few days.
STAGE 2: Phone call from human. We go through the form again. All of it. One notable difference between this time and last is that person on the phone is a lot nicer. At the end of the call, I am told I will now have to attend for interview at the local office, and a date is arranged.
AT this juncture, I should point out that I have been attempting to tell the computer, and then the caller that I wont get any money.
STAGE 3: I attend for interview a few days later. I am on time. Twenty five minute late, my name is called and I meet 'Richard'. We go through the form again. Then I sign it. 'Richard' invites me to re-take a seat, and an 'advisor' will be with me shortly.
STAGE 4: Another fifteen minutes pass. The office is packed, arguments are breaking out, mostly young excitable men. I should have also mentioned that the venue is the same miserable office that was the sight of my last contact three years ago. Then my name is called. My advisor is about twelve. He barley glances at me, mumbles something and shoves a form in front of me. At this point, all my earlier public spiritedness, especially the desire not to cost any more money that is absolutely necessary, has gone out the window, particularly because it seems that my new partners - the Government, are as determined as ever to waste as much of it as they possibly can. In processing dole claims, they obviously dont mess around with this concept - so far they have splurged three hours of taxpayer's money on my file, and it look like there's no let up. I ask my 'advisor' if he could repeat what he has just said. He again rushes through a series of mumbled, semi-words that dont seem to belong together. When he stops 'speaking', I lean in close:
"A bit of advice" I say as patronisingly as I possibly can (which is 'quite') "Try to pretend you even give a flying f*** about what you are doing. The day will go quicker, you will get a less antagonistic response of people, and probably most important for you, you wont get old geezers like me asking you to repeat yourself".
He glances up, and I think I see a light of realisation dawning in his eyes, as it must have done over Olduvai Gorge all those thousands of years ago when fire was first invented. He gently, and quite vaguely waves his pen at me, friendly like.
"I should inform you that swearing at me can be considered assault in this office and we have a zero tolerance policy for such aggressive acts. I will have to ask you to sop immediately or I will call a security guard."
I am astonished, because this is said with perfect clarity. But I decide discretion is the better part of valour, and concede "Point taken. Please carry on".
My advisor shakes his 24 or 25 year old head, mumbles some more and shoves the forms at me again. I sign about eight of them, possibly they represent a commitment to invade Franz Josef Land, and leave.
The system has been re-vamped, I have been told since I last signed. The Government claims it is now more efficient. That word 'efficiency' is, like the horrible word 'bespoke', an incredibly abused word. It certainly doesnt mean what it is supposed to mean. I can only wonder which website designers, efficiency consultants, political advisors and private companies profited form that revamp. I have come to realise that in Government circles "efficiency' actually means "profits for our mates'.