I have often thought, whilst cycling full pedal to the job centre, that if the government could they would reinstate work houses. The moral motivations of these old institutions glow clear to me now. The hands of the idle poor need work, if only to keep the devil at bay. Picking oakam, breaking rocks, stacking Tesco shelves… It’s all ultimately the same. A punishment doled out for those who dare to be poor, free labour for those who deserve to be rich.
I see the best and brightest of my generation weighed down, bent and crooked with the burden of unemployment. Alternatively faces plastered up each morning with a smile to serve the public. Low paid retail, coffee shops and cafes. Unpaid internships with the glinting promise of employment, that magical pot of gold at the end of a grey shaded rainbow. Or we chose perhaps another term at University, paying money that doesn’t exist for an MA that delays the wolves at our door.
I myself have had a hand now in many things. Retail, agency work, admin, an internship. I have worked for charities I have loved and hated. I have looked after children and written fundraising applications, answered a hundred phone calls, and smiled at a hundred faces. But it is the Job Centre I find myself back at again and again. My months contract ran out, the cover work dried up.
The Job Centre. The workhouse, poorhouse, the spike. The Dole House. The dole house is not just the institution of the Job Centre nor is it merely the physical building you enter into every other week. It is the carpet and walls of your own private existence. It’s the limitations and designs made upon your life. It is something intangible and yet terrible, which bleeds into all things.
To be a resident is to find yourself following a cycle of emotion and action that is particular I think, to being unemployed. Furious job applications, phone calls, emails, the rare and glistening interview, followed by in turn by a debilitating dawning of your own worthlessness. The depression you feel whilst signing on is unique in it’s own particular flavour of awfulness. No amount of rationalisation about the economy or the similar status of your friends eases the underlying and constant knowledge that your life is shameful. A quote I read recently from Walter Greenwoods ‘Love on the Dole’ I felt typified my own emotions perfectly. As the protagonist comes back from the dole office for the first time “He trudged homewards staring, a strangulating sensation in his throat, a feeling in his heart as though he had committed some awful crime in which he was sure to be found out”. To be unemployed in this country is to be of a criminal class, imprisoned by a gnawing lack of money, opportunities, and the descending shabbiness upon your life.
It is my intention to write more about the job centre, my own experiences and my speculations as to its function. Watch this space.