I left the Job Centre in tears on Monday, I’d already signed on so hope I don’t get a sanction. I was told I have to go and work in B&M Bargains as a volunteer.
I have worked as a volunteer for a long time while trying to get paid work, I had to end that in January because I couldn’t afford the train there, I use to be able to ride the train for free but they’ve installed electric barriers now and I can’t pay to go to work for free anymore you know (it didn’t lead to paid work) also as my financial and living circumstances are diabolical without money and I needed to dedicate all waking hours to finding paid work.
While cold calling local companies for work in January a man I spoke to said he could offer work experience only if I was interested, I said sure and he got back to me and picked me up, he was surprised I was old, haha and thought I’d be a student but when I said I had adult children he looked at me like wtf, not believing I was old enough, but I went along with him on his work and learned a lot, he bought me lunch and we’ve remained friends since, he’s probably 80, semi retired and I think glad of the company (he works alone).
Anyway, at the time I told my work coach Sue at the Job Centre I had got myself some work experience and she said I couldn’t work for free for a company because I was taking the paid jobs of others, she accused me of taking the paid jobs of others like I was being unfair but she’d ok to be honest, one of the nicer ones, said I had to ‘be careful’.. probably meaning the beurocray that comes with admitting that to Job Center staff. I did once years ago and was presented with form after form to fill in about my volunteering and unpaid hours worked, so yes I know the consequences of truth in these establishments. Sue continued to say I could only work for free with a registered charity or it was illegal. So I didn’t mention it again fearing sanctions or bureaucracy or getting my work experience employer in to trouble, but I did work a day here and there, about 4 days only in total over 7 months. He’s retired fully now so no more of that. But I gained experience, knowledge and work for my portfolio. He’s well connected and introduced me to a woman who also gave me two days work experience, which I got my travel expenses and lunch paid for and again learned a lot and gained evidence for my online portfolio, was glad to get out of the house too. He got to learn about my financial situation when  he called once and my electric had just gone and I’d no access to money for a week and I was tearful and couldn’t speak so asked him to call back later. He said after that ‘Why don’t you go to the Job Centre and ask them to find you a job, had to laugh, he like many others don’t understand Job Centre’s are not places you go to find work, they are places Civil Servants check evidence you’ve spent 35 hours a week looking for work. I’m not sure he believed me until I Daniel Blake came out.
On Monday I signed on and the same Work Coach who told me I couldn’t work for free for a company said I had to go and work in B&M Bargains as a volunteer to get some up to date skills, can you imaging my horror at that contraction. She told me I couldn’t work for a company for free because I was taking the paid jobs of others and then she tells me I have to go and work for free for a company.
I get really distressed at inconsistencies, contradictions and her attitude of always opposing anything I say. I had an interview once and told her it was £15 train travel expenses I wanted to claim from them and she kept saying ‘It’s not £15 at all I only went there the other week on the train’ well it was £15 and I provided evidence, but it’s that attitude of always questioning my integrity on everything from travel expenses to jobs applied for. It’s ridiculous. I know from interviews I have attended there are over 200 applicants for every job. The competition is tough.
Just before she had said that about my working in B&M Bargains for free I had just told her I embellish the truth on my CV and don’t let potential employers know I’m unemployed, I said I’d worked alongside people responsible for recruitment in the past and they ignore applications from unemployed people so to stand any chance I make it look like I’m in work, as a volunteer at weekends and as a freelance person but she kept saying that me working at B&M as a volunteer will update my CV with recent experience, again she wasn’t listening because I’d just told her I sort of lie on my CV so employers think I’m currently in work and I still don’t get many interviews, I think because there is just too much competition for each position. What difference will putting recent volunteer work experience on my CV make when already employers think I’m in working? NONE!
I said I’d been exploited most of my life for my free labour and this year I said enough was enough as I try and concentrate on making a living with my labour instead of working for free and still she went on and on about being given training, trying to convince me she knew best. The last time I used a till was January in my place of volunteer work, I was front of house staff working alongside people doing exactly the same job (exactly the same job) and they were paid £23.50 per shift and I was paid £0 for doing exactly the same. Exploited much. I have had enough. I was there 3 years. But she kept on and on until tears filled my eyes and I was sick of defending myself and got up and walked out. It still upsets me, forced labour again, being punished for being poor and not able to find work when there are 200+ applicants for every job.
I think she’s probably under pressure now because I’m probably a problem, considered ‘long term’ unemployed because it was last November I signed on, I guess they have markers and targets and stuff now I’m at the 12 month one. I don’t know what will happen. And she’s one of the nicest ones.
It happened before a few years ago when I was unemployed (there are only temporary contracts these days), with a horrible Work Coach called Debbie at a different office. At the time I was doing a lot of volunteer work and she said how could I be looking for work 35 hours a week if I was working as a volunteer almost full time. She said it was suspicious and if it was proven I wasn’t looking for work I’d be sanctioned. So I had to do less volunteer work to satisfy her and only worked weekends for free for then, a few weeks later she said she was sending me to Primark to work for free on the mandatory work program, I said I already worked for free as a volunteer and she asked how many hours and when I said I work just the weekends now she scoffed and said ‘well that’s not enough’.. WTF? She was horrible, I complained about her and managed to get out of that, the letter of complaint I emailed to my previous work coach Ian, who had been promoted to a manager position, he was lovely, a good guy, he forwarded it to his superiors. I moved offices, I didn’t go to work in Primark for free and I didn’t get sanctioned. There was a bit more to it, she criticized my CV which she threw back at me across the desk saying it hadn’t even got dates on, she only looked at the first page but that very CV had got me a good job interview which she had, the week before paid my travel expenses to. What a horrible woman, punishing people like that. I moved to a different office after that.
New office I encountered the same with another woman work coach called Tammy, who said I hadn’t got a job in 3 months so she was sending me on a 2 week full time ‘Employability Skills’ course. I said I didn’t have time to sit in a room learning how to write a CV and build confidence for two weeks when I don’t lack either, having had a few more interviews it proved my CV was ok.. I wasn’t angry or aggressive but questioned how she could justify her decision to send me on such a remedial course which i thought would be wasting precious time, to which she kept saying, I’m not taking about it anymore you have to go. What she was saying made no sense, she must have pressed a button under her desk because the security guard came and stood besides us, he said nothing, just stood there. I had to sign the document she presented which said I agree to do the course and wrote ‘signed under duress’ by my name (she looked disgusted and said ‘Why did you do that it’s not under duress at all’. Of course it was, I would have been sanctioned if I didn’t sign it because she told me it was mandatory. I then asked to see her superior, I said I wasn’t leaving until I’d seen her manager, to which she began to shake a little, she began to work really slowly and then disappeared for ages, she was clearly nervous. She’d been like a Nazi exercising her control over me. I’m not interested in power struggles I’m interested in things making sense, actions being justified and time spent productively. She was punishing me for not having a job.
Anyway I complained to her manager about her and I had to go to Learn Direct on an Employability Course, the guys there told me Tammy sent the majority of people to them and though she must be an evil cow, they shouldn’t really have disclosed that to me but I can build rapport quite easily with people and they even drew me a diagram on a board to show me how Job Centre staff are under pressure to get sign offs, making life hell for benefit claimants to which, when they fall out of the system, looks like a success on the Job Centre work coaches achievements board. Figures. The guys were great but soon after in the classroom environment having seen the course information I got thrown out for non compliance by a woman of about 21 years heading the class, who said we’d be spending 2 weeks building confidence and learning how to write a CV and at the end we’d get a certificate of employability.. FUCKING GREAT!
I knew what it was already because I’d done research, Tammy at the Job Centre was adamant she didn’t know what the course was but it would help me to get work, I had presented research to her to show her exactly what I would learn on the 2 course, which was nothing relevant to my needs. But still I was made to go, again the woman there at Learn Direct threatened me with sanctions if I didn’t comply. On the forms given to me which I had to sign again I wrote the course was not of my choosing against a statement which said I chose the course, she told me I shouldn’t write on the document and then asked me to leave the building after saying she’d inform the Job Centre of my non compliance and I’d probably get a sanction but that was up to the ‘decision maker’.
On arriving home I called the Job Centre to say what had happened and fortunately the lovely guy from the other office picked up the phone (Ian), I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t acknowledge him but answered his questions like a stranger, he must have been in that office covering, what a coincidence, I’d got to know him quite well, a decent guy for sure, anyhow I explained what had happened and that myself and Tammy didn’t really see eye to eye, he asked which work coach I wanted to replace her and I said ‘I saw a lovely lady called Sue once, she’ll do but anybody else really’.. (So I’ve seen Sue ever since and compared to the others she has been nice, until this week when she said I have to work in B&M Bargains for free that is..) I made a written complaint about Tammy and was asked in to discuss it with the woman manager there, didn’t listen to a thing I said but had prepared her defence by highlighting sentences of my compliant letter ie: she said ‘I’m concerned about this’ points to my sentence highlighted in green, ‘Tammy’s name was synonymous with evil at Learn Direct’ And asked me to explain that, I said I had just spent half an hour explaining what had happened which makes Tammy the personification of evil to me and her name was not in favour with Learn Direct have you not been listening to a work I have said’… I said that quite disgusted. She’s prepared her defence without acknowledging the problem.. (that’s some managers for you). She said what punishment did I expect for Tammy. I said ‘I’m not interested in punishing people but I think you should call Learn Direct and speak to the guys who’ll tell you she sends the majority of people there and they had concerns’.
Anyway that was that but Tammy mysteriously disappeared from the office, I asked Sue where Tammy had gone and she said she’d been transferred.
A coincidence perhaps but I’m sick of defending myself and sick of being threatened with sanctions and I’m sick of working for free and I’m sick of complaining and I’m sick of job seeking and applying and I’m sick of the underhanded ways Job Center staff go about things to meet with government targets and guide lines which are seriously unfair on people already on the edge.
Upon arriving at the desk of my ‘Work Coach’ to sign on she said ‘how are you’ I replied ‘please don’t ask how I am, I am freezing am on rations of 40 p per day electric, I’ve not eaten in 48 hours, I’m  hungry have no food’ and she goes and tells me that.
I am of course disgusted B&M Bargains is capitalising on FREE FORCED LABOUR. it is not a charity. It is using free labour approved and encouraged by the government.
More about the contract B&M Bargains won to engage the poor in slave labour.


More personal experiences of this forced labour on Reddit https://www.reddit.com/r/unitedkingdom/comments/3n4suz/job_centre_forced_me_to_work_from_monday_to/?st=ivqm06u5&sh=a727867f