“It is great to be a blonde. With low expectations it’s very easy to surprise people.” ~ Pamela Anderson
It would be hard to overstate how worried I was when I arrived at my first meeting with my Job Centre Plus adviser back in December. I expected it to be absolutely horrendous. I mean, I was part way convinced that my involvement with the Job Centre would result in me, and possibly even my housemate, ending up in jail.
This is partly because I’d become really unwell again. The bit that I was least looking forward to was having to explain that I hadn’t managed to do a single one of the ‘job seeking activities’ that had been assigned to me because the last week had been largely taken up by all the medical and social work appointments that I’d been given as a result of the overdose I’d recently taken. And that during the waking hours when I hadn’t been dealing with those things I just hadn’t been in the right frame of mind to look for work with any degree of effectiveness. It’s a bit hard to sell a potential new employer on what a perfect fit you are for whatever role they’re advertising when you’re not sure you even want to live until the date of the interview.
Partly it was because of the deluge of negative publicity that has surrounded the Job Centre and the Department for Work and Pensions over the last few years, particularly with regards to their lack of sympathy for sick or potentially vulnerable people. I was sure that I was going to be in trouble with this adviser person straight off the bat because he’d see me as an easy way to work towards his target to sanction as many people as possible for not complying with the rules for claiming job seeker’s allowance.
I’d even read somewhere that some Job Centre’s were misusing the Terrorism Acts to investigate people in trying to dig up spurious evidence of benefit fraud. And I somehow believed that this was what would happen to me, and that there was no way that I would make it through the process with out at the very least facing court proceedings on the basis of I have absolutely no idea what. I certainly hadn’t done anything to warrant this line of thinking. But paranoia is a part of my PTSD.
Anyway, I was very pleasantly surprised.
My adviser was perfectly approachable; very down to earth and friendly.
I blurted out right at the beginning that I hadn’t been able to do any job seeking lately and explained the reason. If the guy was fazed by this it didn’t show. He thanked me for telling him, was nice about it, and then moved on to talking about his role and how job seeker’s allowance worked.
But the thing that made the appointment such a positive experience, and in fact possibly made it the most useful meeting I’d had about my mental health all week, was that when he got through all that he returned to what I’d said at the beginning.
He asked me the standard questions that anyone who potentially owes you a duty of care will ask you if you mention anything to do with suicide; and then he asked about my mental health history, particularly work history in regards to my mental health.
I told him what had happened with my losing a job and having job offers with drawn due to mental illness over the last couple of years, and not only was it clear that he really understood the issues involved in that, but he talked about how that would have created extra hurdles for me to overcome when looking for work in terms of loss of confidence and fear of continuing to be stigmatised. He was really sympathetic and offered me some genuinely helpful advice.
He also went on to give me some really helpful information about my employment rights as a person who is now regarded as having a disability, and explained what I do and don’t have to disclose about my medical history at each stage of a recruitment process. Which was really useful as I hadn’t really been sure about this before.
And then he explained to me why based on my CV as well as things that he’d picked up through talking to me he was confident that I was still very employable and that I was going to be okay.
I eventually left the Job Centre feeling a lot calmer and much more confident than I’d felt in a while. And you could have knocked me down with a feather I was that surprised.
I’ve had to sign on I think it’s four times now, and my adviser has continued to be fantastic. He’s understanding of my anxiety and continues to be helpful and supportive. He even emails me to make sure I’m doing alright and to make sure that I know that I can ask him if I need any help.
So, while I’m very aware that the same can’t be said for everybody, I felt I should say that I really can’t speak more highly of my experience at the Job Centre.