Let me tell you a story about what happened to me yesterday, when I went to my bi-weekly signing at the Job Centre.
It all began with me looking at the clock and realizing it was already 2pm. I said “shit, I’m late” and practically ran out the door. I made the trek that’s usually 20 minutes long in less than 12. When I got there, I looked at my phone and the clock just ticked over to 2:21, my appointment was at 2:20.
I thought to myself “Well, this is the first time I’m late, and it’s only a minute. I’ve never seen them being less than 10 minutes late, besides, they do call 5 minutes later.” Granted, this was rather stupid of me, I should have made sure, but that’s not the issue here. I looked straight ahead and there was a poster for gov.uk, the UK government website and they had a stylized computer mouse to show how IT-savvy they are. The mouse was pointing the wrong direction, the cord stuck out the back of the mouse. I had a little giggle and got lost in my own thoughts, as I do some times.
At 3:20 I decided to ask the security who to talk to about a missed appointment. Turns out that security doubles as a receptionist… wish anyone had pointed that out to me before. He took my name down (wrongly, even though I spelled it out for him) and my date of birth (wrongly, even though I spelled it out for him) and said to sit down. 5 minutes later, a lady comes out and shouts my name. I stand up and walks over to her, past the picture of the backwards facing mouse.
“I’m sorry sir, we don’t have you in our system” she says. “What benefits are you on?”.
“None” I replied and she looked at me like I had antennae sticking out of my forehead.
“None at all?” she asked, very skeptical.
“That’s right. I’m here to get help with finding a job.” I answered, probably sounding skeptical myself.
“Are you sure?” she asks, voice going up to that high pitch that some people get when they are out of their comfort zone.
Turns out she couldn’t find me because the security couldn’t spell correctly, even when someone spelled it out for him. This is probably why you shouldn’t have a security guard double as a receptionist, it’s two completely different set of skills and mindsets required.
The lady let me know they had called my name promptly at 2:20 and later at 2:25. I let her know that I was there at 2:21, so the latter call-out did not happen at that time. She said it was too late anyway and that I had to wait another 40 minutes for another appointment. A bit annoyed, I sat down again and looked up at the backwards facing mouse.
For some reason, the mouse I’ve been staring at for over an hour became somewhat of an obsession. I wondered how it could end up there, in a government run office, paid for by the government, to show how tech-savvy they are. Someone had to pay a designer to paint it, someone else had to green-light the design, a third person had to approve the spot it should hang at and a fourth person had to print it. A fifth person had to receive it and say “OK, this looks good.”. A sixth person had to actually hang it up and thousands of people walk past it every day. Not a single one of these people have noted that the mouse has the cord sticking out the wrong direction.
The clock struck 4 and my name hadn’t been called yet. I started getting annoyed. I continued to look at the backwards facing mouse. I looked at the time and it was now 4:20. I had been there for 2 hours, staring at the backwards facing mouse. Now I started getting slightly angry. How can they punish me like this? These people, who doesn’t even know what direction a mouse should be pointed? Over 2 hours of wait for being 1 minute late. I’m usually 10-20 minutes early and they are always at least 10 minutes late. Sometimes they’re even 40 minutes late, and I haven’t once pointed it out to them.
At 4:50, 50 minutes after my second appointment, a lady comes out and grumpilly calls my name. It’s monday, it’s closing time, I get that she might be a bit grumpy, so I let it go and put on my best smile. The annoyance over the backwards facing mouse is gone.
“Next time you have to be on time, otherwise we’ll withdraw your benefits!” she exclaims in a very angry voice. I am surprised at my own calm during this outburst and I smile and calmly say:
“I don’t get any benefits.” I tried to be friendly, to ease her suffering on this monday afternoon, to ensure I don’t give her any unnecessary stress. Besides, if I get snappy with her, the bulky security guard will grab my neck and throw me out and then call the police, because a civvie is not allowed to show any hostility towards a civil service personnel in this country.
“Well, don’t be late anyway. We WILL withdraw your benefits!”
“I wasn’t that late, only a minute. Besides, I don’t get any benefits, that’s not why I’m here.”
“Don’t get snappy with me! You come on time next time or we WILL withdraw your benefits!” she threatens again. I just sigh and sit back. I realized it was hard for her to comprehend that someone would be at the Job Centre looking for a job and not just looking for benefit money.
She wrote me a note saying that I have to be on time at the next appointment or have my benefits withdrawn. She didn’t even bother to check if I was even receiving any benefits. Then she asked for my work book and I was stumped.
The “work book” is a bundle of A4 papers, folded roughly in the middle, with a lot of text in it about how to use a computer (in details that even Grandma can understand) and how to get to Google to search for Job Centre. They realized that the URL to the Job Centre website is so backwards and so hard to remember, that they recommend everyone to just use Google to find it. It says on the back of the book that you should bring it with you at every signing, but nobody ever asks for it. I have been there for 8 months and this is the first time anyone asks for it. Of course, I stopped bringing it 7½ months ago.
It was apparent to me that she just wanted to see it because she was going to use every rule in the book against me. Again, the threat came:
“Well, bring it next time, or I’m going to have to pull your benefits.”
“For the last time, I don’t get any benefits. I’m here to find a job, not to collect benefits.”
“Don’t get snappy with me, or I’m going to have your benefits pulled. You understand me?”
I just smiled, nodded and signed the paper. I walked out with a bitter taste in my mouth and a realization that they are not there to help me find a job. They are there to help me not being on benefits. It dawned on me why there are so many false agencies reposting the same copy-paste ads on the Universal Jobmatch now. They don’t care if the job exists or not, you should just apply for it anyway, because it is a requirement for your benefits. If you don’t, they are going to pull it. They don’t care what happens on that website, and that is why the mouse is pointing the wrong way.
The backwards facing mouse is intentional, it is a metaphor for how the Government thinks and acts when it comes to the people who needs their services. You’re not at the Job Centre, you’re at the Benefits Centre. You’re not using a properly designed website to access the Government facilities, you are using a piece of backwards software, hastily tossed together and rushed through production to give the quick shine that they know what they are doing. What they are really doing is putting the cord of the mouse on the wrong side and hurry it out to shipping, before anyone can notice the mistake.
And this is why I like the backwards facing mouse!
PS. The rule-rider I got as my coach… she forgot to sign the reprimand slip!