People looking for work deserve dignity

Jamie HeadshotJamie Kinlochan shares his personal experience of zero-hours contracts, the reality of precarious work, and the failings of the systems which should help.


Labour has pledged to end exploitative zero-hours contracts, a policy that I’m sure any working class person can get behind. This commitment should now be the start of a conversation about how we treat people who are trying to find and keep work.

I had a zero-hours lecturing contract with a college which guaranteed me some hours for 4 weeks. It was an excellent opportunity, I got to do something really worthwhile and I met some brilliant people. Having been a student for the previous five years, however, I had accrued some pretty hefty commercial debt. This job meant I had no idea whether or not I would be able to pay my credit card minimum payments and direct debits.

So I went online to DirectGov. In the weeks that I didn’t receive any pay, I would be entitled to JobSeekers Allowance up to £73.10 a week. When you think about it, this doesn’t really sound like I had a job.

I filled out an extensive form online about my situation and had the date and time of my first appointment text to me. There was no discussion about when it would be.

When I went to that appointment, I was greeted by two security guards who took my name and told me which waiting area to sit in. Some people in the waiting area were crying, some people had buggies with them, some were just sitting there, staring into space.

The things I remember from that initial appointment are:

  • The flyers for Army recruitment on the desk next to me
  • The fact that public policy, social policy and public affairs were not recognised on the computer as actual job fields. So after working hard to become the first person in my family to ever get a degree, I still landed on Computer Says No.
  • The rules about what I had to do to prove I was looking for a job.

The warnings about doing my admin/keeping to times and dates/filling out the forms for people on zero-hours contracts were really clear from the start. It seemed like a lot of work for no work. If I didn’t do what was in my JobSeekers contract (non-negotiable, already written) my case would be sent to the “DECISION MAKER”. They would decide if I was to be sanctioned and how long for. They could decide if I got no money for two weeks, eight weeks, eternity…

I was never told if the DECISION MAKER was a human being, a piece of software or a branded Magic 8 Ball. I didn’t know where the DECISION MAKER was based and I didn’t know how I would get in touch with them. The DECISION MAKER was a bogeyman who dealt only in absolutes. They would make the final decision about sanctions and that would be that. In my current job, I hear from young people about the devastating effect of sanctions. I see the devastating effects of making someone feel hopeless and powerless. And I feel ashamed that we’re letting it happen.

Elections often see welfare boiled down to a bottom line. It’s easier for us to deal with the idea that people who need to claim JobSeekers allowance just aren’t like us. That’s probably why we have let how people are treated in the Jobcentre get so bad.

Being greeted by security guards, having decisions made about us when we aren’t in the room by a powerful noun, constantly having to prove we aren’t on the make. It’s dehumanising and not how I want people looking for a job to feel every single week. As a country, we need people to be happy and confident in the workplace. We can’t afford to spend weeks and months making people feel like nothing.

Labour has to lead the charge on this because only Labour can. I’d ask people using the Jobcentre how they’d like to be helped into work. I’d stress the importance of relationship based practice to staff. And I’d make a serious decision about the decision maker.

Related Posts

4 thoughts on “People looking for work deserve dignity

  1. Jamie, with the greatest of respect, I’m not sure you’re seeking solutions in the right place.

    Rachel Reeves, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary:

    “We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work.” 17/03/2015

    “Labour will be tougher than Tories on benefits.” 12/10/2013

  2. Absolutely, zero hours contracts need to go. Though your article seems to be about how our welfare system treats those who are using it, which is a disgrace as is plain to see by you documenting your experience of it.

    It’s clear that there needs to be a dramatic change in how we treat those on welfare – putting dignity into the heart of the system. I signed on for two short periods myself about a decade ago, and my experience wasn’t a great deal better. There was minimum human interaction beyond security guards, and the staff obviously had a low morale by any indication on how they would interact with you when they had to. Thankfully I didn’t have the experience in regards to sanctions, which would just have made a poor experience unbearable.

    However I fail to see how getting rid of zero hours contracts fixes the issues you’ve raised?

    1. Actually, I’ve just read your opening again and I can see that you weren’t saying that getting rid of zero hours contracts goes towards fixing the issues you raised, but should be used as a springboard to start talking about the issues you raised. My apologies, I misunderstood.

      I wont’ be offended if these comments remain unpublished if the folk(s) moderating feel it may derail any useful conversation. But yes, you are absolutely right and we need to hear from more people using the system to we know exactly what the experience is when you face using these services.

  3. Don’t worry, Jamie, the mansion tax is going to sort everything out. We haven’t seen any actual figures on this radical new left wing economic initiative, the expectation is that it will raise a few million, so you need to just have faith.

    Seriously, is the Labour Party having a laugh? You really think you’re going to raise a significant amount of money with this nonsense? Assuming they are serious, here’s a couple of questions;

    1) how much do you expect to raise?
    2) how much will it cost to implement and administer?
    3) how many seconds do you think it will take for the owners of these mansions to find a loophole? (It took me about 3 seconds)

    As for you, Jamie Kinlochan, your sad little story is but one of many reasons to vote SNP and press for independence. There’s no work up here, that’s the bottom line, and all the bullying of jobseekers in the world isn’t going to change that. Neither is the mansion tax or the 30 billion of cuts Labour has planned.

Comments are closed.