At the Marylebone job centre in west London mini computers have replaced the ranks of boards that used to advertise vacancies. For those looking for work, it initially appears that there is plenty on offer.
However, a closer glance at the screens reveals rates of pay that seem to be stuck in the 1980s.
High street chemist Boots wants staff for a central London store. Hours will vary, and will include evenings and weekends, but pay is restricted to just the national minimum wage.
How about a job in the NHS? A full time medical administrator is needed in central London. The salary? Just £13,000 a year.
Visitors to the job centre all told Socialist Worker the same story – there simply are too few jobs with wages that can pay the bills.
Ola is well qualified for a job as a receptionist. For the past two years she has worked as one voluntarily for a local community charity in west London. But getting a “real job” that will pay real money is proving difficult.
“I’ve been looking for more than six months, since my youngest child started nursery,” she told Socialist Worker.
“There have been a few interviews but the competition is fierce, even for the jobs that only pay £6 an hour. I don’t see how anyone can work in central London for that kind of money.”
Job centre workers share the growing frustration of claimants.
Veronica works in Milton Keynes helping recently unemployed people make new claims. “If my job allowed me to be honest with claimants, I would tell many that they are better off on benefits than doing the minimum wage jobs,” she said.
“Many of the jobs we are advertising are coming through agencies and we have no idea what the end employers are really like.
“Recently, we sent someone to a job that started at 6am. They worked until after lunch and then the manager said he didn’t need the temps any longer and sent them all home – without paying them.
“The claimant will then have to explain all this to the job centre or else they will lose their benefits for that day.”
Veronica says that there is growing pressure on job centre workers to push claimants into work that is unsuitable for them, or that don’t seek to use their skills and experience.
“Once you’ve been unemployed for six months you no longer have the right to refuse a job. New Deal advisers are then instructed to push you into anything that comes along just to get you off the figures.
“That situation is bound to get worse as the government is bringing in private firms to run parts of the service. They are going to be paid according to how many claimants they can get placed in a job.”
Veronica says that recently lots of highly skilled workers have just lost their jobs in Milton Keynes and are now being forced to sign on.
As unemployment rises as a result of the recession, the government is determined to cut the amount it spends on benefits and subject those claiming benefits to ever more draconian tests – condemning millions to poverty and stress.
What better example of capitalism’s waste and inefficiency can there be than when highly skilled workers, who could help provide the resources that we need, are thrown on the dole and told they have nothing to offer society?