“I was told I was overqualified for most of the jobs I’d applied for. So I ended up working in retail, which I enjoyed.
I was put on an employment programme when I was 25. If you have been unemployed for six months in total—it doesn’t have to be continuous—then you get put on it.
I applied for about 20 jobs a day and couldn’t find anything.
At the job centre I had what they call a ‘work-focused’ interview. I was handed over to a company called Best which is paid by the government to find people work.
It was incredibly patronising. They treated us like we were 12 years old.
They set quotas of how many applications we had to make a day. At one point they said we had to do 50—it’s just not possible.
We were in a classroom with four computers between around 15 people, so it wasn’t possible to search the whole time you were there. It was very demoralising.
We had to go all day Monday to Thursday.
I was on the programme for about 13 weeks. For about five of these weeks I had to work for free in an office supplies shop in a retail park. I was working constantly—that should have been a paid job.
Someone from Best would come and check up on me. It felt like I had someone looking over my shoulder. It was terrifying and banal all at once.
I found another job through searching in my own time away from Best. They don’t help you at all. You can’t think properly about the applications and everything is done in a rush to meet the quota.
It felt like you were being policed, and it was full of broken promises.
We did a first aid course and were told it would result in a formal qualification but it didn’t. They said they would give us £50 if we found a job while we were there.
I found a job, but it was only a five-week contract so I didn’t get the money.
Everyone at Best in my group hated the government.
It’s a catch 22 situation. There is pressure on you to take any job for fear of losing benefits, but there is no respect in working for free.”