I sat and stared at the dim, lifeless grey walls of the job centre and my OCD illuminated areas in and around my brain like a Childs back garden party full of sparklers in early November. The posters and notices stuck randomly around those walls were not straight, not in any order, and all of them were so sporadicly placed it made my shoulders tense just looking at them. I mean, how can you put a small purple, crooked sign for a volunteer program in a local old peoples home, right next to a huge “Report a benefit cheat” poster that takes up half the wall space under the security camera? Each of the frosted glass partitioned cubicles in front of me had a bright blue, plastic, straight backed, thin foam padded seat against a grey desk, and it reminded me of a 1970’s US police drama type of show where the ‘Perp’ was sat opposite a monthly visiting relative. The ever present, looming Prison Guards in this case, were the security cameras above me to the right and left, surveilled by an overweight, unkempt, un ironed employee of G4S who sat at the front desk on the entrance to this seriously depressing place.
I have a ‘thing’ for G4S..it’s generally know as hatred, but hate is not a good thing, so I’ll just call it a serious and severe dislike instead. During the Olympic games here in London in 2012, I was privileged enough to work in and around the pre, during and post olympic venue sites. I spent many an hour at most of the main olympic venues and witnessed first hand the British servicemen and women sleeping on chairs just like the ones in the job centre I was now about to sit on. They were there because the company that bid and won (read – “were given”) the contract for the security of the Olympic venues – no other than G4S, could not provide what it said it could for the multi millions of pounds of money it was paid. This led to the already over stretched British Armed forced being dragged away from their families once again to plug a hole that G4S had already been paid to manage. The G4S directorship laughed all the way to the bank while the Men and Women of Her Majesties Armed Forces were drafted to sleep on floors and chairs in cramped back offices and waiting rooms without even proper shower facilities or toilets. The difference in the work ethic, the business ethic and the commitment from the individuals is well highlighted here. British service personnel losing their leave because a private contracted company who were given the contract and who were paid multi millions to produce the security of out Olympic venues, couldn’t produce the goods they promised in the contract. The G4S directors still got paid their huge bonuses. The Soldiers Sailors and Airmen lost their summer leave and slept on chairs and floors to bail them out.
“Mr Darvey?” I stood and walked over to the booth with its double glass partitions that separated the three job centre employees from each other and I sat down on the uncomfortable plastic chair purchased by the Government from the lowest bidder. I lasted no more than 30 seconds before the temperature of my blood started to rise and caused my pupils to dilate to take in more of the scene around me as anger stared to rise. This is an in built ‘million year old’ reaction to your body sensing that danger is ahead. In this case the danger was my own anger rising to a point where I would make a tit out of myself in the job centre – in full 1080P HD view of two security cameras watched over by a scruffy Billy Bunter on the front desk. I listened as I was condescended and belittled by the lanyard wearing, ID tag sporting employee. To stop myself from boiling at her questions about what I was doing to find a job and why I hadn’t filled in my job search on the issued booklet they gave me, I stared emptily into one of her eyes and said nothing. She questioned me about why I had only logged onto the Government job search website 3 times in the last 2 weeks – Explaining to her that my particular skill – profession – trade was not on their site, nor would it ever be, was soul destroying. She raised a smile when I told her what I do as if to say “yeah, ok, pull the other one”; I kept a straight face, maintained my 1000 yard stare and she realised that I was indeed telling the truth.
I want to explain the circumstances as to why I am here. I want to pour a coffee with her and explain that I have paid taxes every single day since I was 17 when I first stepped over the threshold of a large, frightening Army barracks in the South of England. I wanted to explain that I had just spent my life savings and worked hard studying for another 5 years to further ‘up-skill’. I wanted to explain that all of the last 5 years has been devoted to getting a new job, while working in a full time job at the same time. I really wanted to explain that I just need a little financial assistance for a few months while I pick myself back up off the bones of my arse. I just wanted to explain that I need my National Insurance contributions paying, and that I have to be a ‘Job seeker’ to do so. I wanted to, but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t because her questions were inane, scripted and straight from the job centre playbook of equality.
After signing on the electronic dotted line, she looked at me and said “We treat everybody the same here, we don’t discriminate”. I closed my diary, pushed my chair back on the static electricity inducing carpet, stood up to one side and paused with my right hand on the back of the chair that was once a bed for a soldier, sailor or airman, before looking her in the eye once again. “The funny thing is” I said, “we’re not all the same, are we?”.