Just another number in the jobless queue

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Being a member of the social welfare class has few advantages. I know because I’m one of the many who depend on a €188 weekly stipend. Almost five months after redundancy and the experience is no more cheerful now than the first time I signed on in January, although I’ve lost that initial embarrassment.

Back in the day you used to go to the Labour Exchange to sign on ‘the dole.’ I remember sometimes passing the queues of dispirited, usually poorly dressed people, in the ’70s and ’80s in the ramshackle building on the corner of George’s Quay and South Terrace in Cork, and hoping I’d never be one of them. Most looked pretty dejected. Well, now I’m one of them.

I live in Ballincollig, a satellite town on the western edge of Cork city. It has a population of around 18,000, and every Wednesday you’ll see me collecting my €188 at the local post office. But once a month the unemployed have to ‘sign on’ at the Intreo office (a fancy name for the job centre), but Ballincollig doesn’t have one, so I take the bus, flash my Leap card (€3.44 each way, a lot for unemployed people) and rumble into Cork seven miles away. It’s a 35 minute ride as we stop at practically ever bus stop on the way.

Cork’s Intreo centre is in Hanover Street, close to the Court House and the ugly half-dismantled Beamish and Crawford site, but because of refurbishment they’re using temporary offices in George’s Quay, yards from the original Labour Exchange. I arrived there around 10.40am to find a long queue snaking its way towards the hatches. Out of curisity I counted the numbers ahead of me. Seventy-four. I wondered how long this would take. Unlike the last time this was a single queue. Last month everyone was in separate lines in front of six hatches..

The guy behind me looked too young to work and very absorbed listening to music on his iPhone. He was also in charge of a buggy where a toddler seemed intrigued by his surroundings. There was no female companion in sight. There were several other young mums pushing their buggies, and I’d guess around half those in the queue were females. I was the oldest, God help me. Most people seemed to be aged between 20-40, and there was a scattering aged 50-plus. You could have passed many of us in the street and not known we were unemployed. No one talked, except two girls who seemed to know each other.

From what I could see there was little chatter at the hatches ahead. At least that helped us move along. The queue was shrinking ahead of me, but growing behind. I’d loved to have talked to some of them and found out their stories, but I thought better of it. I might have looked like I was working. Some were checking their phones, earpieces shutting out the world. I spotted another ex-colleague and waved and smiled.

Around 25 minutes later I was granted my audience before one of the welfare officials. I handed over my Public Services Card, said hello – in fairness, she said ‘hi’ – and then she asked me to sign on. To my left was a small electronic device which displayed three questions. With your electronic pen you ticked the boxes saying you were genuinely seeking work, were out of work, and you agreed you were answering the questions honestly and  that you could be penalised if you lied. The process took seconds. The female official said my next date was June 24, and that was that. All this to be repeated in a month’s time. Ye gods.

You’d have to wonder if there isn’t a better way of dealing with people. I’m not blaming the staff, but there should be a system in place to interact with people in a more engaging, less off-putting way. Or is that just me?

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8 thoughts on “Just another number in the jobless queue

  1. It’s not just you Tom. You know it isn’t. It’s not only me too. It’s the next person who opens the link to here + the people they share this with.
    Maybe it isn’t trivial to say, it’s our money that’s been wasted on that sort of empty meeting.

  2. I was made redundant after 27 yrs in 2011, i’ve done all the they’ve asked regarding retraining myself, I have three Comptia certs and a cisco icnd1 and i’m doing the icnd2 to get the CCNA cert…i’ve sent dozens and dozens of CV’s to different companies…to no avail…. i’m now on a TUS scheme where they pay you an extra €20 a week…but take €16.44 of me in PRSI…why..because i’m married with 3 kids…’m waiting for my moment when the election gets into gear for i will unload 5 yrs of pent up rage at our excuse of a government such is the lack of concern over unemployed folk who don’t live in one of the big urban sprawls..

    The lowest moment came one day while signing on, such was the crowd, the line from the dole office extended into the local LIDL car park, a women with obviously nothing better to do went on local radio to complain about how untidy the town looked with the people too lazy to work standing around doing nothing ..it brought down the tone of the place….This is the view of the media and this government are quite happy to portrait….

    1. Really am sorry to read your story. Makes my own limited experience seem trivial by comparison. The system is degrading and demeaning and badly needs an overhaul. I hope things work out for you.

  3. Likewise Tom.

    Its the constant “scrounger” that gobshites label people on the dole i hate, i had never been inside the local dole office till Four yrs ago now i feel like dogshite on someone’s shoe when i go in.

    Its not really helped by the attitude of some of the staff as well, some could do with a few hrs on a customer service course and the realisation that they are there to help people and not to treat them like sub-humans…

  4. No problem..

    I’ve been on various IT courses over the last four yrs, I have to admit that most in my local office have been sound but i’ve heard some horror stories from the people i’ve met through the courses about different offices throughout Kildare, these people were not career dole-ites but similar to myself, been made redundant and want to work but have suffered through a recession that not one of us caused but are paying dearly for it..

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