Jane Turner's opinion articles

Come on down?

It's a job centre, but not as we know it... 

The unemployed are now being offered counselling when what they really need is a decent job!

Rant by Jane Turner May 2011

When you’re looking for a job and you want a job (to bastardize a line from Morrissey) what you really don’t want or need is therapy, especially from a Government agency, or what is optimistically known as Jobcentre Plus.


Not the sort of place I’d ever drop into for a friendly pep-talk and certainly not the place to go if you really are looking for a job, as the few vacancies “on offer” are limited in every possible way.


I was already in no doubt that “therapy culture” was widespread in the UK anyway, as I’d worked in schools for years and witnessed how poor behaviour has been re-categorised as a special need and how low achievement excused by a range of mental disorders. But when I became unemployed in April this year (due to savage and unjustified council cuts – but that’s another story) for the first time in my long working life I found myself in front of a “client support adviser”.


In my naivety, all I had intended to do was to “sign on” and receive my entitlement to national insurance credits while doing everything possible to find paid work, but they had different ideas. Putting into place, the newly developed coalition Government strategy and espousing the language of “therapy culture” they offered to “accompany me on my journey” and “join me again later” - at the 11th week to be precise - if I was not successful on my “journey back into work” and to “help me cope” with my circumstances.


This was a language with which I had become familiar in schools and in society more generally, where almost everybody these days it seems has some sort of diagnosis for their behaviour, is receiving counselling for something-or-other or is suffering from a range of loosely-categorised conditions. But even I was a little taken aback at how in an ugly office in a run-down corner of town, new life had been breathed into the administrative procedure of taking a signature off the unemployed and how totally immersed the staff were in the language of the therapist. Unemployment it seems is now a problem of individual psychology and I’m at the root of my own problem! 

Let me take you by the hand and lead you on a journey...I thought unemployment was a societal issue, a problem to be fixed by politics and economics, not something for which I was to be held responsible for while getting a bit of hand-holding from a bureaucrat! But, as Brendan O’Neill has pointed out, unemployment has ceased to be a political issue to which we see the possibility of social and political solutions. Instead it has been re-categorised as a psychological issue, which makes it none the less shocking to experience first-hand. When I heard a participant (from Manchester University's Psychology department) at a recent Manchester Salon discussion on Therapy Culture, argue that the unemployed should be trained in developing their Emotional Intelligence, it made me hopping mad, but I was also struck by how a seemingly intelligent person could talk such utter rot! But then these ideas have been taking hold for some time and often cohered in universities.


Unemployment is estimated to be at somewhere in the region of five million (who can rely on official statistics?), with over half of those unemployed defined as incapacitated and in receipt of sickness or incapacity benefits. They are categorised as incapable of working rather than as being unable to get a job due to economic and social circumstances. There is even a diagnosis for it, a virus called “worklessness”, which seems to infect some parts of the country more than others and that can be passed from generation to generation!


With such a large number of people believing they are no longer capable of work and supported by the state for remaining idle, with collective institutions gone and traditional networks in tatters, there is no longer the force or the sense that there is anyone who can influence and change the social and economic situation.


Individuals are left to struggle and survive alone and become more susceptible to the therapeutic influence; but they really don’t need that crutch, as it just becomes a hindrance. What they really need is to get organised into a decent political force, make some big money-spending plans to get society up and running and make real and lasting progress.


And finally to the Manchester University Lecturer in Psychology, to whom I couldn’t respond at the time as I was chairing the discussion, unemployment is a societal problem caused by economic and social failure, the solution to which cannot be found within the heads of the unemployed themselves. The unemployed don’t need counselling, guidance, behavioural therapy or any kind of therapeutic support to help them, they just need a decent job vacancy or two to choose from.


Since writing this article, I am happy to report that after a grand total of 53 days out of work, I have now found a job (albeit temporary), and I didn’t have to undergo cognitive behavioural therapy, have a personality transplant or engage in any circle time to do so!

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