She's got what it takes

The JobCentre does exactly what it's supposed to do, as Emma Parker finds out

When I started my PGCE last September, I never dreamed I'd end up in the dole queue come July. My pound;6,000 has run out; it's my 24th birthday and I'm slumped in a comfy chair in my local JobCentre-cum-dole office trying to blend in. I'm staring at the diverse range of people.

The lovelier-than-lovely receptionist has just explained that it's not "unemployment benefit" any more but "job seeker's allowance" (and I thought I was being PC by not saying "dole"). It's only for people who are actively seeking and available for work. Not sure where that leaves an NQT with a job for September, a mountain of preparation and no police check yet.

My mother's words echo in my ear: "Nobody in this family has ever claimed so much as a brass farthing; it's about time we had something back." I get more depressed as I wait for my interview. What am I doing here? I only want my pound;42.70 a week while I prepare my lessons. I can't tell them that, as it makes me "unavailable".

I study my fingernails as I listen to the unshaven skinheads opposite discussing how one "slashed 'is tyres" last night. The dowdy, sour-faced woman at the job point next to me uses the free phone to discuss why the bank won't be understanding about her overdraft as she's become a lone parent in the past five months. Turns out she's a teacher. The two tracksuited men behind the screen are also new "signers". The smiley lady is so sweet to them as she ekes out their relevant details. "Staying with a friendI that's fineI no bank account or savingsI OKI no work experienceI under 18, less benefitI no GCSEs then?" No hope?

I chat with my long-suffering interviewer, my plan of being civil but disobliging already out the window. I laugh breezily as he questions my chances of getting supply before the end of term (his other half's a teacher). Of course I know I can only expect a minimum wage for a summer job. Naturally I will lose a week's dole for my holiday in Spain. I can't resist "talking up" my strengths and I talk myself right into a full-time holiday job. At the JobCentre.

Emma Parker lives in north Wales

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