People love giving out. Giving out yards about anything they can think of. They particularly like giving out about the Government and its various departments, which is fair enough, given the current shower of wasters (insert generic Brian Cowen put down here).
One thing I heard someone giving out about recently was the length of time it was taking to process particular Social Welfare claims i.e. Jobseeker’s Benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance. I’m fairly sure the source of the giving out was Liveline (because if you have something to give out about, you Talk To Joe, because that’s the law. And Joe will say ‘sure, sure, sure, sure, God love you’ and move onto the next wronged caller).
I probably nodded along, thinking ‘God isn’t that a disgrace, all those people with no jobs waiting for their money and the civil servants are behind the scenes painting their nails and lighting fags with social welfare claim forms’.
However, one does not return from a few months frolicking in Spain and walk straight back into a job in Ireland in 2011, and so this week, having not worked in 4 months and having licked the very bottom of my savings bowl, I found myself heading into my local Social Welfare office to ‘sign on’ for the very first time. (Before anyone blows a fuse about me gadding about and then coming home to suckle at the teat of the Irish taxpayer, I have more than sufficient PRSI contributions and am hoping that this will be an exceptionally short term solution. I am making a genuine claim)
Being a bit of a lickarse, I had looked up all the bits and pieces I needed to bring with me online, and had spoken to the lovely Judy on the Citizens’ Information hotline to double check a few things. I spent about 2 hours wrestling with an elderly printer……
….and was finally satisfied that I had all the evidence needed to make my claim.
I was expecting huge queues out the door, so was pleasantly surprised not to see anyone lined up against the wall outside the office, shivering, waiting to pose for a stock image of ‘dole queues’. However, there was quite a line of people inside, all heading for the very popular Hatch Seven. I soon learned that these were people who were already claiming, and had returned to sign on and show evidence that they were looking for work. I joined the queue for Reception, where several kindly ladies were triaging; handing out numbers and requesting that highly personal information be bellowed at them through a sturdy pane of glass.
There were only four people in front of me in the queue. Not one of them was holding a lickarse folder like mine, with the forms already filled in. The first woman stepped up. She’d been out of work a month and wondered if she was entitled to anything. Did she know her PPS number? No, she didn’t. Did she have her p45 with her? Of course not. Did she have any proof of identification? Are you mad? So the kindly lady at Reception patiently talked her through what she may or may not be entitled to, handed her a number, and told her to take a seat at Hatch One to be assessed further. She was probably at the window for 15 minutes. The next three people in the queue were carbon copies of woman#1, no documentation, no clue. They too were sent to Hatch One after a preliminary grilling.
Then it was my turn. I approached the Reception desk, with the eyes of the growing queue boring into the back of my head (there is precious little entertainment in a Social Welfare office. There was one child roaring, but I don’t think that can be classed as entertainment, unless you’re a sadist). ‘I have all my documents’ I lickarsed at the kindly lady. ‘Oh’ she said. “Here’s a ticket. Go to Hatch One”.
So once again I joined a queue behind my four clueless friends, as one by one they went through the same questions at Hatch One, were told exactly what they needed to make their claim, and given an appointment at least 2 weeks in the distance to come back and get the ball rolling. Then it was my turn. Up I lickarsed, thinking that because I was ready to go, I could make my claim immediately.
While John (trapped behind the glass at Hatch One) seemed impressed with my preparedness, he said that I too would have to wait two weeks for an appointment, because people rarely show up with the correct documentation, and have to be told to come back at a later date. And because of this, they simply don’t cater for seeing people straight away. So John told me to come back in February, bring back everything I had with me in my goody two shoes folder, and to go to Hatch Three. Two seats up.
Now, maybe I’m underestimating my level of privilige and the ease with which information about claiming Social Welfare can be obtained, but it seems to me that if I could bring those documents with me, then the four people in front of me could have brought them too. We could all have had our claims processed in a fraction of the time it took to explain the process to them. Multiply that scenario by the number of people going through the same process every day, and you’ve got some serious time-saving (and lickarsing) going on.
Woman#1 made my point for me when she turned to Man#2 and said “isn’t it terrible that you have to sit around in an office like this for hours to get what you’re entitled to”. If she spent less bloody time giving out and more time doing some very basic research, she WOULDN’T be sitting there for half as long, listening to the child roaring and reading the endless posters stating which documentation you should have with you.
Maybe I’m being terribly presumptuous and Liz Jones-esque about it, maybe it would have been difficult for any one of those four people to come prepared, but I really don’t believe that’s the case. One out of five is not good enough. Maybe there needs to be more awareness of the resources that are available. But it you start needing an awareness campaign for an awareness campaign, then something is definitely rotten in the state of Ireland.
I think that’s enough giving out for now.