Down and Out on JSA

First published in Canvas: October 14 2013

Last month, George Osborne announced at the Conservative Party Conference that the long term unemployed (particularly those who have ‘graduated’ from the Work Programme) would soon be forced to sign on at the Job Centre on a daily basis, and also be assigned to a mandatory work experience placement.[1] Thoughts of overcrowded Job Centres, increased staff burden and an exponential increase in bus fares paid to clients immediately come to mind.

Certainly, the logistical implications were not lost on the editors of the website, who released “Ian Duncan Smith’s Realistic Unemployment Simulator” as a response.[2] the player navigates a downtrodden jobseeker, pushed against the clock from the job centre to work placement to job interview. To complete the experience, Duncan Smith’s disembodied head shouts anti-welfare slogans over a rumbling synth refrain. If the jobseeker fails to make an appointment on time, they are sanctioned, and the game ends.

The ‘Realistic Unemployment Simulator’ portrays, roughly, the attitude desired of the long term unemployed under Duncan-Smith’s reforms: unyielding, robotic and relentless in their pursuit of a job. Every day they march, an army of poorly skilled jobseekers, across our cities in the search for work that is beyond their experience or skill set, without being offered the help that they need to improve their chances of securing a job. Playing the game reminded this writer of the British tramps depicted in George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London.

“…The important part is that a tramp’s sufferings are entirely useless. He lives a fantastically disagreeable life, and lives it to no purpose whatever. One could not, in fact, invent a more futile routine than walking from prison to prison, spending perhaps eighteen hours a day in the cell and on the road.”[3]

Read more