Universal Jobmatch (Hopefully) to be Scrapped

Anyone who’s used, heard of, heard about, or even glanced at briefly through the window of a speeding hovercraft will know that Universal Jobmatch is a steaming pile of shockingly poor planning. Yes, it’s disappointing that the government jobsite that cost £17 million to put together is already due to be dismantled, but the real surprise is that it’s been allowed to carry on for this long (and that it will continue to carry on at least until it comes up for review in two years). Saying that it’s being scrapped after only 18 months–as at least one new article has claimed–is like saying that they’re breaking out the tanks after only 18 months of Godzilla stomping around the place. Because Universal Jobmatch isn’t just terrible at what it does: it’s actively harmful.

A lot of the activities Jobcentre Plus requires claimants to do involve basically just flinging CVs at as many potential employers as possible, whether there’s a job going or not. Universal Jobmatch is no different. If you apply through the site directly, there’s no option to add a covering letter. Fortunately, however, it’s usually not necessary (nor even possible) to apply for a job through Universal Jobmatch itself because so many of the vacancies link to third-party sites. So rather than pointlessly sending out swarms of electronic CVs–the online equivalent of screwing several copies of your resumé up into a ball and drop-kicking it over a rainbow–the process of using Universal Jobmatch actually goes a little like this:

  1. Search for a keyword that vaguely matches your skills.
  2. Ignore the six identical commission-only catalogue delivery jobs posted (technically violating your Jobseekers Agreement, which dictates that you apply for literally every vacancy you see).
  3. Ignore the job based in Aberdeen, which apparently counts as “within 20 miles” even though you don’t live in Aberdeen. Or Scotland.
  4. Pick something from whatever’s left and click “Apply.”
  5. Discover you’re being taken to another website.
  6. Make an account at said website.
  7. Upload CV to said website.
  8. Apply to job on said website.
  9. Repeat steps 4-8 for every other vacancy listed on Universal Jobmatch.

Except that you’re not going to repeat this for every vacancy listed on Universal Jobmatch. Pretty soon you’re going to twig that Universal Jobmatch doesn’t actually offer any jobs of its own and you could just cut out the middleman by searching on one of the countless better recruitment websites it keeps directing you to. But unfortunately, it’s not that easy…one does not simply avoid Universal Jobmatch.

When you turn up for your weekly in-person meeting with your adviser, they’ll pick a handful of vacancies from Universal Jobmatch that you are then required to apply for. This is typically the point at which you stop actually applying for jobs and become some kind of rubbish internet sleuth. Because that vacancy you now absolutely have to apply for? It expired a week ago–Universal Jobmatch just didn’t get the memo. But of course, you have to be completely certain there’s no way you could possibly apply for it anywhere else, because if your advisor finds it advertised on another website, you’ll lose your Jobseeker’s Allowance for 13 weeks. Enjoy all that Googling. It’ll make a nice change from doing anything productive.

Dealing with the Jobcentre, it often feels as though the process isn’t so much about helping you get a job as it is about getting you off benefits. And this makes sense, in a way, when you consider that there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around. Ultimately, they’ll never be able to find work for everyone. However, they can sanction the benefits of as many people as they can find excuses for. Or force them to complete Mandatory Work Activity, which doesn’t pay anything but for some reason counts as employment for the purposes of any “Look how many people we got into work this month” statistics. Suddenly Universal Jobmatch, with its wide variety of fake jobs and scams, seems less like a monumental blunder and more like a deliberate nuisance.

This, in the end, is what got me off Jobseeker’s Allowance after claiming for a couple of months last year. I was asked to apply for an unspecified “sales” job with an unnamed employer (phone number 11111 111111, apparently, if you fancy getting their side of the story). The “Apply” button for this one took me to what claimed to be a recruitment site, but didn’t give any indication that I was applying for any specific job and (kind of suspiciously) didn’t offer the option to upload a CV. Which you’d think would be important, unless they’re hiring people on the strength of their email address and the ability to type their name into a box. Though from the look of things, that could well have been how they selected the designer for their site.

Naturally I went back to my advisor and explained why I hadn’t climbed into the back of that particular stranger’s van. She was very understanding and asked me to provide a complete explanation of the situation to provide to “a decision-maker in Newcastle.”

Long story short, I ended up getting a 13 week sanction for “failing to take advantage of a job opportunity with “SALES.” I appealed the decision, figuring that, hey, if Universal Jobmatch’s own terms of use state that “blah blah blah we won’t be held liable if anybody scams you or steals your identity,” that would suggest they can’t then threaten you into handing your personal information to criminals. The appeal was successful, but since it took well over 13 weeks for it to go through the whole process felt a bit pointless.

This is the root of the problem with Universal Jobmatch. It’s not just a scam-riddled waste of money: it’s a scam-riddled waste of money that people are forced to use. For me, the impact was minimal. Getting sactioned was just a final push towards ditching the Jobcentre altogether and doing what I could to find work without their interference. But not everyone has a family they can fall back on to support them, so not everyone has that luxury.

If you’re in that situation, the only advice I can give is to set up a new email address specifically for Jobmatch (and, if you can afford it, a cheap mobile too). It won’t protect you from the fraudsters, but it will help deal with the colossal amount of spam you’re going to get.

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4 comments

  1. 500woerterdiewoche

    Sometimes it seems as if programs like this weren’t even designed to help jobseekers but to punish the unemployed for, I don’t know, existing? Maybe that money would be better invested at the source. If the government hates people so much, why don’t they just give out free contraception? Or, as Brecht famously said, if they don’t like their people, why don’t they dissolve it and elect a new one…

    All sarcasm aside, I’m happy to hear that this program is going to be scrapped in the UK.

    • Damon Wakes

      I think it’s really a matter of fiddling with the numbers involved. If they were genuinely focused on helping people make a living, they’d get rid of all the commission-only jobs that can’t possibly pay anything like minimum wage (a friend of mine was forced to take one of these and ended up making around £6 a day). But they leave them on so that people have to take them–counting as “employed” even if they can’t support themselves–or get sanctioned. Either way, it’s one fewer person for them to look after financially.

      This is why people are becoming increasingly dependent on food banks. The systems in place that should help them into employment are instead forcing them into poverty. Somewhere, at some point, somebody has to pay to support these people–whether through a different form of benefits or a charitable organisation–but as long as the Jobcentre can cut back on the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, they can claim to be doing their job.

      Sadly, I don’t think the scrapping of Universal Jobmatch will actually solve this problem. I hope whatever they replace it with will at least ensure the vacancies advertised are genuine, but it’s extremely unlikely they’ll do anything more to help the unemployed into a position where they can actually support themselves.

  2. ameliamackenzie

    Universal Jobmatch sounds nothing short of hellish. It’s infuriating that they seem to be punishing you for trying to find a job; I don’t think anybody will be sorry to see it go.

    • Damon Wakes

      I think the Jobcentres are under a lot of pressure to just get people off Jobseeker’s Allowance. They don’t want people claiming unless they’ve got absolutely no other option, so they make the whole process as difficult as possible. Unfortunately, that also makes it more difficult to find work.

      I seriously doubt that getting rid of Universal Jobmatch will actually solve the problem, but if it means people aren’t obliged to wade through so many scams and fake jobs then it’ll be a step in the right direction at least.

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