LETTER: The struggles of signing on

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From Mr L. A. Channon

Sir: Colin Campbell (letter, 28 October) does not tell the whole story about what it used to be like signing on. In the Fifties, I well remember being sent for a job interview before even being allowed to register for unemployment. Three hours of queueing was common.

After registration at the Labour Exchange came the ordeal of the National Assistance Board. Another wait of probably three hours for an interview, followed by another wait as your individual case was assessed by "The Panel". When told at the NAB that you would receive supplementary benefit, you went home.

There would be a card in the post next day to inform you an officer of the Board would be calling to interview you at home - the inference was to spy on you.

Applicants were often treated harshly. I myself heard one man who lived eight miles from the NAB being told to sell his car and not bother the Board unless he could prove poverty. I also knew of individuals told to sell televisions, washing machines, etc, to raise money before appealing to the state.

But control? Even in those days, there were abuses. Dodgy employers paying cash-in-hand and allowing time off to sign on or sit at home waiting for the inspector. I know of many a seasonal hotel that was painted in the winter by the summer staff at the same time as they received unemployment benefit and the NAB supplement.

I don't doubt that civil servants are as dedicated now as they were 40 years ago, but if waste and corruption are to be eliminated, a new system is needed - not merely harsh to punish the fiddlers, but fair and sensible. After all, it's our money they're taking.

Yours sincerely,

L. A. Channon


Hereford & Worcester