Opening a new letter from the Mail Handling Site B in Wolverhampton is always a special moment. First, I received a letter demanding ‘the evidence’, which was perplexing because it did not explain what exactly I needed to send to them. The robots at Site B assumed I would already know.
So I went into my job centre, saw my work coach and called the number on the letter. Just so you know, that’s 03456000723. It doesn’t work (at least not in the job centre) unless you throw a 9 in first. If not, you’ll get the automated voice telling you: “The call cannot be completed as dialed…” Once you get past this, you get to listen to Vivaldi’s Spring for several minutes more than you’d like.
Finally, someone in Scotland picks up. Except this time, there is no voice. Instead, you get the white noise of office life. The sound of a fan in the distance, of photo-copying, of muffled chit-chat. Suddenly, you get a dour voice asking for proof of your identity, then they can help you. Or, not. He did confirm that my first payment is due on September 1st (having first applied on July 19th) and it should be backdated.
I managed to confirm they had received the signed copy of my tenancy agreement. That’s the only thing I can think they may have missed. I’m told they will write to me if they find anything is missing. In short, I still don’t know what ‘the evidence’ is meant to be.
Meanwhile the soulless factory floor in Wolverhampton, with its dead-eyed staff and a conveyor belt, is still hard at work feeding countless letters to waiting vans. A new letter is already on its way. Could it contain precise details of ‘the evidence’? Sadly not.
“You must provide evidence to support your claim to Universal Credit,” the letter reads. “We asked you to provide some evidence to support your Universal Credit claim but we have not received it… It is important that you provide this evidence as your payments may be delayed or your Universal Credit claim closed.”
This was August 20th. The exact same letter was first sent on July 30th. Is there is a code in the letter I’m meant to decipher? Then I received a second letter from the wholesome, hard-working robots of Mail Handling Site B. It read as follows: “You told us about a change to your Universal Credit”. That’s in bold, for good measure.
It goes on: “You recently told us about a change in your circumstances. If this change affects your Universal Credit we will write to you and let you know before your next payment.” This was sent out on August 24th.
Let’s revisit the process behind these letters:
Clear sheets of paper are passed through row after row of printing machines, the same words pressed onto them in unison, to be sorted into envelopes and neatly stacked. Every letter requires a different address, so the paper is filtered by a set of robots armed with ink and the right details, before heading facing human eyes.
I like to think the main task for the human staff is to check for typos and provide the necessary saliva to seal each envelope. I feel for them. At least the machines can’t get sad. It’s an assembly-line of bad news just for the people trying to claim benefits, but especially for the people who forgot to include a bank statement. It is meant to be efficient, but it’s just not.
Perhaps there is a special conveyor belt to carry all the angry tirades directly into the mouth of a blazing furnace.
This would surely keep Site B going all night long. Imagine it: A public building powered entirely by despair. It would befit the benefits system devised by sadistic politicians and their half-witted and cretinous bureaucrats.
Maybe this is the answer to climate change.
I should get my first payment on Thursday.
To be continued…
This was originally written for Notes from the Underclass.