Monday, October 15, 2012


Bureaucracy, that oft maligned collective of processes and people upon whom civilisation rests....Is making my life just a tad awkward.

Oddly, given my cynical outlook, the only part of The Machine which is working at some level of competence is the Probation Service. As they are charged with ensuring that I don't run amok, you may say that this is a good thing. As I am without my weekend in Cornwall or Spain, I may beg to differ but outcomes aside, the process is functioning.

The other two bureaucracies that loom large in my vista are the Jobcentre and the banking industry. The Jobcentre have been awfully polite, given me no attitude but been utterly stumped by my lack of a National Insurance Number. Week after week I have been turning up and signing on but not a penny has come my way- and I regard these arrangements as being thoroughly reciprocal. They expect stuff from me, they should deliver on their part. Perhaps I'm odd but that seems fair....

Until the day that they farmed me out to some private company. The Government, bless 'em, altered their policy earlier this year so that unemployed ex-cons get shoveled onto the same schemes as the long term unemployed. I believe that I pointed out at the time, rather sharply, that the reason so many of us were unemployed was that society treated us like lepers and being forced through all of the courses in the world wouldn't alter employers perceptions. The problem isn't me, it's them.

So now my benefits rest in the hands of a government contractor. And they are equally bemused by the lack of an NI number. And so I was pointed in the direction of an office in Bristol where I was impelled to cough up every and any piece of ID available - prison ID cards, Life Licence, you name it. Nothing that couldn't be done at my local Jobcentre without taking up a whole day and a lot of money in travel. Only to be told at the end that it would take three weeks to decide whether to give me a NI number!

In the meanwhile, no money for Ben. Seven weeks on £46. Which leads me to the much maligned banking sector. As a broad proposition, banks have laughed at my attempts to open an account, again because of my lack of an identity. All this changed with a very helpful woman at a local bank who took the time to sit down, go through my meagre collection of documents, and shepherd them past headquarters. It looks as if I will soon the the possessor of a basic bank account. A start.

In my previous existence my every move depended in some way upon a bureaucracy. Food, water, light, toilet paper, visits, phone calls...all depended on  a screw doing his job. The bureaucratic machine was not at some distance removed, in the nearest town or up the road. The Machine existed in the cell doorway, up close and ugly, woven into the bricks and bars. It pervaded the very air.

Perhaps "liberty" in some modern philosophical sense, is a function of how far one is able to move in the world before one bumps into the electric fence of bureaucracy? And that, therefore, liberty is not an absolute but a decidedly relative state of existence.


  1. Which bank were helpful in the end? I have thing about bad service from banks (almost the only sort of service I ever seem to get) and am always keen to hear stories of people in banks doing their jobs well (rare).

  2. I'd consider Work Programme providers more as profit rapists than bureaucrats, but I agree entirely with the main thrust of this post. Vis a vis an NI number - if you're earning the odd shekel for article-writing, Ben, why not just declare to HMRC as needing a self-employment self-assessment form? You'll need one anyway, and it'll come with a tax ref number, which will in turn get you the NI number.

  3. "Oddly, given my cynical outlook, the only part of The Machine which is working at some level of competence is the Probation Service." Praise indeed Ben! lol

  4. Even if you're completely "free" and outside the CJS, you are still answerable to your workplace, HMRC, your bank, the local council, utility companies, the NHS, various laws, the DVLA etc. Meet the new bosses, the same as the old the boss ;)

  5. No on topic I'm afraid, but have you seen this:

  6. Latest - the Co-Op, who seemed to be so helpful on the day, have now turned me away. Still no bank account!

  7. Why didn't you open a simple bank account whilst you were at Sudbury?? Cynic -Al

  8. Don't forget your passport, you will need an interview for that as well lol what have you been doing for 30 years?


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