IF YOU are unlucky enough to lose your job, you will at least get some decent advice and support from the warm carpeted surroundings of Jobcentre Plus on Penny Street, Blackburn, with staff who, as I’ve witnessed, treat their “customers” with respect and skill.

It wasn’t always like that. A hundred years ago this week, Blackburn opened its doors to its first official Labour Exchange.

Before that, jobless workers had to fend for themselves in their search for work.

The first premises of the exchange in Blackburn were in Darwen Street.

But as the Blackburn Times reported, the grand opening went anything but according to plan: “Three hundred Blackburn unemployed experienced keen disappointment on Wednesday.

It had been announced in the local press… that the Labour Exchange in Darwen Street would commence business that morning.

“A small army of men seeking work assembled in the vicinity of the building and were drawn up in a long queue by the special police on duty.

"Inside the office there was no sign of activity. There was a fire in the grate in the principal room, and reflection of the flames could be seen by the shivering men outside, where there was a thick fog.

“Two of the men, general labourers, who headed the line turned up at 5:30, and others congregated within more or less short intervals. No official put in an appearance.

“…….inquiry revealed that the date had been altered.”

It opened the following week.

The Labour Exchanges were a huge improvement from what had been available before.

But the humiliation of people thrown out of work through no fault of their own continued right up to the second war.

And it’s fair to say that it’s only since the creation of Jobcentre Plus in 2002 that we’ve seen a real improvement in the way we treat those without work.

Before that, the unemployed often had to traipse between the Labour Exchange and benefit offices.

So many people in East Lancashire lost their jobs so quickly in the early 1980s recession that I can vividly recall rain-swept queues in King Street.

I’ve been helped in writing this article by the brilliant efforts of Borough Library’s local historian, Diana Rushton and her team.

We all know that there are still a few people today who could work but won’t, and live off the rest of us.

But the overwhelming majority of the unemployed are not like that – they are desperate to get back into work, but the longer they stay out, the more dispirited they get.

The hands-on “tough love” approach of Jobcentre Plus does however appear to be working better.

One indication is how many people are getting back quickly into work.

In December, while locally 756 people went onto the register for Job Seekers Allowance, not many fewer – 732 – went off.

That’s good but it left 3477 without work, claiming JSA.

It’s very hard, I know, but thank God that a century ago this week we began to recognise that unemployment is everyone’s responsibility.