Is compassion just for the “loony left”?

I’ve been told a few times this week that I’m whining about “compassion” or told – with an equal lack of irony – that it isn’t just for “lefties” but for ardent Tories too.

In 2008 the Tories were being hailed as the compassionate conservatives. Three years on, a Coalition in place, and attacks in the most vulnerable in society impossible to ignore and this now sounds like a bitter joke.

But Cameron tried to reaffirm his compasionate Conservative credentials at the Tory conference where he said: “Conservative methods are not just good for the strong and the successful but the best way to help the poor and the weak and the vulnerable.”

Adding: “Because it’s not enough to know our ideas are right. We’ve got to explain why they are compassionate too.”

I don’t know about you but – as more people need benefits at the same time as Universal Credit ensures they’re denied them –  I can see the Tories changing their approach to “compassion”. I think, in much the same way as rants about “political-correctness”, they’ll soon declare it’s “compassion gone mad!” as they silence anyone defending the vulnerable.

I’m so certain of this I will bet my £71 a week which is, of course, such a huge amount of money I’m now entirely unwilling to work and, instead, happy to live in state-funded luxury with the obligatory enormous television.

Recently though I’ve found that rare species we know exists but hardly ever encounter … a compassionate Job Centre Plus adviser. He is friendly thing, doesn’t speak to me like I’m a thief, stupid or both … and he advises. Perhaps this is an indication that those who consider themselves to be in a powerful position – that is, in work – are recognising their own employment vulnerability. That they too could soon be treated with a lack of compassion and accused of whinging if they demand it.

This also to some extent explains why it’s been some time since I’ve blogged. It’s not, sadly, due to my being employed but to my feeling I have, in a way, little left to say.

Firstly, my experience is a repetitive one – I am again moving from unemployment to under-employment and so fighting the draconian measures of my benefits being suspended before I’ve even seen an employment contract. I am as ever stressed out by this but also oddly used to it. I now know how to “play the system” because you have no choice but to learn because – aside from the Lesser Arrogant Job Centre Plus Advisor I’ve just encountered – no one helps you at all.

I’ve again gone without heating – but I imagine you have too. I’ve again gone without food and have no social life – but I imagine that sounds familiar.

My experience is now a very common one: many of us are now losing our jobs; seeing our homes threatened; being treated as parasitic benefit cheats; being ripped off by utilities companies; being blamed for our poverty; watching as banks benefit from it in charges; recognising our qualifications are not worth the money we paid for them; waiting for the axe to fall or signing on then off then on then off then on then …

Update:

Chaplin is well. He is currently enjoying a catnip cigar and, thankfully, prefers Lidl and Aldi catfood to the big name brands

Luxuries I’ve bought to irritate Tories who think my benefits are too high: an electric blanket; a halogen heater and the aforementioned catnip cigar

Poverty plan: To work two part-time jobs in the hope that this means I can sign off until March 2013. Fingers crossed

An Open Letter to Chris Grayling …

Firstly, I’m not nor have I ever been a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party* and, while I’ve heard of Mumsnet, I’d not realised in visiting its site I was colluding with hardened radicals.

I am, though, a job snob who wants to be paid for a day’s work. I have the gall to want to earn a living in a way I might enjoy. I’m also under-employed – along with millions more in the UK – due to a global financial crisis that is not of our making.

While you say young people should be grateful for unpaid work to show them the ropes, to give them experience, to get them a foot in the door, I say they should be paid for the work they do, encouraged to achieve and celebrated for what they can offer.

Our ambition is dismissed as snobbery while yours is celebrated on your website, telling us of your rise from school pupil to Employment Minister via the BBC.

At school I was told I’d never be a journalist, constantly reminded that people who grew up where I did had no chance of “bettering themselves”. I doubt you heard this as you worked your way to the BBC. I doubt you thought for a second that you might end up stacking shelves or see your dream job as just that.

“The industry is too competitive”, I heard at school. “You won’t know anyone who can get you a job through friends,” they would warn. “Those in public schools will be picked, leaving you at the back of the line for jobs,” they’d tell me, urging me to find a job, any job and stop day-dreaming.

I thought aspiration was a good thing, even for a working class child living on a council estate. I worked hard. I got O Levels, then A Levels, then further deferred the gratification of nights out with friends by attending university. I worked most nights and every weekend while at university certain I would never have to do so again, not once I was a journalist.

I did do a week of work experience while studying for my degree but not under the assumption that I didn’t understand what work was: I had the chance to see if I really wanted to work in journalism, not the chance to earn the lower rate of JSA while lining the pockets of big business.

After leaving Royal Grammar School and Cambridge, you went to the BBC. After leaving my inner city school and a northern former polytechnic, I got a job on a local newspaper earning £8,000 a year. I lived in a shared house, struggled to fund the car that was essential to the job, went without meals to do so: fed instead by ambition and a determination not to be at the back of the line for future jobs.

I then worked at press agencies, regional newspapers, national newspapers and magazines. I was good at what I did because I came from a working class background, not despite it.

Then – as the journalism industry was brought to its knees my those seeking bigger and bigger profits – I worked in university outreach, encouraging under-represented young people from working class communities to consider university, to know they were capable.

I tell them it is because life has not been easy for them that they’re sharp as tacks, interesting, articulate, funny and wise to old fools telling them they should work unpaid.

You seem to have concluded that young working class people are illiterate, undeserving of paid training and apprenticeships, and unaware that they’re being forced to work unpaid because of a crisis of capitalism. They’re not.

I worked much harder than you I suspect. I did so because I believed this would secure my future. Now you’re a wealthy politician selling the working class into slave labour and I’m working part-time, as a result of the decimated journalism industry and the savage Tory cuts in education.

I think I’ll be unemployed again soon enough, surviving on £67.50 a week, despite working hard for qualifications and competing with the likes of you for a job in the media. It is all too easy for it to be taken away from us – for us to pay the price for a crisis not of our making.

You should resign. You’re out of touch in defending the indefensible. Your contempt for us is tangible as you line up young people to work for free, demanding their gratitude as they make profits for multi-million pound corporations. You dismiss our desire for financial security and mock us for daring to dream of going day after day to a job we might enjoy.

You’ve stolen the aspiration of working class young people and condemned them to an existence of getting by, letting them take the blame for an economic crisis not of their making.

You should go and you should take your nasty Tory sidekicks with you. We’re not fooled by your plans and neither are our young people.

* Now that the SWP is said to be solely responsible for a campaign defending young unemployed people and highlighting the exploitation of the disabled and unemployed I’m more likely to join. I’ll also check Mumsnet daily.

Why Emma Harrison and Workfare must go …

I’m told by a regular reader that being unemployed and in debt in the US means you’re less likely to find work. It seems a bad credit rating could mean your boss decides you’re a bad risk: you need money to clear your debts but those debts stop you from getting work.

I share this not to point out how much worse they may or may not have it in America but to highlight another example of blaming the unemployed for situations beyond their control … and what we might face in the future following the brutal welfare reforms.

A site outlining the history of the US welfare system states, “Throughout the 1800s [...]  there were attempts to reform how the government dealt with the poor. Some changes tried to help the poor move to work rather than continuing to need assistance consisting of caseworkers visiting the poor and training them in morals and a work ethic was advocated by reformers in the 1880s and 1890s.

During the Great Depression, “when one-fourth of the labor force was unemployed” the government stepped in to solve the problem: under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Social Security Act was enacted in 1935. This system is celebrated but it relied upon the Civilian Corporation Corp of unskilled, unmarried men working for $30 a month and giving that money to their parents.

Then in 1996 President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act – giving annual lump sums to the states to use to assist the poor and asking those states to ensure the unemployed were encouraged to move from welfare to work.

Now Obama is being accused of bloating the welfare state by bringing in reforms – and is called a socialist more times than Che Guevara – despite plans to make those needing food stamps work for them.

Even in Australia – where the language is more honest – there is Work for the Dole which started in 1998 intended to help young people develop a work ethic but not looking at the causes of youth unemployment.

The suggestion that workers should not be helped when unemployed is nothing new nor is the talk of personal responsibility or the spreading of blame to the jobless: it is a convenient political trick for which we must not fall.

We’re told we have no need to help out strangers with welfare or taxation – but we do. A global economic crisis and a recession that has put 2.7m in this country on the dole is a national – indeed a global – responsibility, not a personal one.

It is the developing narrative of personal responsibility which gives companies – including Superdrug, Asda, Tesco, Argos, Matalan, Royal Mail, Burger King, Poundland, Top Shop, Boots, McDonalds, Primark, HMV, Evans, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, Pizza Hut, WH Smith – the arrogance to employ people to do a full day’s work for no pay.

It is this rhetoric used by charities such as The Salvation Army, Scope and Oxfam to dismiss the fact that instead of finding those who want to volunteer they they are using slave labour.

Boycott Workfare, a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare, states “Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage.”

The system is forcing the unemployed, the vulnerable and the ill to work – providing Jobseekers’ Allowance plus expenses as payment.Rabid Tories would, no doubt, find this acceptable and say people need work experience, people need to have a routine, people need to develop a work ethic, people need to learn not to rely on the state – I say people need to be paid for the work they do.

Marie Curie Cancer Care is among those opting out of the scheme and state, “We participated in this scheme because we believed it could offer volunteers an opportunity to gain valuable experience. However, there is a difference between volunteering and being forced to work and if there is any chance that people with terminal illnesses could be made to take part in this scheme we would take this very seriously.”

Now Emma Harrison, Cameron’s sidekick behind the Work Programme, is under scrutiny herself. It seems the woman who says there are “hidden jobs” and that you just have to find them has a few questions to answer about her own income.

The Daily Mail reports that Emma Harrison “pocketed £8.6 million in one year, mostly from state contracts and [...] MPs said the company’s record in placing the jobless in work was abysmal – with a success rate of only 9 per cent.”

The Guardian points out, “Ministers have been urged to suspend welfare-to-work contracts with a company at the centre of allegations of fraud [...] five shareholders were paid £11m in dividends last year, of which Harrison received 87%.”

This comes as a Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton states, “I deplore the Workfare programme for many reasons but primarily because it is deplorable. Trumpeted as a programme that will give the unemployed key skills, it serves nothing of the sort.

“What it is, in actuality, is a benefit system for sections of our work force. And there was I, foolishly, thinking that when you are part of the capitalist work force then the appropriate term for remuneration received is salary. Apparently not. These days, and under Cameron’s stewardship, we receive ‘benefits’ to become part of the job market.

When Middle England is comparing Cameron to a Nazi even rabid Tories have nowhere to hide. The plans are cruel, selfish, brutal and money-spinners for those running them.

The plans do nothing to help those most in need in our country and fail to recognise that the unemployed are not to blame for a global economic crisis – we should oppose them. Click here to find out how to do just that.

Could UK have Cameronvilles?

I’ve experienced homelessness. Now, as I find my benefits still suspended – meaning I have no Jobseekers’ Allowance, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit – the panic is creeping in that I will experience homelessness again.

I’ve not been told why this suspension has happened beyond “loss of paperwork” but that was said in a phone call, leaving no paper trail, so I suspect either untrue or not the basis of a complaint for me.

I told the unemployment office that I had part-time work, I asked if I was within my rights to take it, I was told to keep signing on until I received my first wage – then my benefits were stopped and I was left with, literally, zero income. I checked my bank account this morning and I am penniless with my rent due in a week.

I’ve effectively been penalised for trying to find work. I would’ve been better off staying on benefits: I would still have my dole payment and still be filling in my Looking for Work booklet and going through a routine which meant I had money for food, bills and accommodation.

I never imagined while working for years as a journalist, while studying hard for all my qualifications, while trying to build some sort of financial stability for myself that I would, one day, be sitting at home panicking that I might not have one for much longer.

As a child I lived through a housing crisis and ended up in a squat in a derelict terraced house. This house was in the middle of a street of squats and became the subject of a BAFTA-winning documentary in which I can been seen dancing happily amid the chaos.

My moment as an early reality TV star didn’t leave a mark – I don’t think I even saw the documentary untiI I was much older – but the experience of homelessness certainly did. My fear of it can quickly lead to panic and depression: if you have no home, you have nothing as far as I’m concerned.

We were of course abused for being homeless: insulted by passers-by, bullied at school as the squatting movement came under attack from the national press – those without homes and income seen as having brought it upon themselves, as not taking personal responsibility for their financial hardship.

Now, some 35 years, later this social problem of too little housing, mass unemployment and increasing poverty is again a growing problem which is creating homelessness.

I watch the BBC news, my fists clenched in fear and anger, as I see Americans make tent cities having lost their jobs and their homes – but still desperately trying to cling to some sort of normality. Just like the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression these settlements are being found on empty land across the country.

Panorama writes, “Conditions are unhygienic. There are no toilets and electricity is only available in the one communal tent where the campers huddle around a wood stove for warmth in the heart of winter.

“Ice weighs down the roofs of tents, and rain regularly drips onto the sleeping campers’ faces.

“Tent cities have sprung up in and around at least 55 American cities – they represent the bleak reality of America’s poverty crisis.”

America is the richest country in the world but people are living in tents and “47 million Americans now live below the poverty line – the most in half a century”.

These people have lost their jobs and had their benefits cut by a brutal system that demands financial independence of individuals while failing to provide a way for them to achieve it – there are no jobs.

Conservative minister Maria Miller says that in the UK there is “no shortage of jobs” and rabid Tories cling to this lie to excuse a lack of compassion and to spread the blame to those of us slung on a scrapheap while the rich get richer.

The reality though is that in Lewisham 34 people chase every vacancy – with over 10,500 unemployed for 300 jobs available. In Hartlepool it’s 21 people chasing every vacancy. In Hackney it’s 22. While in South Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and the City of London it’s fewer than two people for every job vacancy.

Much like the US we find that no jobs followed by benefit suspensions – even for those who have made the effort to find work but failed – means abject poverty. People are cutting back on food and fuel bills to pay their mortgage or rent. And the government not only wants to cut the amount of Housing Benefit people receive but also want to raise the age at which single people become eligible to claim for a one-bedroom property to 35. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this could inevitably lead.

All this while there are no jobs to help people out of poverty: history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second as farce and I now hope I won’t get to experience being homeless again.

Getting off benefits: the worst part of unemployment …

This morning I received another letter, in an envelope obviously from a government department. I put it on the coffee table and looked at it for a while, not wanting to know what was inside. Eventually, with a calming brew in hand, I opened it.

My Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit has been suspended.

As you know, my Jobseekers’ Allowance has already been suspended.

So, trying to stay calm, I immediately checked my bank account online to see how much money I have to survive on until my employers pay me my part-time wage or Jobcentre Plus reconsider my situation: I was hoping it would be enough to last till a get a giro next week when this mess is sorted.

Then I find £30 has been taken in unpaid direct debit fees from my benefits (for reasons beyond my understanding because everything has been paid on time).

I would’ve been better off staying on benefits.

If I were still on benefits I wouldn’t need to find bus fares to my part-time work. I could go hungry at home rather than while trying to give lectures. I could sit in front of the halogen heater and not have to venture out into the snow only to return to a permanently unheated flat.

Jobcentre Plus agreed to my working – I asked for permission before I signed any contracts – but still I’m penalised.

This is the reality of how workers are treated when they make concerted efforts to get off unemployment and to earn an income, albeit a part-time, temporary one. For trying not to rely on unemployment benefits, for trying to find work that could, perhaps, lead to getting off the dole completely, I now have literally no income.

I’m at a loss at what to do. I can’t begin to imagine what rabid Tories would suggest. I assume this would still be my fault: perhaps my entrepreneurial skills have failed me yet again; perhaps I chose the wrong two careers in journalism and academia; perhaps my qualifications aren’t the right type; perhaps I over-achieved; perhaps I under-achieved; perhaps living within my means doesn’t show enough gumption and I should invest my £67.50 per week into some money-spinning venture from which I’ll emerge richer than Mark Zuckerberg.

All I want is a job. I just want enough money to live on. I’m happy to forgo holidays, meals in fancy restaurants, new clothes, a car, a mobile phone and all the things I once took for granted. I can’t, though, not have money for rent, council tax, food, travel expenses to work.

I no longer know what I’m expected to do. I would’ve been better off staying on benefits.

Amount of money I have £21.62

Cost of travel to work: £11.50 per week

Days until I am paid: 40

Revealed: Why Tories lack compassion …

It staggers me that I can still be dismissed as lazy, that those facing the brunt of mass unemployment globally can still be dismissed as lazy. With 2.64 million unemployed in the UK alone  – the highest level since 1994, according to official figures – this reaction, and the short-sightedness and cruelty of it, is beyond my understanding.

Perhaps it’s because most Tories – certainly Tory leaders – don’t worry about such trivial things as low-pay, gas meters, the threat of homelessness with repossessions and rent too high for benefits, redundancy, over-priced train fares, losing their Disability Allowance or other benefits …

And perhaps it’s also as a fascinating recent study from UC Berkeley suggests – that individuals in the upper middle and upper classes are “less able to detect and respond to the distress signals of others” while “people in the lower socio-economic classes are more physiologically attuned to suffering, and quicker to express compassion than their more affluent counterparts”.

Social psychologist Jennifer Stellar, lead author of the study, says the upper classes “may just not be as adept at recognizing the cues and signals of suffering because they haven’t had to deal with as many obstacles in their lives”.

According to the latest statistics, as reported by the BBC, the numbers claiming benefits rose by 3,000 to 1.6 million in November last year and the total number of employees fell by 63,000 to 29.11m, mostly due to job losses in the public sector.

I blogged about how I’m going to take up a job offer – despite the fact I’ll have less money, despite the fact it will cost me to work, despite the fact it is not permanent or even full-time – I am going to work. I’m doing so because it might lead to more work, but I recognise it might not. The chances are I will be unemployed again in a few months and I have no control over that.

This somehow met with abuse. It would seem we – the unemployed – can’t do anything to satisfy the rabid Tories. Not even while their party leader admits that unemployment is a problem. Not even when it’s obvious that unemployment is a global problem.

I’m told “get a job, you lazy bum”: The Telegraph (Torygraph) reported that there are at least 23 people chasing every job adding, “over the past year, the number of applications for each job vacancy has jumped by more than 50 per cent for customer service, secretarial and retail roles. An average of 46 candidates apply for each customer service job, 45 for each secretarial job and 42 for each retail job.”

I’ve been secured interviews, indeed I’ve been congratulated at interviews having being picked among almost 100 to make it to the shortlist. Sadly, there was one job available and I didn’t get it.

Still, my inability to get a job – despite applying for many for which I am over-qualified, many for which I’m under-qualified and thinking as laterally as Dali on LSD – is, to Tories, my fault.

I’m told “start up a business”: I don’t have enough money to start up my central heating so where I’m going to get funds to launch a business is beyond me. One would have to lead an odd life to think anyone, anywhere can start up a business. The romantic notion of having a market stall that turns into a chain of supermarkets is celebrated because it is remarkable.

Still, my inability to do so – despite volunteering to join the government-funded New Enterprise Scheme and having a business plan for a social enterprise – is, to Tories, my fault.

I’m told “a stint in Tesco’s/M&S/McDonalds would show you some humility”: I’m not able to get a job at McDonald’s or the other places. I fail to understand why people think just anyone can get these jobs. It’s not snobbery on my part but recognition from employers that I have zero experience in retail: it would be extraordinarily arrogant of me to assume I can just walk in and do these jobs. Employers also know I won’t stay working there for a moment longer than I have to because I want to earn more and do the work for which I qualified.

Still, despite working hard to gain qualifications which I was assured would secure me work for life, my current failure to don either a McDonald’s uniform or a Ronald McDonald suit is, to Tories, my fault.

I don’t mention my qualifications to appear superior but because I have them, I worked hard for them, and I still can’t find work. The change in education and our understanding of it as workers is discussed in an excellent video which states: “We were kept at school with a story that if you worked hard and did well and got a college degree you would have a job. Our kids don’t believe that and they’re right not to.” All workers are in this mess of mass unemployment together – whatever qualifications we do or don’t have.

I agree wholeheartedly with Owen Jones who says, “Mass unemployment is not an individual fault; it is not the product of millions of people ‘choosing’ to go on benefits out of a ‘lifestyle choice’; it is not the consequence of people failing to look hard enough for work. It exists because – to repeat myself – there is simply not enough work to go around.”

I saw – and still see – many jobs cuts in journalism and I became freelance. I worked in schools, wrote articles and taught at university where I was lucky enough to have my department pay for me to qualify as a lecturer. Then the axe fell in higher education and I struggled for a while – a good friend even paying my rent one month – until I had no choice but to sign on. I still haven’t been able to pay my friend the money I owe.

I rest assured that I’ve done all I can to find work, that I’m still doing all I can and will continue to do all I can. I now hope the coalition government will do something, anything to create jobs. No one chooses to live on £67.50 per week if there is an alternative.

Still the Tories – with a sociopathic lack of compassion – want us to blame ourselves for the state of the economy. They think we can’t recognise that we’re not responsible for a global economic crisis.

Instead they want to reform welfare cutting benefits and forcing people off the dole in search of jobs which don’t exist. Instead they stop Disability Allowance and force even more people – those unfit to work – to search for jobs which don’t exist. You can read more about this here. Instead they plan to stop Legal Aid for those challenging benefit decisions: intending to change the rules so it can’t be used to help people challenge mistakes despite the fact that inaccurate decisions push people into poverty. You can sign a petition to stop this here.

I can’t see how forcing people off benefits by arguing they can find work can make any sense to anyone during a global economic crisis, a national recession, when unemployment is at its highest in 17 years and when dozens of people are chasing each and every limited vacancy.

The Tories know that what they are spouting is economically and politically untrue. The Tories want to create a nasty narrative of hatred towards the unemployed, to blame individuals for their situation, despite global economic problems, and to divide and rule workers. This is easier than creating jobs and helps justify the vile decisions they’re taking which plunge individuals and families into abject poverty.

Wanting to leave people with no state help at all in such economic circumstance is, again, a lack of compassion beyond my understanding: I simply don’t hate and dismiss my fellow human beings in this way. To me, calling anyone a lazy bum for being unemployed in the current circumstances shows a lack of understanding of economics, political history – and a severe lack of empathy.

While we’re talking about the psychology of Tories, I also think their constant suggestion that we’re lazy bums, snobby and avoiding work is a massive psychological projection on their part.

Work fair …

I keep being offered bits of work. It’s not enough to live on but could, potentially, lead to more work. It’s also a way to keep me engaged, active, employable, away from Twitter.

I’m now trying my maths skills (not always wise) to see if I can accept this work. It’s not enough to pay rent and bills and it seems I’d be a few pound better off on the dole – but it’s an opportunity. If I keep turning down work I’m unlikely to be the first choice in the future.

I’ve been told – repeatedly, threateningly – that I’m not allowed to do any work while signing on. Now I hear I can sign on up until my first pay packet, potentially, or can still claim housing benefit for one month and get a £100 job grant.

Of course, none of this will stop me struggling on a low income due to having just a few hours work – but it is helpful. It took me almost nine months of being unemployed to find this out. My understanding is that it is of no value to anyone who has been unemployed for less than six months.

Previously I’ve been told, “we’re not good at helping people in part-time work” or “if it’s less than 16 hours we can’t help you”. I’ve felt desperate and fed up as former employers and contacts have been in touch with various opportunities I’ve had to turn down because the Jobcentre computer says “no”.

The Jobcentre sees work as: full time work of 16 hours or more, part-time work of 16 hours or less and, if claiming with a partner, work of less than 24 hours per week. I’m child-free (Chaplin doesn’t count, apparently) so not entitled to In Work Credit. I’ve not been unemployed due to illness or disability so I am not entitled to Return to Work Credit. This is if you actually get these benefits when you apply anyway – I imagine it’s as difficult as claiming on insurance.

I have to do something to make a change. I sit home in my jogging bottoms, watching mind-rot afternoon telly, swearing at the screen, spilling tea down my front. Chaplin is in and out all day, once again happy and healthy, looking at me as if to say, “Have you been outside? Do you think you should go outside? You smell a bit.”

I keep in touch with people by computer. While I’ve written two PhD proposals (yes, two) that might lead to something, I’ve also not worked my way through the reading list as planned. I have, instead, watched more rubbish films than Mark Kermode but with a far less articulate response, shouting at the screen as butty sprays everywhere. This is usually the point when Chaplin thinks sitting outside in the rain is preferable.

I have no routine, now waking up late morning, sometimes as late as 2pm on occasion. This might sound luxurious but it is oddly depressing after a while. I’m also awake till the early hours or not sleeping through the night, getting up to watch the news then going back to bed. This is probably because I fall asleep during the day, exhausted by the banality of television’s offerings. I don’t want to live in a world where employment dictates our body clock but I miss having a routine.

So I think I’ll take the work. It’d be better than being sent back to entrepreneurial training scheme that will lead to … no work. I’ve had my fill of walk-on parts in League of Gentleman. I’ll take the risk because, while I’m scared of getting behind on my rent and bills (not credit cards, etc, they can wait), I’m more scared of being on the dole permanently. I’m now existing rather than living.

I came across an interesting website today which outlines the amount of unemployment benefit available to jobless workers across Europe.

In the UK we’re spongers, yes? We sit on our backsides, living off the backs of hard-earning taxpayers, right? We don’t want to work because benefits keeps us in the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed?

I know many readers don’t think like this but if you know someone who does, show them these figures for European unemployment benefits in 2007 for a single person with no dependents. In Euros.

The amount paid in the UK remains roughly the same today.

Country                       Wages     Benefits

Luxembourg                €32,604 – €21,346
Denmark                     €32,564 – €18,302
Netherlands                 €32,363 – €15,758
France                         €32,540 – €15,605
Portugal                       €32,288 – €14,323
Belgium                       €32,636 – €12,415
Finland                        €32,577 – €12,339
Austria                        €32,499 – €12,212
Sweden                       €32,643 – €11,924
Germany                     €32,631 – €11,821
Italy                             €32,529 – €11,179
Spain                           €32,625 – €10,522
Ireland                         €32,747 – €9,662
Greece                         €32,731 – €4,407
UK                              €32,381  – €3,631

My ultimate fear is if I don’t get some work for which I’m qualified and experienced and which I might actually enjoy then I’ll end up working anyway as the Tories bring in Workfare which will see me working full time for benefits in a job I don’t want to do.

So wish me luck and I’ll keep blogging … I’m still an unemployedhack, after all.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me …

I was approached by an enthusiastic trainee hack when on the recent demonstrations to defend pensions. She bounded over, mic in hand, and, with a big grin, jumping from one foot to the other, she asked, “Why are you here?”

I was taken aback by this. Why choose me? There were thousands in attendance. Can journalists spot each other in a crowded room? Yes, I thought, they can. I recalled meeting other journalists at airports ready to depart for press trips and how we always spotted each other even in busy terminals: always.

I looked this trainee up and down: she was still smiling, although nervously now, her hand shaking a little holding the mic. I decided she probably didn’t know I was a journalist but simply spotted me in the crowd and I was willing to answer her question.

I moved my a bag with the huge NUJ logo on it out of the way of the mic and replied, “I’m here to defend public sector pensions not because I have one but because private pensions will be next to suffer.” Or something like that.

When she bounded off, like Tigger, to talk to someone else I began to fret. It was vain, I know, but I worried if I sounded nervous when I wanted to sound assertive, if I sounded unsure when I wanted to sound convincing … if I sounded like a journalist rather than someone unemployed attending a demonstration having signed on earlier that morning and needing a cheap day out.

So when I saw the news this morning a little bit of me felt justified – then horrified.

We’re now told of a “seismic collapse” in private pensions. This was, of course, inevitable once the banks began to fail and, as a nation, we should be shocked and disgusted that some 23 million private sector workers could face a bleak retirement alongside some six million public sector workers – who are now being asked to contribute more to their pensions for longer but will, ultimately, receive less because the hike is essentially a fine.

Please, let’s not start the debate about why we should defend public sector pensions when private sector workers are suffering – the answer is simple: we should defend ALL pensions.

It staggers me that in 2012 workers can still make profits for their employers or serve their communities every day – be it in a school, an office, cleaning the streets or writing an article –  but face a retirement in poverty. It really does show that we are nothing but wage slaves and certainly the 99%.

We’re seeing final-salary schemes, in which a pension is based on earnings at the end of a career and length of service, are being replaced with career average schemes, where the pension is based on your average pay over your career – not great if your average is low and, as wages are not rising, this is a reality for many.

Employers and the government are currently doing too little to protect workers in retirement – even back in 2007 the UK was judged to have the worst state pension scheme in the UK.

So we’ll be working longer, paid less, have limited job security, less opportunity to claim unfair dismissal if sacked without cause … and spend old age in poverty. Welcome to 2012.

Good news: I have finally cleared the gas meter debt and currently have £12 available for heating and hot water. I’m changing supplier as soon as possible

More good news: I don’t have to sign on for another week or so – that will be a whole month without the misery of visiting Jobcentre Plus

Bad news (there was bound to be some): The number of jobs available to apply for has fallen dramatically. I’ve so far found just six to be completed by January 19

It’s not a dog’s life …

Chaplin sat in front of the halogen heater, not moving. I watched for a while, confused by this behaviour and noticed steam rising from his fur. Still he didn’t move. I picked him up, felt the side of his coat and realised he was a few seconds from going “woof”.

He had been a bit down for a while but was now becoming increasingly disoriented. Staring at nothing, wobbling on his feet and not going out.

He was silent, sleeping almost constantly and not performing his usual habits of sitting on the settee waiting for a treat, scratching at the settee for me to get the door/food/a treat or running along the back of the settee demanding to play Extreme String: our life currently revolves around the settee.

So, Chaplin and I headed to the vet. He was silent in his cat box. He didn’t meow or purr, only scratched halfheartedly for a moment in a weak attempt to get out: he was momentarily keen to attack the poorly poodle in the waiting room, then fell asleep.

“I think his compliance is proof that he’s genuinely poorly,” I told the vet.

She was a slim Irish woman with a serious expression (perhaps because the cat who went in before Chaplin had been put to sleep, its owners leaving the surgery sobbing).

She introduced herself to Chaplin with “hello big man” and I suspected that an ego boost was likely – even when she repeated the phrase while inserting a thermometer where Chaplin would prefer she didn’t.

“Good man! Good man!” she said, while I held the scruff of his neck, speechless. I imagined this was the point in such situations when a News of the World reporter would make their excuses and leave.

We repeated the humiliation/ego boost while Chaplin had two injections: one to bring his fever down and one a shot of antibiotics. He had no bumps or scratches, no bleeding gums or watery eyes, nor any obvious problems with his kidneys or bladder.

He clearly had a fever and sat on the vet’s table willingly, not caring if he was prodded or poked so long as he would soon be left alone to sleep. Only when leaving did he manage a stern meow in my direction – although for a while we struggled to make eye contact: there are some things flatmates shouldn’t witness.

Then came the painful part of the procedure for me: the two injections and a week’s course of antibiotics cost £63.

That is almost an entire week’s income in Jobseekers’ Allowance – and was intended to pay the rest of my meter debt and two monthly bills. Now I will have to pay some bills late, put off paying the remaining gas meter debt (so have no heating) and no doubt have an unpaid direct debt fee of £30 from the bank.

Still I handed it over with the ease of someone who had just won the Lottery. No doubt Edwina Currie would dismiss Chaplin as a frivolous expense not to be enjoyed by dole scum who should be sitting in cold, darkly-lit homes with bland food and no social life to be truly considered poverty-stricken.

Thankfully friends have bought me much food and wine, so Chaplin and I have enough to eat until well into the New Year. I can keep bill payments at bay for a fortnight but would have a real problem if there was no food, especially if there was no cat food.

Once home Chaplin managed to eat some of this stockpile of Christmas gift food – and get the first of his antibiotics down him. He perked up within an hour and now seems to be on the mend. He’s not back to his usual self entirely – but did jump on the settee this morning and wait for his treat as is usual at 7am.

I’m trying not to follow him around, neurotically, repeatedly asking if he’s ok, because this seems to irritate him, but will now let him watch as much Desperate Scousewives as he likes. I caught him watching it last week: he seems attracted to the high-pitched, vacuous characters on screen, perhaps they remind him of particularly stupid birds.

Seasons Greetings to all – and thank you for your support, generosity and kind words in recent months. I hope you’re having a wonderful Christmas time.

Oh, the shark bites …

A loan company that charges up to 4000% APR on loans to low-income workers and the unemployed asked to write a piece on this blog.

I received an email from one of their loan sharks in a suit, stating: “Since noticing you’ve accepted guest posts on in the past [I haven’t], I wondered if you’d extend me the opportunity to also write a guest post for your website.

“If so I will research and compose an original article specifically written for your site, on any topic of your choosing. I only ask that you let me put a discreet link to my own website, [I refuse to name it], at the end of my post.

“You wouldn’t have to do anything other than review/approve my completed article to make sure that it coincides with the theme of your site.”

I wish I’d responded by asking for an article on the dangers of loan sharks and how charging enormous interest of the low-paid in loans just days before Christmas is a cruel, vile con but I said no. I did though compare them to loan sharks.

Imagine having children desperate for the latest toy and no money to buy it or no money to buy the Christmas dinner: this could easily drive you into the arms of a “pay day loan” company eager to make you pay four thousand times what you borrowed to buy some gadget or other when you can’t afford a fast repayment.

One financial website reports “R3, the insolvency trade body that represents “professionals working with financially troubled individuals and businesses”, says 3.5 million people are considering taking out a payday loan over the next six months.

“If the people R3 surveyed who did take out a payday loan, 60% wished they hadn’t and around half (48%) said it had left them worse off. Only 13% said their payday loan had improved their situation.

“R3 also found that one in six people are only servicing the interest on their debts every month, earning them the nickname “zombie debtors” – and that 60% of people are worried about their current level of debt, the highest proportion it has ever recorded”

These companies are not just the last but only resort for those with bad credit and the extortionate interest can plunge people further into debt.

If the debt isn’t repaid quickly it will grow quickly.

I refuse to name them – because I think any advertising would please them – but will state some of the APR outlined on moneysupermarket.com: 1737% – 1734% – 4217% – 1737.2%

This means that you pay between £20 and £25 in interest if you pay within 15 days, 28 days, 30 days or 38 days – depending on the company – but the huge annual percentage rate if you can’t pay back in this time.

The Office of Fair Trading is planning tighter control of “payday loan” firms through greater powers to suspend their credit licences and the Church of England has called on the government to limit the cost of loans. Most European countries have restrictions in place, as do American states, but in Britain lenders are free to charge what they like.

In the meantime they can find somewhere else to ply their nasty trade. Now I’m off out to get drunk.