You talk a load of drizzle, Jamie Oliver

Excuse me while I take off my pinny. I’ve been making artisan bread and some home-made pesto out of the leftover ice in my freezer.

Posh grub

Not affordable to a Sicilian street cleaner

You see, celebrity chef and once Labour school meals adviser Jamie Oliver has decided that British poverty isn’t as chic and exciting as, say, Sicilian poverty so I’m trying to change the way I approach the lack of food in the cupboard.

I won’t be angry at my job loss. I won’t be irritated by the stagnating economy. I won’t be frustrated at shrinking wages or the rising cost of living. No, I will internalise the problem and blame myself for not realising I can make a week’s food from a slice of stale bread and an egg. I’ll readily accept that all I need is cheaper olive oil to drizzle on an empty plate for a nutritious meal in front of my cinema-size plasma TV.

Jamie said, “You might remember that scene in Ministry Of Food, with the mum and the kid eating chips and cheese out of styrofoam containers, and behind them is a massive TV. It just didn’t weigh up.”

So Jamie immediately assumes people buy huge TVs instead of food rather than

Sit down and have an olive, love

Sit down and have an olive, love

recognising they might have bought it while in work, it might be a gift, it might be secondhand … and it’s impossible not to buy huge tellies anymore!

Jamie goes on: “I meet people who say, ‘You don’t understand what it’s like.’ I just want to hug them and teleport them to the Sicilian street cleaner who has 25 mussels, 10 cherry tomatoes, and a packet of spaghetti for 60 pence, and knocks out the most amazing pasta.”

Ignoring the fact that Jamie Oliver’s own brand spaghetti is £1.75 …

Well, I know what it’s like Jamie. It’s soul-destroying. It’s monotonous. It’s exhausting. And a jar of expensive pesto from your own brand range (£2.59!) isn’t going to change that.

Oh, and if you hug me I’ll punch you.

He goes on (he won’t stop!), “The flavour comes from a cheap cut of meat, or something that’s slow-cooked, or an amazing texture’s been made out of leftover stale bread.”

So us poor no longer need to worry about hormone-injected meat or animal welfare – phew! that trend has passed – and have a constant supply of energy to fuel a slow cooker and a seemingly endless supply of leftover bread. You think we’d eat the bread, at least?!Cheesy Chips

Anyway, I’ve no time to keep ranting. I’m going to imagine French cuisine and see if that doesn’t fill me up before I get some money.

PS I’ve never had cheesy chips … but I really fancy some now.

Get a job!

I’ve started looking at jobs up and down the country. I wonder if moving away is the answer to avoiding long-term unemployment.

The “get a job!” angry brigade will be happy to read this. They could even stop typing furiously on Twitter, stop commenting aggressively (with bad punctuation) on news sites; for a moment at least.

You see, if you’re unemployed whether it be for a week or a year, you should get a job – any job and, importantly, anywhere.map

I genuinely don’t think they understand the complexities of this. Aside from leaving behind friends and family for work – yes, just for a job! – it’s a difficult process for anyone.

Ok. Let’s say you decide to stay near home but travel further afield for work. This is a reasonable request from those poor souls slaving away to pay your taxes (while wilfully assuming you’ve never contributed).

Do you have a car? If so, how much of your new salary will be taken for petrol, insurance, tax and repairs? Are you dependent on public transport? Then how much of your wage will go on bus fares or train fares?

We all know the privatised rail and bus companies care only for getting us to work at reasonable cost and not about making profits, right? So if you take an average-paid job – because you need to get a job, any job and stop sponging! – will you be able to afford what are now be considered life’s luxuries such as food, heating, shelter, clothing ..?

On realising that bus journeys are too expensive from your new measly income, you decide to move to a new location for work. How’s that for commitment?! You will leave behind your home town, your friends, your family and move to a new city with the sole intention of doing so to find work.

Noble. Brave. Expected.

So, how do you get there? Do you have few enough belongings to shove them in the back of a car – which is how I used to move from job to job as a baby hack? Or do you and yours need to hire a van? Do you have the money for that if you’ve been unemployed a while?getajob

Indeed, do you have the money for the deposit on your private rented accommodation? Do you have a few month’s rent in advance? Are you able to pay these expenses and then feed yourself for the next few months until you’re first pay packet? Do you have the bus fare to your new work from your new home to ensure you get into work and don’t lose the new job?

No? Oh, then you’re clearly failing to seek work!

It’s not because the privatised transport services are hiking up prices above our incomes and making profits for their shareholders. No! It’s not because private landlords are making a killing from the lack of alternative housing. No! It’s not because you’ve been out of work so long you’re too skint to afford the van to carry you to your new city never mind the additional costs.

You see, you need to stop thinking about all these practicalities – the sort of thing employed people have to consider on a daily basis – and just get a job! Any job. Anywhere.

You’re different now … being unemployed somehow means you have much more money than everybody else and so can change your entire life on a whim. Enjoy!

unemployedhack is back, sadly

charliegoingforgold 002My first job was in a posh department store. I cleaned tables and tried not to growl at the customers who, I admit, I despised.

One day, while cleaning a coffee spill for a mum sitting with her young son, the boy struck up a conversation with me. Well, he showed me his new toy car.

I smiled at him and said, “It’s good, innit?”

“Innit,” his mother said, sneering as if she’d smelt something offensive. “Innit? Would you please not speak to my child like that!”

“I can’t help it,” I said, walking away. “It’s the way I speaks, innit.”

I was overheard and told by my boss that this sort of behaviour “would not do”.

The next day, maybe a week later, I’m not sure (it wasn’t memorable work) I was clearing a table and over-estimated my strength (not for the last time) and, picking up a tray of cutlery and plates, managed to drop a pot of sugar sachets on the floor.

“Bollocks,” I muttered under my breath. Or so I thought.

“What did you say?” I looked up, from my knees where I was on the floor picking up sugar sachets, to see a man in a pinstriped suit. I tried not to laugh at the cliché and continued picking up the sachets.

“I asked, ‘what did you say?’” he repeated, this time moving his newspaper aside to look down at me.

I’d had enough. Something snapped.

“I said bollocks!” I looked directly in his face, throwing the sachets in the air and walking out.

The decision to walk out of jobs I couldn’t stand never left me. Years later, while working at a press agency, my editor told me to “take a letter”. He wanted to dictate to me a letter for a tabloid columnist who’d annoyed him. I pointed out it wasn’t my job and that I had other things to do.

“You do what I tell you to do,” was his reply.

I stood up, picked my coat up off the back of the chair, told him to do something I won’t repeat here, and walked out.

I’ve lost my job for union agitation, for being disabled and off sick too much, for out-witting insecure bosses, for not being willing to be harassed by customers … now I’ve lost my job just because I was on a casual contract.

It got me thinking again about this country’s contempt for the unemployed.

What am I now?

I’m not signing on yet so I’m not benefit-claiming scum but I am unemployed and that’s low life, right?

And the longer I remain unemployed – despite not losing my job for any reason other than casuals are no longer being employed at this particular workplace – the more scummy I am, right?

And the fact that my employer wishes he could keep me on and praised my work – the fact that I am good at it – is of no consequence and will still be of no consequence when I’m asked to work in a multi-million pound corporation to “earn” my benefits.

Have I got this right, so far? That no matter why, when or how we lose our jobs the second we do so we are worthless, to be looked down on, to be willing to take any other job on offer and to forget anything we’ve achieved and certainly anything we aspire to.

I’ve been away a while, among the working masses, but constantly aware of the contempt in which some people on this insignificant, too often peevish, little island hold those less fortunate.

I’ve a few weeks before the wolf makes it to my door. I’ll let you know how it goes …

WARNING: Stay on benefits. Do not work part-time.

In 2011 Cameron said, “Never again will work be the wrong financial choice … We are finally going to make work pay for some of the poorest people in our society.

What a laugh!

As you know, I found part-time work. I was quite excited by this. I’m now told my Jobseekers’ Allowance has been stopped, I’m entitled to reduced Housing Benefit and I’m not entitled to Council Tax Benefit

I’ve received a number of letters pointing out differing amounts I am or I’m not entitled to and my head is spinning but I’ve tried to calculate what this means.

And I’m £21 per month worse off by working. Add to this the money I have to find for rent and Council Tax and I’m a massive £158 a month worse off before I’ve even paid the rest of my bills.

It’s literally impossible.

I will, of course, also pay high bank charges when I inevitably become overdrawn losing yet more from my paltry income.

If my calculations are accurate, I’m at very real risk of becoming deeper in debt and, ultimately, losing my home.

Over a year since Cameron excitedly said work will pay, the reality is I’m now awake in the early hours panicking about not having any money, fretting that I won’t have fares to even get to work and questioning whether I’ll be penalised for packing in my part-time job and returning to full benefits.

Stay on benefits. You know it makes sense.

I understand I can’t get Working Tax Credits because I work fewer then 16 hours per week.

I’ve not been given any advice on alternative benefit options so don’t think there are any. I have to accept a loss of £158 per month and work.

So – for those who think the unemployed should try to get at least a few hours work – it is an impossible challenge. That is, unless you’re working as part of slave labour for multi-million companies while “earning” your benefits.

Tory attacks round-up … updated regularly

As Tories gleefully claim that we’re out of a recession unemployedhack takes a look at the Tory Attacks Chart to see the hottest releases featuring assaults on the most vulnerable in society.

Children, disabled people, unemployed workers, young people, pensioners … everyone except the rich get a kicking from this Coalition government propped up by lickspittle lackey Lid Dems.

Straight in at #1: Ian Duncan Smith arrogantly concludes in a speech that domestic violence, drug addiction and family breakdown are solely working class experiences and uses benefit reforms and cuts for his warped social experiment. The rich, meanwhile, are not penalised for these issues because they have wealth.

Down one place to #2: Victorian window tax-style policy sees Tories with numerous homes punish those in social housing for having a spare room … and it will hurt disabled tenants

Down a spot: Almost five million British workers are paid less than a living wage

Non-mover. Homeless people lose local government support from November 9 when they’ll face eligibility tests to be told they have to tolerate unsuitable private accommodation

Down a spot to #2: Pensioners work till they drop as those surviving on state pensions are told to work or volunteer or not get paid

Non-mover: Children of low-income families won’t be able to leave home when not entitled to housing benefits

Hot release: Benefits are destructive says top Tory – and the number of children benefit claimants can have could be capped leaving them “freed from” the decision of whether they can afford to

Still vying for that #1 spot: Disabled plunged into poverty as benefits are cut for the most vulnerable leaving many suicidal

An unsurprising entry: Universities face a funding black hole as higher education is privatised and Tories/Lib Dems are seen to have fudged the figures

New entry: Cutting funding for Sure Start and children’s services will damage lives of underprivileged children ruining their chances before they’re even out of nappies

Ironic non-mover: Unemployed forced to work unpaid for benefits – taking jobs from the unemployed

Terrifying long stint in the charts: NHS cuts continue despite Tory pledge to defend the service A&E and wards face closures

Offensive non-mover: More cuts to child support for jobless parents added to those for low-income earners

Sickening entry: Foodbank charity Trussell Trust reveals that three foodbanks are opening every week as Tories claim we’re out of a recession

Moralistic non-mover: The country’s 1.9 million single parents are forced onto Jobseekers’ Allowance – as Sure Start centres close and Workfare takes paid jobs

Surprise entry: Thatcher’s Tory government included a paedophile - and Jimmy Savile spent his Christmases at Chequers

Pop summary: Tories – and their Lib Dem sidekicks – are a cruel, wealthy, self-centred axis of Eton attacking the vulnerable and defending the indefensible.

  • Also, Still think the Tories – and Labour – need to make cuts and are not just looking for excuses to reduce the State?

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

Jobcentre Plus new Q&A revealed …

Some intense investigative reporting on my part has resulted in my having something to do other than play string with Chaplin – and in unearthing the latest questionnaire used by Jobcentre Plus advisers.

This Q&A will be used at each and every interview unemployed workers attend in the hope that they will finally collapse, demoralised and exhausted, and choose to sign off rather than face the repetitive, humiliating process over and over again. What happens to them then is of no concern.

A Jobcentre Plus unofficial, completely imaginary, spokesperson said: “When addressing the needs of customers facing deferred success and cashflow challenges, it sometimes makes sense to clarify your process using a flowchart.

“Using a customer service process flow chart can help advisers deal with customers in a way that represents Jobcentre Plus’ overall customer service outlook while, at the same time, avoiding customer intimacy or, heaven forbid, making eye contact with the employment-challenged.

“Going forward we hope that they will finally collapse, demoralised and exhausted, and choose to sign off rather than face this repetitive, humiliating process over and over again.

“What happens to them then is of no concern to us and any discussion about the validity of this flowchart will result in our effective, and government-backed, use of blamestorming.”

  • If you’re due to sign on remember this is how they think – even if the more wily ones don’t follow the Q&A openly …