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.

Getting off benefits – the worst part of unemployment yet again

As the Guardian reveals that the richest 1,000 people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by £155bn since the crisis began  … I have again tried to move from unemployment to part-time work – that is, from unemployment to underemployment.

I told my Job Centre Plus adviser before I even secured the contract and he has been helpful and supportive – but unable to stop the inevitable.

All my benefits have been stopped.

This stopping of benefits happens before you have any chance to give details, to fully explain your reasoning or prove your income.

It is profitable for the government to plunge you into poverty first and ask questions later.

I’ve explained to Job Centre Plus and to the council that my income works out at just £30 more than I would get per week from Jobseekers’ Allowance. I’ve shown contracts, visited almost weekly with updates and emailed any relevant information.

Nevertheless, my Housing Benefit has been calculated to now be £1.19 per week, my Council Tax Benefit is nil and today I find my Jobseekers’ Allowance has not been paid.

Of course I immediately switched off my heating, rationed the food in my cupboards and freezer and will stay home unable to afford to go anywhere. I wonder if this is the “war mentality” of which Heseltine spoke today – workers clamouring to survive while the wealthy remain untouched by the failures of the banks and the global economic crisis of their making.

I recognise this Tory-led coalition, supported by lickspittle lackey Lib Dems, will claim that Universal Credit will end this problem but this is clearly not the case. It will simply be worse for us.

The Tory work ethic – the promise that work will pay – is a lie.

This is the second time I’ve experienced this as I try to find work, to remain active and employable. I wonder now if it will be worth doing it again in the future. I might choose to stay on benefits.

Regular readers will know that, after 20 years as a journalist, I found it impossible to secure work in the industry so I retrained as an academic and now find it impossible to secure work in higher education.

Ironically, I found out this week that I passed a post-graduate certificate in education – what a waste of time and hard-work attaining a new qualification has proven to be.

This work is only until March 2013 so all this confusion and stress will start again as soon as it ends…

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 …

Why I’m A Job Snob …

My name is unemployedhack and I am, apparently, a job snob.

I have qualifications for which I worked hard. I retrained in order to stay in employment. I would not be happy working in a job for which I’m over-qualified and in which I have absolutely no interest.

I didn’t get my degrees and professional qualifications in customer service because I’ve no interest in such jobs – and I’m bad at them. As a worker in a bingo hall I was dreadful: I lost money, I missed calls of “house” and risked being lynched by angry old women, and I was bored. I did this job while studying for my first degree with the sole intention of earning money until I was qualified enough to leave.

But I don’t look down on people working in Tesco or elsewhere, nor do I look down on those without qualifications. This was my choice and I was encouraged to do this by teachers who assured me it meant better prospects, more money – going to work and looking forward to it rather counting the minutes till home time.

Now our young people are job snobs if they want more. They used to be lazy if they didn’t choose to sit their GCSEs. They lacked ambition if they wanted to be hairdressers or work in supermarkets. They were dismissed as failures if they didn’t go to university.

Now, if the Tories are to be believed, they’re just snobs who should do any job for any pay and be bloody grateful for it – whether they have qualifications, ambition, aspiration or a big hat.

I wonder if Iain Duncan Smith ever considered working for no pay in a supermarket.

The reality is that Iain Duncan Smith who came up with this new insult will never earn a living stacking shelves – and it was never ever considered as a job option for him as he grew up. He knew what he was entitled to and had both the financial and educational means to achieve it.

He says of us, though, that we are “armed with an unjustified sense of superiority and sporting an intellectual sneer [...] determined to belittle and downgrade any opportunity for young people that doesn’t fit their pre-conceived notion of a ‘worthwhile job’.”

So, the working class are dismissed as chavs and spongers if without work. We’re lacking entrepreneurial spirit if we don’t set up businesses. We’re failures if we don’t get qualifications.

Now we’re job snobs. We’re job snobs if:

  • We don’t want to work hard for long hours and little pay.
  • We don’t eagerly chase jobs with no training that would bore us senseless.
  • We don’t want jobs that offer few opportunities and little hope of a pay increase.
  • We want to earn more than minimum wage.
  • We want to be able to pay our bills and have enough money for a social life.
  • We think everyone has the right to decent pay and conditions.
  • We don’t want to work hard for long hours and no pay.

This is just more Tory rhetoric aimed at blaming us for the lack of work, a new narrative intended to hide the fact that the Tories consistently fail to provide jobs and create economic growth. They would willingly see us all shovelling shit for no pay.

The concern about Workfare isn’t about not wanting to be seen working in whichever organisation as failed to drop out (many have distanced themselves from or opted out of using slave labour): it’s about wanting a day’s pay for a day’s work.

Iain Duncan Smith continues, “Sadly, so much of this criticism, I fear, is intellectual snobbery.

“The implicit message behind these ill-considered attacks is that jobs in retail, such as those with supermarkets or on the High Street, are not real jobs that worthwhile people do. How insulting and demeaning of the many thousands of people who already work in such jobs up and down the country!”

We’re not saying such jobs are demeaning – WORKING FOR NO PAY IS DEMEANING.

In a capitalist system we sell our labour and we receive our wage. In a meritocracy we work hard to ensure we can have better pay and conditions through education. This is what the Tories tell us we have to do – but now it suits them to pretend we’re all being job snobs.

Now it suits them to dismiss our qualifications, our experience, our personal preferences because they want us to shut up and do what little work is available – or work for no pay – while they live by their “jobs for the boys” rules.

I am a job snob. I don’t want to work for nothing. I don’t want to work for unemployment benefits. I do want to work in the jobs I’m qualified for: it’s why I worked hard and it’s why I worked hard while paying for those qualifications.

The reality is it doesn’t matter what we do – when they mess up the economy we get the blame.

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.

Which unemployed worker stereotype are you?

Are you a slob? Do you deserve nothing but contempt? Are you a so-called chav who should be humiliated at every chance? Well, here’s your chance to find out with this personality quiz asking: which unemployment stereotype are you? The answers are based on a scientific analysis of the Department for Work and Pension’s desired response to your situation no matter what the reality. Good luck.

1. What job did you do?

a: I’ve not worked yet. I’ve just left school/college/university and can’t find a job

b: I was an architect/journalist/middle manager but the company closed down.

c: I had a manual/professional job but struggled to find work at home so moved to the UK.

d: I’ve never worked and I never intend to. Working is for fools like you.

e: I was a qualified, experienced worker who enjoyed working but, sadly, I can’t work now because I’m unwell.

2. If you had to work what would you be willing to do?

a: I’d like to do something I’d enjoy or to use my qualifications because I’ve just graduated and I’m proud of my achievement. I’d do anything to start though.

b: Ideally I’d like to do something I enjoy, closely linked to my qualifications and experience.

c: I’m willing to do anything that’s available but would much prefer not to be here, if I’m honest.

d: I told you, I’m never going to work. My parents didn’t work, my siblings don’t work. No one in my family works, never has and never will.

e: I’d go back to what I like doing. I’d start tomorrow if my health improved.

3. How do you spend a typical day?

a: I look for jobs on in the internet and in papers then I watch David Dickinson or other afternoon television but with a great sense of irony. I’m often bored.

b: I search for jobs online, in newspapers, contact friends then I watch afternoon television with a great sense of dread. I’m often bored.

c: Looking for work: I go to employment agencies, check newspapers, try to make a call home if I’ve enough money. I’m often bored.

d: Hang about with the locals, sleep on the settee for a bit, then I might have something to eat before hanging about again. Take it easy, you know? I get into fights in my neighbourhood sometimes but, seriously, why stress out about stuff.

e: I have a routine around my medication and healthcare which can make doing anything else almost out of the question.

4. What do you spend your benefits on?

a: The essentials. It’s not enough for anything else.

b: The essentials. It’s not enough for anything else.

c: The essentials. It’s not enough for anything else.

d: I want decent food. No store brand rubbish and I can usually get it. If I can’t get it myself I know someone who will.  I also get the drugs I want, the bedding I like. I come and go as I please. I live a charmed life.

e: The essentials. It’s not enough for anything else.

5. How many people do you know who are unemployed?

a: A few people. Some have found bits of jobs others got lucky and have full-time work.

b: Quite a few. These are people who thought they had job security but are now like me.

c: A few, here and at home. We none of us like it.

d: Those I depend on are unemployed. Makes no difference to me. Why would it matter? What is this obsession you have with working? Chilling out is much better.

e: I know more and more people in my situation and many are now being forced to work despite still being really, really ill.

Mostly As: You’re lazy. You’ve just left college/university and not looking hard enough for work. You clearly find living on benefits a suitable alternative lifestyle because it keeps you in luxury accommodation, enjoying fine-dining and enough computer games to keep you awake all night so you can sleep all day. You’re still cheerful and proud of your educational achievements. Stopping your entitlement to benefits will sort you out.

Mostly Bs: You’re lazy. You lack motivation, ambition and the ability to start-up your own business. You’re dependent on the state when you should be out there finding something, anything and lying about your qualifications or experience just so long as you find work. Did you not see The Pursuit of Happyness? That man slept in a toilet while he looked for work and so should you. Workfare will sort you out.

Mostly Cs: You’re lazy. Worse still, you’re foreign. You’ve come over here thinking our benefit system is easy and you can live off the taxpayer. We’ll show you by making sure there’s no work here either. Being scapegoated and blamed for mass unemployment in the UK will sort you out.

Mostly Ds: You’re my cat, Chaplin. You sleep most of the day and think people should run around after you. You’ve no intention of working, can’t begin to understand what it even means. You’re a cat but sometimes your characteristics are forced onto people who are struggling to survive on the least amount of money it is possible to live on.

Mostly Es: You’re lazy. Just because you’re ill doesn’t mean the taxpayer should help you. It’s not our fault you got ill. You should’ve taken better care of yourself or kept on eye on your dodgy genes. If you can walk, you can work, now get up and get earning.

Banks: profiting from poverty …

I’m up blogging at this time on a Sunday for two reasons: I can’t sleep and I want to be in the living room by the halogen heater. The cold in the bedroom was giving me a Chaplin matching headaches, I think.

My bank, as you know, has taken £30 in fees from my bank. This is leaving me worrying about having enough bus fares to my part time job and means I simply can’t put the central heating on. I’m already using the emergency on the meter and have no money to top it up once it’s gone; I’d like to have a bath at some point because my mood alone is already making me anti-social.

Nationwide claims the charges – made up of £15 taken twice – are for “unpaid direct debit fees”. I can’t see how this happened because, as far as I’m aware, I’ve not gone overdrawn and have met all my direct debit payments. I’ve cut these automatic payments back as far as I can. I’ve cancelled anything that isn’t essential – that isn’t a utility bill, basically.

Still, living on £67.50 a week it isn’t difficult to go overdrawn by a few pence or a pound so the bank takes the “unpaid direct debit fees” which add up to almost half of my weekly income.

I’ve previously written to the bank quoting the Social Security Administration Act but decided to do so again yesterday, stating:

As I understand it there is an Act of Parliament Section 187 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 which over-rides banks taking charges from your account if you are in receipt of any of the following benefits:
• Income Support
• Tax Credits
• Child Benefit
• Job Seekers ‘allowance
• Incapacity benefit
• Disability living allowance
• Attendance Allowance
• CSA payments
• Other DWP payments.
These social security benefits are granted to stop hardship and are designed to meet basic day to day needs, and are exempt and are protected under the Social Security Administration Act 1992 sub section 187. from arrestment in terms of section 187 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (see Enforcement of Civil Obligations in Scotland, Scottish Executive report, at paragraph 5.245). Section 45 of the Tax Credits Act 2002 Chapter 21 part 1 is an identical provision to the said section 187 of the 1992 Act.  This stipulates that the banks can not apply any charges to money received as benefit, and any such charges are unlawful and therefore disallowed.

This information had been shared with me by Kent Freedom Movement again and I thought I’d see if it would help me get my money back. I managed to get £15 back last time. Unconvinced, though, that this alone would make a difference I also pointed out the situation.

I have £67.50 per week income from Jobseekers’ Allowance. This £30 is a huge amount to lose from my weekly income and has plunged me into very real poverty: I have no money for food or for heating as we head into a cold snap.
I am living within my means and have enough money to pay my outgoings only. I ask Nationwide to please consider the problems this causes – both to my financial situation and mental and physical health – by taking money from my benefits. Almost 50 per cent of my entire weekly income is just too much for me to cope with, in errors such as this or otherwise.
Is there any way in which I can be assured that this won’t happen again? I simply can’t keep going without food or heating without risking my health. If Nationwide can suggest another account type I would be grateful.
I was previously told, however, that the Act doesn’t mean banks can’t take money from benefits. A myth also repeated at Jobcentre Plus when I told them the problem I was having.

Nationwide told me: The purpose of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 Section 187 and section 45 of the Tax Credits Act 2002 is to prevent people’s benefit money being at risk by it being assigned over to a third party in settlement of a debt. It is not intended to prohibit the application of bank charges. Bank charges are in the nature of an expense, and are incurred by the holder of the account; tax credits and benefits are payable in order to help customers meet their expenses, and as such it is legitimate for banks to deduct charges from the balance of an account held in that bank, whether the money paid into the account comes from tax credits, benefits or other sources, such as earnings.

This means we have benefit caps pay while banks enjoy their huge salaries and big bonuses – and Nationwide boasts of its rise in profits to £172m.

And banks can make even more profit from the poverty of others. It means £25 billion in tax is written off for the rich in one day while we’re forced to pay half our benefits in so-called bank charges.

It’s almost impossible not to go overdrawn when you’re living on the very least that a government decides it should give you (after it has created mass unemployment), you can be plunged into abject poverty because someone had to hit a computer key or shuffle bits of paper on a desk when you went momentarily overdrawn. This means should your benefits be late through no fault of your own – such as a suspension you were told wouldn’t happen – then you will incur bank charges.

I’m sure some will still argue that this is legitimate and the banks have a right to charge – but I think it’s despicable. Others will argue that benefits should be difficult to encourage people back to work – but I’m in this mess because I tried to get back to work.

I find it unbelievable that anyone could still be turning against the unemployed as so many of us find ourselves living in poverty but still some imagine that £67.50 per week means those of us without work can afford to stay in bed all day: the reality is it’s impossible to survive on this with your physical and mental health intact and look for work.

… and you try impressing a boss at a job interview when you haven’t had a bath.

[NB: Those worried about how Chaplin is surviving I can assure you he is ok. He sleeps in front of the halogen heater and many months of his refusal to eat beef cat food means he has a beef Whiskas, Felix, Tiger stockpile in times of trouble. For now.]

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

The reality: why people stay on benefits …

I just shouted at Chaplin. I never shout at Chaplin but I’m now stressed, angry and scared witless so  I’m taking it out on a defenceless cat. (I say defenceless but he’ll get his own back at some point.)

I’ve received a letter from Job Centre Plus telling me my claim has been suspended. That is, I’m not entitled to Jobseekers’ Allowance. Nor will I be paid by my employer until mid-March. I now have literally no income.

I would’ve been better off staying on benefits.

The letter states that Job Centre Plus is sorry I won’t be receiving benefits any more and adds, “This is because we cannot be sure that you are entitled to as much Jobseekers’ Allowance as we are paying you”.

I’ve given my adviser all the information I have regarding hours and pay – and indeed did so before I took up the offer of work. I was even told to keep signing on three days after my claim was suspended.

The letter also states, “There is no right of appeal against this decision”.

I do, though, have a form to fill in to give them more information on top of the information I have already provided.

I will now have to take out what little money I have from the bank in order to ensure I have bus fares to work … but considering I won’t be paid for six weeks, have little food, am using the emergency gas supply and now won’t pay other utility bills I can’t so far see that part-time working is worth the effort.

… I also now have to go to work and pretend none of this is constantly racing through my head.

As bankers grab bonuses …

I’ve knocked ten minutes off my walk to the bus stop. I celebrated this minor achievement with the same arrogance, machismo and energy of Daley Thompson winning a second gold Olympic medal in 1984, except I didn’t flash my bum at Princess Anne

It might not seem much of an achievement to you but after nine months spent on a lumpy settee, followed by a few weeks of backache, this return to a natural, pain-free walking position is hard-earned.

More importantly on arrival at a dreaded destination, Job Centre Plus seems less threatening; the building doesn’t loom large as I walk down the street as if in some green and yellow nightmare. Once inside I don’t become a subservient mess desperately trying to look like I’m not a benefit cheat but instead another victim of mass unemployment.

I visited today. I arrived early thanks to beating my personal best in bus stop walking and had to wait in the haemorrhoid-coloured room, on a stained chair, reading the “psychological wellbeing” poster which seemed less significant, then the debt advice information which seemed less immediate: I remembered being overwhelmed by the offers of advice and little practical help.

I listened in to a man in his 20s who seemed new to the signing on experience.

“You’re not making the effort,” the adviser told him, a faint squeak in her voice which suggested frustration or nervousness.

He remained silent as I’ve found most do. He watched, waiting for her next comment, knowing it was entirely up to her to lead this conversation: signing on does not feel like a two-way street but an opportunity to be told what to do and prove you’ve done it.

“You’ve not provided a CV,” she squeaked on. “You’ve not completed your Looking for Work booklet.” When she didn’t receive a response she said: “No CV, no job search, no benefits.”

While I didn’t think this was much of a Jobcentre catchphrase, it did get the man squirming in his seat. “I’ve been ill,” he finally said. “When I was better I went to Job Club.”

“You went on the days I told you to go?”


“But they should help you with a CV. Then you bring that CV to me. Did they not help you?”

“When I went they told me it was the wrong day so I’m going next week.”

“I gave you the correct days. Wait, let me phone them and see what is going on.”

The man waited, calling her bluff then, just moments before she lifted the receiver, said: “Right, I might as well tell you. I didn’t go.”

I had to stifle a laugh. The adviser had to stifle a scream. The man shifted in his seat some more as if to leave.

“I’m not finished with you yet,” the adviser snapped, not the faintest squeak in her voice, and he sat still. “Do you warrant your benefits?”

Silence. I listened as the threats to stop his money continued and wondered why someone would fail to do the bare minimum. I’m told I no longer have to complete my Looking for Work booklet because I’m in part-time, temporary employment. I am, though, acutely aware that I have a Jobseekers’ Agreement which I’ve to commit to every time I sign on. I wouldn’t stop doing this no matter what a well-intended – or potentially dodgy – adviser told me.

This man, I overheard, had what were described as “basic skills issues” but the threat to a benefit ban continued. Jobcentre Plus makes you see life in all its miserable forms: people who can’t find work for lack of qualifications; the mentally-ill; those with learning difficulties; the marginalized; the excluded; the angry; the depressed. All signs of life under Tory rule are here.

Just listening to it is depressing – but to feel that sense of being herded, judged, written-off, to see boxes ticked and papers stamped as you sign on among others fed up of going through the motions is demoralising.

I look forward to the day when my employers pay me and I can sign off – albeit it temporarily. I also look forward to being paid so I can buy some food – my food money is now being spent on bus fares and topping up the gas meter so I can wash my work clothes.

I wait to be paid as the RBS boss considers his £963,000 bonus in shares and wonder what positive use that money could be put to as the UK teeters on the brink of double-dip recession.

I read that up to 400 workers could lose their jobs at a Kent steelworks with the recession taking 706,300 jobs across UK manufacturing: 119,000 in the West Midlands, 108,000 in the  South East and 97,000 in the North West at 97,000.

I see that almost 23% of Spanish workers face unemployment as they too struggle in a global economic crisis brought about by the banks. Indeed, among the Eurozone member states the second highest unemployment rate is Greece (18.8 % in September 2011) followed by Lithuania (15.3 % in the third quarter of 2011). Eurostat estimates that 23.674 million men and women in the EU, of whom 16.372 million were in the euro area, were unemployed in November 2011.

I read this – mass unemployment and greedy bankers offered ridiculous pay-outs – and decide that the man not taking an interest when attending Jobcentre Plus is hard to condemn.

Food I have in until giro day: half a loaf; half a tin of beans; tins of chickpeas, hoummous, carrots and sweetcorn;  a jar of sundried tomatoes; the remnants of a bag of oven chips; dregs at the bottom of a jam jar.

Hours I’ve worked in the past two weeks: 20