Be upfront, BBC. Just call it Chav Challenge …

It seems the BBC –  to which we pay a licence fee for its unique output and should, apparently, defend without hesitation – is making a new show about “hardworking people”.

That set of workers so beloved by Tories and Labour alike – but as yet undefined – will be, er, celebrated in their own show – Britain’s Hardest Grafter.

The reality television show will see ambitious workers who earn less than £15,500 a year battle it out to win a cash prize.

The cash prize is, apparently, £15,000. Is that enough to satisfy the aspirations of people living on low incomes? Obviously, you and I know it means a lifetime supply of cheesy chips and owning a telly that would look too big in Wembley Stadium.

It is, of course, “aspirational” television and will try its hardest to appear positive while pumping out more poverty porn. The posters read “Britain’s Hardest Worker” but I’d not be surprised if, behind the scenes, it’s called Ex-Worker Factor or That Povo’s Got Talent.

I admit I thought it was a spoof at first. I expected to see it on a satirical news website but, no, the BBC is seeking 25 hardworking people to take part. Twenty five seems a high figure for a nation so overwhelmed by spongers and skivers.

A jobs website contacted the production company. Britain's Hardest Grafter Twenty Twenty told them: ““In each episode, people will be put to the test in a series of challenges and tasks. At the end of each episode, those who have produced the least will be eliminated and by the end of the process, just one worker will remain. The winner will receive in the region of £15,000 which is a year’s living wage (outside of London).”

This show’s sickening format is revealed at the same time Tories and Labour agree to lower the benefit cap – thus blaming workers for earning low wages and being in need of help.

It’s part of a wider narrative consistently letting low paying bosses off the hook and justifying a cut in social security. It’s another way in which we can be blamed for having too much month at the end of our money.

And it’s being considered as a genuine show by the BBC to whom we’ll pay £145.50 a year to watch young people compete for one year’s worth of a crap income.

Perhaps I can aspire by offering some other reality TV ideas to the BBC …

  • I’m Living On The Street Get Me Out of Here
  • Empty Kitchen
  • So You Think You Can Put The Heating On
  • The Voiceless UK
  • Pop Idle
  • Povs Win Prizes

Oh, they’re doing that last one …

As workers we’re expected to constantly prove our worth. We have to prove we are hard grafters, hard-working families, aspirational, ambitious. We have to prove we are willing to work really, really hard to make a profit for other people while being simultaneously grateful for low pay, short-term contracts, zero hours agreements – and, increasingly, the chance of being humiliated on telly.

Karl Marx said: “… bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness for those of its members who work acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything do not work.” And he was right.

Our desire to want to avoid mundane work is not a sin. Not wanting to demean ourselves for a pittance while our bosses get rich is not peculiar. Wanting fair pay for our work is sane. And defining ourselves as human beings first not workers is real aspiration.

So, I say stuff aspiring to be Britain’s Hardest Grafter and embrace idleness – just don’t watch the BBC’s offensive offering on telly while you’re doing it.

Aspiration without opportunity is a scam …

Well, look what the fat cat dragged back in. Hello all. Since I was last here I have retrained. I have hoop-jumped, aspired and succeeded like a good worker should.

I still have 25 years experience as a journalist. I still have almost a decade’s experience of teaching. I have a teaching qualification and a rather exciting PhD proposal.
But now I don’t have a job. And if I don’t find one soon I’ll be in receipt of Jobseekers’ Allowance and Housing Benefit again. Plus ça change.

aspire
You see the bosses have shifted the hoops, they’ve ignored my aspiration and they’ve limited my success because – no matter how we buy into the fantasy – we really have very little control over our work or our access to it.

I’ve drunk expensive wine with media types in modern, minimalist apartments. I’ve been stressed and excited in equal measure in busy, noisy newsrooms. I’ve walked with confidence across campus, carrying texts books and fresh coffee.
I’ve recreated all these aspirational images, suitable to magazines and job centre posters intended to inspire young workers to aspire, to achieve … but now I don’t have a job.

Some 181 local newspapers have closed in the UK since 2005. Unpaid internships are commonplace. Writing for nothing to prove your worth is also familiar.
Cuts in academia have seen job losses, courses closing, a reduction in pay – and fewer sessional and full-time teaching staff.
My short-term contracts have all ended. My qualifications and experience remain the same. My willingness to work is unchanged. My ambition, aspiration or whatever the latest buzzword is remains. aspire2
But there are no jobs for which I am qualified and experienced.

Cue the inevitable “there are jobs but you’re being a job snob” or “there are jobs but you’re not looking hard enough” or “there are jobs but you decided to work in the wrong industry/sector”.
You see the rhetoric of aspiration and ambition are currently nothing but words to encourage people to blame the jobless.
We can jump those hoops like the most cheerful clown – but if someone decides to spice things up by setting a hoop on fire then it’s our fault if we get burned.

I can’t get any job. Why? Because:
1. There are too few jobs for everyone who needs one.
2. I am not experienced in many jobs. And I can’t assume employers will let me have a go because, er, they won’t.
3. I have no qualifications for many jobs. And I can’t simply get other qualifications because they cost money I don’t have.
4. The assumption I can work as a cleaner or supermarket shelf stacker ignores a number of things: these jobs are finite, these jobs are being done by unpaid staff, these jobs demand NVQs I don’t have.
5. I am knocking on 46 and have the sort of maturity, qualifications and experience that simply doesn’t fit with any and all jobs.

And finally, most significantly. aspire3
6. I don’t get to choose. The idea that aspiration will get a worker a job disingenuously suggests a worker has control over job options. We don’t. The public and private sector is not altered to meet our needs – we’re expected to adapt to meet the sector.

So I adapted. I retrained. I gained more skills. I gained more qualifications. My contracts still ended.

Now I don’t have a job.

I do have Chaplin with whom I will need to sit down and discuss the move from Sheba to Aldi’s finest cat food.

Professional trolls and the death of journalism …

Trolls no longer live under bridges: they sit at keyboards, writing for the likes of the Daily Mail, creating outrage to ensure website clicks and well-paid appearances on daytime telly.

Forget the idiot trolls – predominantly teenage boys and middle-aged loners sitting in their underpants sending abuse to strangers while waiting for their mum to shout “tea’s done” – these new, media trolls are the real problem but, rather than get arrested for their ridiculous statements, they make money.

The media loves to warn us about trolls, to tell us they’re mean-spirited, rude, abusive, ill-informed, deliberately offensive, cruelly sarcastic … but not that they are often also journalists. Troll B Gone

They come in all guises, these trolls; they arrive with their faux anger and false opinions intended only to make being a troll an entrepreneur activity for the 21st century.

Although ultimately still troll-like in appearance with their wizened, bitter features and eyes ablaze from the excitement of upsetting random readers and telly viewers for no reason other than profit and a step up the career ladder.

You’ve seen them. Some are your wannabe-journalist trolls like Samantha Brick and Katie Hopkins; others are your professional trolls like Brendan O’Neill and Julie Burchill. They insult the working class, the vulnerable, the different .. but they’re journalists, so it’s okay, right?

Samantha Brick challengingly thinks all women are jealous of her appearance: “Women hate me for no other reason than my lovely looks.”

Katie Hopkins offensively says working class parents are unintelligent: “The Class Book of Baby Names. Also available in Large Print, Easy read.”

Julie Burchill controversially thinks the nation is so apolitical its concern was only ever Thatcher’s gender: “She has done harsh things and had a great deal of faith in herself — and, being a woman, this more than anything is why she remains so unforgiven by certain sections of society.”

Brendan O’Neill contrarily worries himself about poor people getting insulted by oiks in times of “austerity”: “Mocking toffs is fast becoming the bloodsport of choice among Left-leaning politicians and influential commentators.”

It is predictable and tedious. But what is to be done? Don’t feed them is the obvious response.

The more fuel you give to the trolls the more money they make from newspaper columns and TV appearances where they spout the same, intentionally ridiculous shite they first shared in a well-placed Tweet.A troll

These trolls crawl out of their beds each morning, fleetingly glance at what’s going on in the world, then settle in front of their computers, sneering, giggling, to write formulaic, join-the-dots articles stating an intentionally controversial opinion. The opinions aren’t necessarily held by them but will promote a news site, ensure readers to their column, bring a pat on the back from an editor who thinks its writers being ridiculed by readers is an achievement.

A lack of principle and no journalism ethics means they’ll produce right-wing shite for The Sun and less right-wing shite for The Guardian so long as the money goes in the bank.

These trolls,of course, exist alongside the lesser “celebrity” hacks but together they create a predominantly white, middle class, myopic clique of London-based writers who condemn, judge and make a mockery of our lives and our journalism.

It’s a nasty trend that sees columnists paid to share their ill-informed views – sometimes with intent to cause offense –  while investigative journalism falls by the wayside and real journalists struggle to find freelance or staff jobs.

It’s all just another knife in the back of British journalism. Don’t feed the trolls.

Stop working for free!

Are you a qualified journalist with lots of talent, a creative approach to finding the best stories and a bulging contacts book? Then we want you to work for us …

FOR FREE.

We won’t pay you expenses, we’re not offering you a promise of work in the future but, if you come and join our happy team of interns, or write for us when not at your real job, then we can promise you an ego boost or something to put on your CV.

We’ve all seen these ads. Although mine is less disingenuous than those promising work experience or a step up the career ladder for what are real jobs but with no pay.

The growing acceptance of working for nothing in the journalism industry – either as internships or as wannabe-hacks with real work elsewhere – is ridiculous and more damaging than we seem to admit.

I know the concept of selling one’s labour seems old-fashioned to some but why else do we go to work? Ok, you like your journalism role; perhaps what you do is important, exciting, makes you feel all full of yourself … but if you’re doing it unpaid then you’re being exploited.

Where is the significance and thrill in working unpaid for a company profiting – making money for other people – from your labour?

You get dressed for work, travel into work, sit at a desk and do work, take a lunch break from work, travel home from work and maybe do some prep for the next day’s work … and you don’t get paid?! That is insane! Promising you exposure might well mean you get your byline on a few features … but saying it might lead to work is toxic. If you produce a tabloid splash that sudden rush of excitement, that boost to your ego won’t even pay your bus fare home.

Or you write articles on return home from your proper job. You get home tired but excited about your “assignment” and write it up imagining you’re in a newsroom. You see your byline on a website. Good, isn’t it? Do you log on and show all your real colleagues the next day and feel proud? Well, to be blunt, there’s no pride in taking work from journalists who don’t have a “proper job” to go to because you’re willing to work for free.

Don’t be fooled. Why would any business owner pay you, and other journalists, for work if you’re willingly to do it for free? Work experience – where you spend a week away from journalism training to work on a paper and see if you like it – is one thing but turning up to work every morning, sitting at a desk, working like a journalist and not being paid for your effort is something different entirely.

It is exploitation. It might not fit with your glamorous idea of “being a journalist” but you are being exploited by people making a profit from your willingness to work unpaid.

It also means that journalism is becoming the domain of people who can afford unpaid internships to get a few bylines. And it means journalists like me won’t get work at all while you’re working for nothing.

And you can call yourself a journalist and feel good about it but you’re not one – not until you get paid. I give people lifts and don’t ask them for money – it doesn’t make me a taxi driver.

You love the journalism industry? Well stop killing it by working for free! The more you give your talent for nothing, the more employers will stop paying journalists and the fewer jobs there will be for us all to go around.

And you can forget accessible journalism for all. Unpaid internships and working for nothing create an industry where only trust fund babies or those with second jobs get a step on the ladder – and journalists who need that work end up on the dole.

There is help for journalism interns who’re desperately trying to start a career – and taking a chance with the promises of the money-grubbing managers – the National Union of Journalists Cashback for Interns campaign. “When the NUJ helped Keri Hudson to successfully sue TPG Web Publishing, the tribunal judgement made clear that many interns who have worked for little or no money could be entitled to claim the minimum wage.”

I left University and started work on a local paper; the pay was rubbish but that job led to much experience many bylines and a step up to national press agencies and so on.

Now the papers are closing and young journalists are being exploited  .. it makes me rage!

Stop working for free!

Ten Things Every Graduate Should Know Before They Start Job-Hunting

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 …