I face two stereotypes now: I’ve either hacked your phone or I’m a lazy scrounger.
I’ve received a few emails telling me to “get a job” or to “stop whining and just do something, anything” but I can’t tell if this is a lack of understanding of unemployment, contempt for journalists or contempt for the unemployed: Or all three.
As the jobless numbers rise – and the types of people unemployed changes – it’s time for us to reconsider the image of the unemployed. We are seen, of course, as lazy even in, my experience, by Job Centre Plus.
We’re seen as scroungers happy to receive handouts, probably finding it preferable to work. We are said to deserve the position we’re in – one email suggested I didn’t try hard enough at school while another said I was a snob because I have two degrees and want to use them. We can’t win.
We’re said to be bad at budgeting and if we tried harder we could make that £67.50 a week stretch further – despite rising utilities bills, food prices and rent.
And, of course, we all live on poor council estates in run-down homes – or on poor council estates in homes full of the latest gadgets and tellies as big as cinema screens.
According to Rowntree Trust more than 1 in 5 16-24 year olds face unemployment: and we can’t assume they’re all lying on the settee watching This Morning and laughing at the banality of it, while eating Doritos and scratching.
The Daily Mail worried for its readers as far back as 2008, saying, “the middle classes are facing a jobs bloodbath as the recession hits services industries”. Imagine how sales of houmous could plummet, spas could close down and fitted kitchen manufacturers could go into liquidation.
While it’s reported by the Council of Mortgage Lenders that prepossessions are set to rise again in 2011 and likely to increase in 2012. Homeowners homeless – now there’s a stereotype to challenge.
The middle classes are, for the first time in a long time, facing the sort of problems manual workers have faced for years – and Job Centre Plus is ill-equipped to deal with professionals in this situation.
I’ve been told “we don’t know what to do with you” and that I need to tell employers I have fewer qualifications and less experience (although no one told me how I would do this without having gaps in my CV). The focus is getting me off the dole not into a job suited to my skills and experience.
Job Centre Plus is not a system built to acknowledge individual workers: we are packaged into jobseekers’ agreements of a choice of jobs, a certain travelling distance and a willingness to accept minimum wage. Even if your efforts are above and beyond your agreement – and they will have to be if you want to find a job – you’re still made to feel as if you’re scrounging.
I’ve now been called to my second mandatory meeting in a month and told to bring proof that I’m looking for work: I took proof last time and no one looked at it.
The posters state “The work you want, the help you need” and you can be inspired by them after you’re told to “pop on the machines” (the touch screen job search) to look for jobs available on the government website, every time you arrive to sign on: a machine that will show journalism vacancies but will then list labourer as a close match. Focused job searches – using your skills as a journalist to find them – are not seen as being any more worthwhile because the computer system doesn’t recognise them.
I’ve never been given a job to apply for by Job Centre Plus. In fact, on my first visit the jobs I had sourced were used to tick the boxes so the computer would say “yes”.
If the Job Centre knows not what to do with us what hope do we have? How can we shake off the stereotypes if our hardest efforts are dismissed?
Of course, journalists add to the stigma and build the stereotypes of us lazy, workshy scroungers. The National Union of Journalists Code of Conduct doesn’t specifically state stop bullying the jobless but it does say, “differentiate between fact and opinion” and “strive to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair”.
That doesn’t stop the stories about so-called benefits cheats, or the heroes of huge families who don’t claim anything at all – completely ignoring our legal entitlement to support.
I wonder if those emailing hatred to me now would react in the same way to someone whose previous job was a business owner or manager, or a Job Centre Plus worker. I wonder if they would fail to empathise were it their boss, their partner, their friend. I don’t think they would.
I think fear makes people react angrily to the unemployed: if you lash out at what you fear then maybe you too won’t be in that position eventually. I’m no different now to when I was working – I’m just not in work. The unemployed aren’t caricatures in Little Britain or characters in gritty dramas – or even hacks whingeing in blogs: they’re your neighbours, your fellow workers and your family.
Just in case it’s you next, start developing a thick skin now because a few visits to Job Centre Plus could kick the confidence right out of you.
My plans for the day: Rather than watch afternoon telly I will conduct a job search, visit employment agencies and complete more job applications
My plans for rest of the week: I will sign on, conduct more job searches, complete more job applications and avoid afternoon telly (which quickly loses its appeal once it’s no longer a sick-bed treat)
My plans for the weekend: I will stay home again, watch DVDs friends have lent me and have a bottle of wine a friend bought me