We all know what constitutes an afternoon telly session: This Morning, Loose Women, Dickinson’s Real Deal and Jeremy Kyle before the brain fug becomes too much to bear and you put the news on. This is enjoyable when you’re ill or, better still, if you’ve pulled a sickie.
Now it offers itself up to me as a chance of entertainment beyond job searches and playing Extreme String with Chaplin. [The rules of this game are simple: 1. Pull the string. 2. Create extreme situations in which Chaplin can chase the string.]
I’ve been spending too much time job searching. I doubt Jobcentre Plus would agree with me but I would defend this as a fact. I was searching with my lunch on my lap, I spent evenings and weekends looking on any number of job sites. I conducted specific searches, general searches, off-the-wall searches. At one point I Googled “I need a job. I really need a job.”
I’ve looked for courses for the unemployed, part-time work, work in other cities, jobs in other countries, work for which I’m under-qualified, and much work for which I’m over-qualified. I’ve traipsed around employment agencies, emailed contacts, mithered friends.
It was when I became ill late last week, and when my right shoulder seized up, that I realised I needed to calm down. I have been in a blind panic. I realised I needed to stop searching for work quite so frantically – perhaps even stop my willingness to work doing anything, anywhere. I needed to accept I’m about to be declared “long-term unemployed”.
I know the statistics: unemployment in the UK is 2.51 million, and counting: the number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance rose by over 20,000 last month; the total number of unemployed men is 1.45 million and the number of women out of work is 1.06 million.
I know PM David Cameron is among world leaders in a panic at the state of the global economy – continuing with savage cuts and threatening a second bank bail-out – as he says the world is on the brink of a new economic crisis (and he’s no Roosevelt so could be itching for a world war to get us out of this economic mire).
The Great Depression is often used as an example of how far the world’s economy can decline when capitalism is in crisis – and that this is when unemployment in the UK reached 2.5 million.
I know things are now going to be much worse for workers all over the world yet I find myself worrying that there is something I’m not doing to find work – that it is somehow my fault for depending Jobseekers’ Allowance for almost 26 weeks. The situation that still strikes me as ridiculous: instead of working I’ve received £67.50 per week in Jobseekers’ Allowance, a total of £1755; I’ve received housing benefit totalling approximately £1700 and council tax rebate of about £425. I have not contributed to the economy, spending little and casting aside my once flourishing Ebay habit.
We all know that before we had the Welfare State, and the likes of Jobseekers’ Allowance, the unemployed relied on poor law relief paid by local authorities; something my own family relied upon at the time. In August 1931 – 80 years and one month ago – the unemployed could apply for unemployment benefit but still faced humiliating means tests, inspected by a government official who made sure they had no hidden savings.
I wonder if the panic of unemployment is more than fearing a lack of money. I wonder if it is a historical hang-over, a memory of mass unemployment and the misery it brings, a reminder of the shared humiliation of relying on the government for hand-outs, despite our entitlement.
Now we see JobCentre Plus is to start sending people to food banks. This is happening in the UK in 2011 and, according to the article, “is the first time in living memory that hungry people will have been passed on to charities in this way.”
I watch as those who are yet to face unemployment, those who accept the convenient untruths of governments trying to spread the blame for a broken economy, condemn the wrong people, blame the unemployed for the situation we’re in just as they did during the Great Depression.
I was eventually talked away from the computer and endless jobsearch sites by friends – one describing me as “a very conscientious job-seeker” which was clearly a euphemism for manic. I’ve since spent at least part of the day not searching for work. I started to watch afternoon television, watching Jeremy Kyle entirely aware that this is how some imagine the unemployed spend their time, lying on the settee avoiding looking for work. I managed a few minutes unable to bear much more.
So in the interests of avoiding mind-rot, I’ve decided on a list of books I intend to re-read: Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath; Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier; John Dos Passos’ American Trilogy and Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole. I’m sure you can see the pattern. I’ll also re-read Margaret Harkness’s A Manchester Shirtmaker and Out of Work: all are reminders of how capitalism has put people in my position before. It might even help me face Jobcentre Plus and ignore the looks and suggestion that my joblessness is my fault.
I welcome unemployed readers to join me and to recommend any must-read novels about unemployment.
Bad news: I missed my job interview because I was too ill to attend and cope with a 12-hour round trip
Good news: I have recognised that I need to look after myself, my health has improved and, after weeks of insomnia, I’ve slept like a baby.