Weigh things are …

Today I’m told I must seek a move from contributions-based Jobseekers’ Allowance to income-based Jobseekers’ Allowance, signalling half a year out of work.

There have been times, I admit, when I’ve seen the rain outside and smiled, thinking of those who have to stand at bus stops or try to start rusty old cars to get to work on time. On warmer days I’ve lay in the garden knowing full well others are being moaned at by bosses or half-asleep at their desks, hot and resentful knowing they’re missing the summer.

Now I spend my days with Chaplin, answering endless calls to debt collectors, opening letters from creditors, searching for work and little else: I need something to do other than look for work with the other 2.5 million unemployed.

I could, perhaps, find myself a date online. Back in 2005, though, it was reported that the average cost of a date is £200: I’ve calculated that a meal at my favourite restaurant for two would total £230.10, including two bottles of wine and a taxi home.

More pounds than needed at last

Thing is, I’d want a third bottle of wine, maybe a fourth – and I’d need someone willing to pay the whole bill just to listen to my morbid humour over a pork loin chop. Oh, I’d also

need a new outfit and a haircut, and some money for the gas meter so I can have a pre-date bath. I think I’ll not bother with a match.com account, after all.

Things are looking up, though … I’ve received a grant application from NPower today to try beg for money towards an ever-increasing debt I didn’t see coming; a surcharge for a gas meter I don’t want and gas I didn’t use. Also income-based benefits mean I’m entitled to a free eye test, a voucher for glasses and free dental treatment which means I can cancel the £10 a month I pay my dentist and put it towards heating costs.

The reality of having to juggle bits of money to pay for basics or not having a penny to your name is an odd one. It is, of course, a worry because one can’t afford emergencies: Chaplin is now stopped mid-fight because I can’t afford vet’s bills (and he does like to boss about the other cats in the street). He is also under instruction to focus less on catching field mice and more on getting us a wood pigeon for our tea: those things look meaty.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation research has revealed that a single person needs £185 per week to live on. A single unemployed person receives £67.50 a week – nearly £120 short.  A worker would need to earn £15,000 a year to meet this. This has made things much clearer to me as I foolishly wonder why I’m brassic week after week.

I can now spend less time worrying about my money-management and more time thinking about what I can eat next. A post-job search sandwich (when I have food in) is a treat … but weight-gain from eating it, then not moving for the next three hours isn’t: I’m not so much comfort-eating as eating as entertainment. One would think that going without meals would make on lose weight but I’m piling on the pounds – in fat, if not cash.

The adverse effects of unemployment don’t go unrecognised. Much research has been conducted into why the poor get fat and why unemployment specifically increases the size of one’s bum: a local council survey lists adverse effects associated with unemployment as: higher levels of smoking and alcohol consumption; more weight gain; reduced physical activity and exercise; higher use of illicit drugs and prescribed antidepressants and reduced psychological wellbeing and greater mental ill-health.

The internet is full of sites aimed at unemployed Americans wanting to avoid the inevitable dole house bulge but few for those in the UK – perhaps there is a Big Society venture in this.

Tough-love advocates will no doubt be screaming “put down the butty and go for a walk” but even when your mind is racing, when you’re completing job applications, searching for other jobs and filling in your Looking for Work booklet like a Grade-A student keen to please, your body is happy to stay still. Your body, in fact, can be determined to stay still.

So, perhaps with your support and encouragement, I will start exercising. I can do this indoors, if needs be, I have music and a floor on which I can dance or I can go for a walk in the nearby park. I will start tomorrow … I might have a butty to celebrate my decision.

Good news: One credit card has agreed to stop moaning at me to clear my debt until January 2012 – another is threatening debt collectors

Bad news: NPower will not refund the ridiculous surcharge costs that could mean I have no heating or hot water until the debt is cleared, which could take ten weeks at least

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