Walking to a cafe for a much-needed brew, paid for by a friend because I’m still skint, I found myself complaining.
“My back aches,” I whinged as students and full-time workers rushed past me.
“That’s because you’re upright,” my friend shot back, walking speedily ahead while I lumbered behind rubbing my lower spine.
I realised he was right. I’ve spent nine months in front of a TV, a computer, walking only to sign on or see if Chaplin is up to anything exciting in the garden. Motivation to exercise left me pretty soon after I became unemployed.
I’m now running up and down stairs, carrying piles of paper, jogging to and from bus stops and dragging myself to coffee shops on an almost daily basis and I’ve noticed – alongside the pain in my weak back muscles – my mood changed rapidly. I’m much more cheerful, I’m sleeping better, I’m still shouting at BBC news but with much less intensity … and my neighbour being noisy isn’t making me want to smack the ceiling with a broom handle.
I find it appalling that the simple act of working and earning money a few hours a week can change me this rapidly and dramatically but it has.
Let’s get something straight, I’m not buying anything and, even when I’m paid, I plan no trips to expensive shops, no holidays, I won’t even get my car back on the road – it turns out I’m poor but happy.
This gratitude for scraps thrown our way is the reality for many low-paid, short-term workers – and those living with the threat of job loss – and our recognition that we can’t spend does nothing to help the economy.
As The Guardian reports, the number of full-time employees fell by 140,000 over the latest quarter while the number of part-time employees was up by 31,000. Adding:
“Higher unemployment generates its own feedback loop, because people have less money to spend and demand falls across the economy.
“Those people in work feel they have little choice but to accept smaller pay increases to safeguard their jobs, which was why these figures showed the year-on-year increase in earnings growth dipping below 2%. Despite the fall in inflation, prices are still rising more quickly than wages.
“There is no immediate reason why this vicious cycle should be broken. Consumer spending is going to remain depressed, the government is cutting back on its spending and the UK’s main export market is fighting for its very existence. All of which explains why the Bank of England will probably announce a further dose of quantitative easing next month and why George Osborne’s March budget could be quite a test for a chancellor who wrongly believed the economy he inherited was strong enough to cope with the shock treatment he administered.”
Meanwhile, I’m showing willing by working hard, my relationship with Chaplin is suffering (he is furious at this life I now have away from him) and I’m still surviving on £67.50 per week until I’m paid with more to pay out, which means:
- spending £11.50 more each week on bus fares
- having to put at least £10 each week on the gas meter to dry my work clothes and be able to bathe
- buying a cheap lunch one day a week (and coppering up to find enough to get a bottle of water for when delivering a lecture)
- not buying a weekly shop because food money has gone on travel and heating costs so I’m living on scraps from the cupboard and freezer
Still, I’m happy. I’m also acutely aware that I have only another ten weeks of this then I could be back to the dole queue. I vow not to let unemployment get me down as it clearly has before.
You see (this is for the rabid Tories) if there is no work at the end of this contract then I will simply sign on again. I might have three months relatively stress-free before the mandatory meetings kick in, and I can alter my CV to suggest there isn’t a nine month gap in my so-called career … but if there are no jobs to apply for then, well, there are no jobs to apply for.
Grim statistics showed unemployment rose by 118,000 in the three months to November to reach a 17-year high of 2.68million, says the Daily Mirror. The article quotes TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber saying: “These figures are even worse than the bleak economic forecasts predicted, with new records achieved for youth and female unemployment.
“The fear is now that mass joblessness becomes a permanent scar on the UK […] the news for those in work isn’t great either, with pay growth falling and more people having to move to into part-time and insecure self-employment.”
So I think I’ll enjoy myself while I can and if I tire myself out I might even appreciate those months back on the settee.
Amount of money I have: £26.15 until a week on Tuesday
Amount I have to spend: £11.50 on bus fares
Amount I have on gas: £7.00 (plus £6 emergency credit)