As a child it became an annual event – and humiliation – for me to be dropped a set in maths.
Once Mr Robson in the top set had grown tired of throwing the chalkduster at me I was removed to the next, then the next, and finally I sat among pupils my headteacher told me I shouldn’t spend time with because they were “a bad influence”. Eventually I sat my maths exam and, having fallen asleep midway through, failed. I still have no maths qualification but vehemently protect my bruised pride with an obsession about accurate apostrophes: you must know other journalists like me.
As time passes while unemployed/under-employed I’m becoming a maths genius. The talent it takes to understand the benefit system as a whole – be you cheating it or not – is greatly underestimated: the calculations I now make when shopping would make Galileo scratch his head and trying to figure out if there’s enough money on the gas meter to have a bath and wash work clothes would reduce Archimedes to tears.
I must not work more than 16 hours per week while claiming benefits. I have numerous contracts from different departments where I work. These contracts are for differing periods of time. I’m being offered extra work on an hourly basis each week. My pay is a basic rate then multiplied by different amounts. I’m also still in receipt of £67.50 per week from which I must now pay for travel and other expenses. I have to calculate how much I’m likely to earn having worked for many weeks before receiving any pay. I have to calculate how much the tax man will take because I’m in debt. This level of number-crunching would, I’m fairly sure, leave Isaac Newton thinking, “stuff this I think I’ll invent a cat flap”.
This is how many workers currently survive: in multiple jobs; paying two lots of National Insurance contributions; balancing complex contracts; dealing with different employers; keeping Job Centre Plus at bay … but we’re told freelance is the future, entrepreneurs are heroes. You have the skills to pay the bills and popular, friendly capitalism means you can be an entrepreneur and just keep on working through a global economic crisis, right?
I’ve spoken before of the Coalition plans for entrepreneurs to get off the dole with the New Enterprise Allowance … that is, so long as they have start-up money or credit clean enough to warrant them a loan of up to a maximum of £1000.
This is all a part of Start-up Britain describing itself as “a national campaign by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, harnessing the expertise and passion of Britain’s leading businesspeople to celebrate, inspire and accelerate enterprise in the UK.” The campaign was launched in March last year by David Cameron with the support of the Chancellor and is entirely funded by the private-sector.
Union-buster Richard Branson – the friendly face of entrepreneurialism – meanwhile thinks would-be business owners should get something similar to student loans in order to set-up their profitable schemes.
There is a new narrative now describing the unemployed as not just lazy but also lacking imagination, entrepreneurial spirit, gumption; we’re unable to identify opportunities or too slow to take chances; we don’t see problems as possible promotions or challenges as catalysts of change.
The reality of this self-employment dream is, of course, somewhat different. As discussed in the Guardian, “the grim truth about most new self-employment” and, according to a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the self-employed “without skills, picking up whatever bits and pieces of work are available” […] “hardly suggests a surge in genuine entrepreneurial zeal.”
A poll by Aviva found that one in four small business owners report that they’re considering returning to the workforce as an employee, as reported in The Telegraph.
I was self-employed and doing a damn good job with a high tax bill to match until, well, commissions stopped, employers stopped hiring freelances, my imagination and lateral thinking didn’t magically open up tightly-closed budgets.
Still the Coalition asks, why am I now signing on instead of running around pinning posters to lampposts for some get-rich-quick scheme; or pottering about in the shed trying to invent a life-changing device or starting a scam intended solely to rip people off? Because I lack imagination and that entrepreneurial spirit, clearly.
I might be insecure about my maths skills but feel no need to prove I’m living an enviable, ever-changing, vibrant lifestyle. I’ve no need to live beyond my means. I have a job – not a career – and have always seen being a journalist or lecturer in this way. I’m a worker. Now, I don’t mean to demand simplicity … but can’t we just have some bloody jobs?
Amount of money I have: nothing until tomorrow
Time I must wait until I’m paid for work: seven weeks
Number of weeks I’ve already worked: three