Be upfront, BBC. Just call it Chav Challenge …

It seems the BBC –  to which we pay a licence fee for its unique output and should, apparently, defend without hesitation – is making a new show about “hardworking people”.

That set of workers so beloved by Tories and Labour alike – but as yet undefined – will be, er, celebrated in their own show – Britain’s Hardest Grafter.

The reality television show will see ambitious workers who earn less than £15,500 a year battle it out to win a cash prize.

The cash prize is, apparently, £15,000. Is that enough to satisfy the aspirations of people living on low incomes? Obviously, you and I know it means a lifetime supply of cheesy chips and owning a telly that would look too big in Wembley Stadium.

It is, of course, “aspirational” television and will try its hardest to appear positive while pumping out more poverty porn. The posters read “Britain’s Hardest Worker” but I’d not be surprised if, behind the scenes, it’s called Ex-Worker Factor or That Povo’s Got Talent.

I admit I thought it was a spoof at first. I expected to see it on a satirical news website but, no, the BBC is seeking 25 hardworking people to take part. Twenty five seems a high figure for a nation so overwhelmed by spongers and skivers.

A jobs website contacted the production company. Britain's Hardest Grafter Twenty Twenty told them: ““In each episode, people will be put to the test in a series of challenges and tasks. At the end of each episode, those who have produced the least will be eliminated and by the end of the process, just one worker will remain. The winner will receive in the region of £15,000 which is a year’s living wage (outside of London).”

This show’s sickening format is revealed at the same time Tories and Labour agree to lower the benefit cap – thus blaming workers for earning low wages and being in need of help.

It’s part of a wider narrative consistently letting low paying bosses off the hook and justifying a cut in social security. It’s another way in which we can be blamed for having too much month at the end of our money.

And it’s being considered as a genuine show by the BBC to whom we’ll pay £145.50 a year to watch young people compete for one year’s worth of a crap income.

Perhaps I can aspire by offering some other reality TV ideas to the BBC …

  • I’m Living On The Street Get Me Out of Here
  • Empty Kitchen
  • So You Think You Can Put The Heating On
  • The Voiceless UK
  • Pop Idle
  • Povs Win Prizes

Oh, they’re doing that last one …

As workers we’re expected to constantly prove our worth. We have to prove we are hard grafters, hard-working families, aspirational, ambitious. We have to prove we are willing to work really, really hard to make a profit for other people while being simultaneously grateful for low pay, short-term contracts, zero hours agreements – and, increasingly, the chance of being humiliated on telly.

Karl Marx said: “… bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness for those of its members who work acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything do not work.” And he was right.

Our desire to want to avoid mundane work is not a sin. Not wanting to demean ourselves for a pittance while our bosses get rich is not peculiar. Wanting fair pay for our work is sane. And defining ourselves as human beings first not workers is real aspiration.

So, I say stuff aspiring to be Britain’s Hardest Grafter and embrace idleness – just don’t watch the BBC’s offensive offering on telly while you’re doing it.

Aspiration without opportunity is a scam …

Well, look what the fat cat dragged back in. Hello all. Since I was last here I have retrained. I have hoop-jumped, aspired and succeeded like a good worker should.

I still have 25 years experience as a journalist. I still have almost a decade’s experience of teaching. I have a teaching qualification and a rather exciting PhD proposal.
But now I don’t have a job. And if I don’t find one soon I’ll be in receipt of Jobseekers’ Allowance and Housing Benefit again. Plus ça change.

You see the bosses have shifted the hoops, they’ve ignored my aspiration and they’ve limited my success because – no matter how we buy into the fantasy – we really have very little control over our work or our access to it.

I’ve drunk expensive wine with media types in modern, minimalist apartments. I’ve been stressed and excited in equal measure in busy, noisy newsrooms. I’ve walked with confidence across campus, carrying texts books and fresh coffee.
I’ve recreated all these aspirational images, suitable to magazines and job centre posters intended to inspire young workers to aspire, to achieve … but now I don’t have a job.

Some 181 local newspapers have closed in the UK since 2005. Unpaid internships are commonplace. Writing for nothing to prove your worth is also familiar.
Cuts in academia have seen job losses, courses closing, a reduction in pay – and fewer sessional and full-time teaching staff.
My short-term contracts have all ended. My qualifications and experience remain the same. My willingness to work is unchanged. My ambition, aspiration or whatever the latest buzzword is remains. aspire2
But there are no jobs for which I am qualified and experienced.

Cue the inevitable “there are jobs but you’re being a job snob” or “there are jobs but you’re not looking hard enough” or “there are jobs but you decided to work in the wrong industry/sector”.
You see the rhetoric of aspiration and ambition are currently nothing but words to encourage people to blame the jobless.
We can jump those hoops like the most cheerful clown – but if someone decides to spice things up by setting a hoop on fire then it’s our fault if we get burned.

I can’t get any job. Why? Because:
1. There are too few jobs for everyone who needs one.
2. I am not experienced in many jobs. And I can’t assume employers will let me have a go because, er, they won’t.
3. I have no qualifications for many jobs. And I can’t simply get other qualifications because they cost money I don’t have.
4. The assumption I can work as a cleaner or supermarket shelf stacker ignores a number of things: these jobs are finite, these jobs are being done by unpaid staff, these jobs demand NVQs I don’t have.
5. I am knocking on 46 and have the sort of maturity, qualifications and experience that simply doesn’t fit with any and all jobs.

And finally, most significantly. aspire3
6. I don’t get to choose. The idea that aspiration will get a worker a job disingenuously suggests a worker has control over job options. We don’t. The public and private sector is not altered to meet our needs – we’re expected to adapt to meet the sector.

So I adapted. I retrained. I gained more skills. I gained more qualifications. My contracts still ended.

Now I don’t have a job.

I do have Chaplin with whom I will need to sit down and discuss the move from Sheba to Aldi’s finest cat food.

You talk a load of drizzle, Jamie Oliver

Excuse me while I take off my pinny. I’ve been making artisan bread and some home-made pesto out of the leftover ice in my freezer.

Posh grub

Not affordable to a Sicilian street cleaner

You see, celebrity chef and once Labour school meals adviser Jamie Oliver has decided that British poverty isn’t as chic and exciting as, say, Sicilian poverty so I’m trying to change the way I approach the lack of food in the cupboard.

I won’t be angry at my job loss. I won’t be irritated by the stagnating economy. I won’t be frustrated at shrinking wages or the rising cost of living. No, I will internalise the problem and blame myself for not realising I can make a week’s food from a slice of stale bread and an egg. I’ll readily accept that all I need is cheaper olive oil to drizzle on an empty plate for a nutritious meal in front of my cinema-size plasma TV.

Jamie said, “You might remember that scene in Ministry Of Food, with the mum and the kid eating chips and cheese out of styrofoam containers, and behind them is a massive TV. It just didn’t weigh up.”

So Jamie immediately assumes people buy huge TVs instead of food rather than

Sit down and have an olive, love

Sit down and have an olive, love

recognising they might have bought it while in work, it might be a gift, it might be secondhand … and it’s impossible not to buy huge tellies anymore!

Jamie goes on: “I meet people who say, ‘You don’t understand what it’s like.’ I just want to hug them and teleport them to the Sicilian street cleaner who has 25 mussels, 10 cherry tomatoes, and a packet of spaghetti for 60 pence, and knocks out the most amazing pasta.”

Ignoring the fact that Jamie Oliver’s own brand spaghetti is £1.75 …

Well, I know what it’s like Jamie. It’s soul-destroying. It’s monotonous. It’s exhausting. And a jar of expensive pesto from your own brand range (£2.59!) isn’t going to change that.

Oh, and if you hug me I’ll punch you.

He goes on (he won’t stop!), “The flavour comes from a cheap cut of meat, or something that’s slow-cooked, or an amazing texture’s been made out of leftover stale bread.”

So us poor no longer need to worry about hormone-injected meat or animal welfare – phew! that trend has passed – and have a constant supply of energy to fuel a slow cooker and a seemingly endless supply of leftover bread. You think we’d eat the bread, at least?!Cheesy Chips

Anyway, I’ve no time to keep ranting. I’m going to imagine French cuisine and see if that doesn’t fill me up before I get some money.

PS I’ve never had cheesy chips … but I really fancy some now.

Get a job!

I’ve started looking at jobs up and down the country. I wonder if moving away is the answer to avoiding long-term unemployment.

The “get a job!” angry brigade will be happy to read this. They could even stop typing furiously on Twitter, stop commenting aggressively (with bad punctuation) on news sites; for a moment at least.

You see, if you’re unemployed whether it be for a week or a year, you should get a job – any job and, importantly,

I genuinely don’t think they understand the complexities of this. Aside from leaving behind friends and family for work – yes, just for a job! – it’s a difficult process for anyone.

Ok. Let’s say you decide to stay near home but travel further afield for work. This is a reasonable request from those poor souls slaving away to pay your taxes (while wilfully assuming you’ve never contributed).

Do you have a car? If so, how much of your new salary will be taken for petrol, insurance, tax and repairs? Are you dependent on public transport? Then how much of your wage will go on bus fares or train fares?

We all know the privatised rail and bus companies care only for getting us to work at reasonable cost and not about making profits, right? So if you take an average-paid job – because you need to get a job, any job and stop sponging! – will you be able to afford what are now be considered life’s luxuries such as food, heating, shelter, clothing ..?

On realising that bus journeys are too expensive from your new measly income, you decide to move to a new location for work. How’s that for commitment?! You will leave behind your home town, your friends, your family and move to a new city with the sole intention of doing so to find work.

Noble. Brave. Expected.

So, how do you get there? Do you have few enough belongings to shove them in the back of a car – which is how I used to move from job to job as a baby hack? Or do you and yours need to hire a van? Do you have the money for that if you’ve been unemployed a while?getajob

Indeed, do you have the money for the deposit on your private rented accommodation? Do you have a few month’s rent in advance? Are you able to pay these expenses and then feed yourself for the next few months until you’re first pay packet? Do you have the bus fare to your new work from your new home to ensure you get into work and don’t lose the new job?

No? Oh, then you’re clearly failing to seek work!

It’s not because the privatised transport services are hiking up prices above our incomes and making profits for their shareholders. No! It’s not because private landlords are making a killing from the lack of alternative housing. No! It’s not because you’ve been out of work so long you’re too skint to afford the van to carry you to your new city never mind the additional costs.

You see, you need to stop thinking about all these practicalities – the sort of thing employed people have to consider on a daily basis – and just get a job! Any job. Anywhere.

You’re different now … being unemployed somehow means you have much more money than everybody else and so can change your entire life on a whim. Enjoy!

unemployedhack is back, sadly

charliegoingforgold 002My first job was in a posh department store. I cleaned tables and tried not to growl at the customers who, I admit, I despised.

One day, while cleaning a coffee spill for a mum sitting with her young son, the boy struck up a conversation with me. Well, he showed me his new toy car.

I smiled at him and said, “It’s good, innit?”

“Innit,” his mother said, sneering as if she’d smelt something offensive. “Innit? Would you please not speak to my child like that!”

“I can’t help it,” I said, walking away. “It’s the way I speaks, innit.”

I was overheard and told by my boss that this sort of behaviour “would not do”.

The next day, maybe a week later, I’m not sure (it wasn’t memorable work) I was clearing a table and over-estimated my strength (not for the last time) and, picking up a tray of cutlery and plates, managed to drop a pot of sugar sachets on the floor.

“Bollocks,” I muttered under my breath. Or so I thought.

“What did you say?” I looked up, from my knees where I was on the floor picking up sugar sachets, to see a man in a pinstriped suit. I tried not to laugh at the cliché and continued picking up the sachets.

“I asked, ‘what did you say?’” he repeated, this time moving his newspaper aside to look down at me.

I’d had enough. Something snapped.

“I said bollocks!” I looked directly in his face, throwing the sachets in the air and walking out.

The decision to walk out of jobs I couldn’t stand never left me. Years later, while working at a press agency, my editor told me to “take a letter”. He wanted to dictate to me a letter for a tabloid columnist who’d annoyed him. I pointed out it wasn’t my job and that I had other things to do.

“You do what I tell you to do,” was his reply.

I stood up, picked my coat up off the back of the chair, told him to do something I won’t repeat here, and walked out.

I’ve lost my job for union agitation, for being disabled and off sick too much, for out-witting insecure bosses, for not being willing to be harassed by customers … now I’ve lost my job just because I was on a casual contract.

It got me thinking again about this country’s contempt for the unemployed.

What am I now?

I’m not signing on yet so I’m not benefit-claiming scum but I am unemployed and that’s low life, right?

And the longer I remain unemployed – despite not losing my job for any reason other than casuals are no longer being employed at this particular workplace – the more scummy I am, right?

And the fact that my employer wishes he could keep me on and praised my work – the fact that I am good at it – is of no consequence and will still be of no consequence when I’m asked to work in a multi-million pound corporation to “earn” my benefits.

Have I got this right, so far? That no matter why, when or how we lose our jobs the second we do so we are worthless, to be looked down on, to be willing to take any other job on offer and to forget anything we’ve achieved and certainly anything we aspire to.

I’ve been away a while, among the working masses, but constantly aware of the contempt in which some people on this insignificant, too often peevish, little island hold those less fortunate.

I’ve a few weeks before the wolf makes it to my door. I’ll let you know how it goes …

WARNING: Stay on benefits. Do not work part-time.

In 2011 Cameron said, “Never again will work be the wrong financial choice … We are finally going to make work pay for some of the poorest people in our society.

What a laugh!

As you know, I found part-time work. I was quite excited by this. I’m now told my Jobseekers’ Allowance has been stopped, I’m entitled to reduced Housing Benefit and I’m not entitled to Council Tax Benefit

I’ve received a number of letters pointing out differing amounts I am or I’m not entitled to and my head is spinning but I’ve tried to calculate what this means.

And I’m £21 per month worse off by working. Add to this the money I have to find for rent and Council Tax and I’m a massive £158 a month worse off before I’ve even paid the rest of my bills.

It’s literally impossible.

I will, of course, also pay high bank charges when I inevitably become overdrawn losing yet more from my paltry income.

If my calculations are accurate, I’m at very real risk of becoming deeper in debt and, ultimately, losing my home.

Over a year since Cameron excitedly said work will pay, the reality is I’m now awake in the early hours panicking about not having any money, fretting that I won’t have fares to even get to work and questioning whether I’ll be penalised for packing in my part-time job and returning to full benefits.

Stay on benefits. You know it makes sense.

I understand I can’t get Working Tax Credits because I work fewer then 16 hours per week.

I’ve not been given any advice on alternative benefit options so don’t think there are any. I have to accept a loss of £158 per month and work.

So – for those who think the unemployed should try to get at least a few hours work – it is an impossible challenge. That is, unless you’re working as part of slave labour for multi-million companies while “earning” your benefits.

Tory attacks round-up … updated regularly

As Tories gleefully claim that we’re out of a recession unemployedhack takes a look at the Tory Attacks Chart to see the hottest releases featuring assaults on the most vulnerable in society.

Children, disabled people, unemployed workers, young people, pensioners … everyone except the rich get a kicking from this Coalition government propped up by lickspittle lackey Lid Dems.

Straight in at #1: Ian Duncan Smith arrogantly concludes in a speech that domestic violence, drug addiction and family breakdown are solely working class experiences and uses benefit reforms and cuts for his warped social experiment. The rich, meanwhile, are not penalised for these issues because they have wealth.

Down one place to #2: Victorian window tax-style policy sees Tories with numerous homes punish those in social housing for having a spare room … and it will hurt disabled tenants

Down a spot: Almost five million British workers are paid less than a living wage

Non-mover. Homeless people lose local government support from November 9 when they’ll face eligibility tests to be told they have to tolerate unsuitable private accommodation

Down a spot to #2: Pensioners work till they drop as those surviving on state pensions are told to work or volunteer or not get paid

Non-mover: Children of low-income families won’t be able to leave home when not entitled to housing benefits

Hot release: Benefits are destructive says top Tory – and the number of children benefit claimants can have could be capped leaving them “freed from” the decision of whether they can afford to

Still vying for that #1 spot: Disabled plunged into poverty as benefits are cut for the most vulnerable leaving many suicidal

An unsurprising entry: Universities face a funding black hole as higher education is privatised and Tories/Lib Dems are seen to have fudged the figures

New entry: Cutting funding for Sure Start and children’s services will damage lives of underprivileged children ruining their chances before they’re even out of nappies

Ironic non-mover: Unemployed forced to work unpaid for benefits – taking jobs from the unemployed

Terrifying long stint in the charts: NHS cuts continue despite Tory pledge to defend the service A&E and wards face closures

Offensive non-mover: More cuts to child support for jobless parents added to those for low-income earners

Sickening entry: Foodbank charity Trussell Trust reveals that three foodbanks are opening every week as Tories claim we’re out of a recession

Moralistic non-mover: The country’s 1.9 million single parents are forced onto Jobseekers’ Allowance – as Sure Start centres close and Workfare takes paid jobs

Surprise entry: Thatcher’s Tory government included a paedophile – and Jimmy Savile spent his Christmases at Chequers

Pop summary: Tories – and their Lib Dem sidekicks – are a cruel, wealthy, self-centred axis of Eton attacking the vulnerable and defending the indefensible.

  • Also, Still think the Tories – and Labour – need to make cuts and are not just looking for excuses to reduce the State?