Getting off benefits – the worst part of unemployment yet again

As the Guardian reveals that the richest 1,000 people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by £155bn since the crisis began  … I have again tried to move from unemployment to part-time work – that is, from unemployment to underemployment.

I told my Job Centre Plus adviser before I even secured the contract and he has been helpful and supportive – but unable to stop the inevitable.

All my benefits have been stopped.

This stopping of benefits happens before you have any chance to give details, to fully explain your reasoning or prove your income.

It is profitable for the government to plunge you into poverty first and ask questions later.

I’ve explained to Job Centre Plus and to the council that my income works out at just £30 more than I would get per week from Jobseekers’ Allowance. I’ve shown contracts, visited almost weekly with updates and emailed any relevant information.

Nevertheless, my Housing Benefit has been calculated to now be £1.19 per week, my Council Tax Benefit is nil and today I find my Jobseekers’ Allowance has not been paid.

Of course I immediately switched off my heating, rationed the food in my cupboards and freezer and will stay home unable to afford to go anywhere. I wonder if this is the “war mentality” of which Heseltine spoke today – workers clamouring to survive while the wealthy remain untouched by the failures of the banks and the global economic crisis of their making.

I recognise this Tory-led coalition, supported by lickspittle lackey Lib Dems, will claim that Universal Credit will end this problem but this is clearly not the case. It will simply be worse for us.

The Tory work ethic – the promise that work will pay – is a lie.

This is the second time I’ve experienced this as I try to find work, to remain active and employable. I wonder now if it will be worth doing it again in the future. I might choose to stay on benefits.

Regular readers will know that, after 20 years as a journalist, I found it impossible to secure work in the industry so I retrained as an academic and now find it impossible to secure work in higher education.

Ironically, I found out this week that I passed a post-graduate certificate in education – what a waste of time and hard-work attaining a new qualification has proven to be.

This work is only until March 2013 so all this confusion and stress will start again as soon as it ends…

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Jobcentre Plus new Q&A revealed …

Some intense investigative reporting on my part has resulted in my having something to do other than play string with Chaplin – and in unearthing the latest questionnaire used by Jobcentre Plus advisers.

This Q&A will be used at each and every interview unemployed workers attend in the hope that they will finally collapse, demoralised and exhausted, and choose to sign off rather than face the repetitive, humiliating process over and over again. What happens to them then is of no concern.

A Jobcentre Plus unofficial, completely imaginary, spokesperson said: “When addressing the needs of customers facing deferred success and cashflow challenges, it sometimes makes sense to clarify your process using a flowchart.

“Using a customer service process flow chart can help advisers deal with customers in a way that represents Jobcentre Plus’ overall customer service outlook while, at the same time, avoiding customer intimacy or, heaven forbid, making eye contact with the employment-challenged.

“Going forward we hope that they will finally collapse, demoralised and exhausted, and choose to sign off rather than face this repetitive, humiliating process over and over again.

“What happens to them then is of no concern to us and any discussion about the validity of this flowchart will result in our effective, and government-backed, use of blamestorming.”

  • If you’re due to sign on remember this is how they think – even if the more wily ones don’t follow the Q&A openly …

Blame Bingo … a new game for all the family!

Are you unemployed? Do you spend a lot of time watching the news and listening to excuse after excuse from the Coalition? Then you’ll love Blame Bingo©!

Are you a single mum? Immigrant worker? Trade unionist? Or disabled? Then you’ll love Blame Bingo© – and seeing just how you are to blame for the state of the economy.

Blame Bingo© – it’s the game even Labour Party members can enjoy!*

Blame Bingo© is free so won’t eat into your meagre benefits or ever-dwindling wages. It’s easy, fun and contains many real excuses used by the Coalition. Just tick them off as you hear them until you get a full house – which will happen in no time!

Play Blame Bingo© today – and you won’t earn a thing even if you do it all day long! Just as the Coalition likes it!

*Liberal Democrats are advised not to play Blame Bingo© but instead to walk away from the Coalition so that we can have an election.

Blame Bingo© proof that being bored and stuck on the dole makes you entrepreneurial!

An Open Letter to Chris Grayling …

Firstly, I’m not nor have I ever been a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party* and, while I’ve heard of Mumsnet, I’d not realised in visiting its site I was colluding with hardened radicals.

I am, though, a job snob who wants to be paid for a day’s work. I have the gall to want to earn a living in a way I might enjoy. I’m also under-employed – along with millions more in the UK – due to a global financial crisis that is not of our making.

While you say young people should be grateful for unpaid work to show them the ropes, to give them experience, to get them a foot in the door, I say they should be paid for the work they do, encouraged to achieve and celebrated for what they can offer.

Our ambition is dismissed as snobbery while yours is celebrated on your website, telling us of your rise from school pupil to Employment Minister via the BBC.

At school I was told I’d never be a journalist, constantly reminded that people who grew up where I did had no chance of “bettering themselves”. I doubt you heard this as you worked your way to the BBC. I doubt you thought for a second that you might end up stacking shelves or see your dream job as just that.

“The industry is too competitive”, I heard at school. “You won’t know anyone who can get you a job through friends,” they would warn. “Those in public schools will be picked, leaving you at the back of the line for jobs,” they’d tell me, urging me to find a job, any job and stop day-dreaming.

I thought aspiration was a good thing, even for a working class child living on a council estate. I worked hard. I got O Levels, then A Levels, then further deferred the gratification of nights out with friends by attending university. I worked most nights and every weekend while at university certain I would never have to do so again, not once I was a journalist.

I did do a week of work experience while studying for my degree but not under the assumption that I didn’t understand what work was: I had the chance to see if I really wanted to work in journalism, not the chance to earn the lower rate of JSA while lining the pockets of big business.

After leaving Royal Grammar School and Cambridge, you went to the BBC. After leaving my inner city school and a northern former polytechnic, I got a job on a local newspaper earning £8,000 a year. I lived in a shared house, struggled to fund the car that was essential to the job, went without meals to do so: fed instead by ambition and a determination not to be at the back of the line for future jobs.

I then worked at press agencies, regional newspapers, national newspapers and magazines. I was good at what I did because I came from a working class background, not despite it.

Then – as the journalism industry was brought to its knees my those seeking bigger and bigger profits – I worked in university outreach, encouraging under-represented young people from working class communities to consider university, to know they were capable.

I tell them it is because life has not been easy for them that they’re sharp as tacks, interesting, articulate, funny and wise to old fools telling them they should work unpaid.

You seem to have concluded that young working class people are illiterate, undeserving of paid training and apprenticeships, and unaware that they’re being forced to work unpaid because of a crisis of capitalism. They’re not.

I worked much harder than you I suspect. I did so because I believed this would secure my future. Now you’re a wealthy politician selling the working class into slave labour and I’m working part-time, as a result of the decimated journalism industry and the savage Tory cuts in education.

I think I’ll be unemployed again soon enough, surviving on £67.50 a week, despite working hard for qualifications and competing with the likes of you for a job in the media. It is all too easy for it to be taken away from us – for us to pay the price for a crisis not of our making.

You should resign. You’re out of touch in defending the indefensible. Your contempt for us is tangible as you line up young people to work for free, demanding their gratitude as they make profits for multi-million pound corporations. You dismiss our desire for financial security and mock us for daring to dream of going day after day to a job we might enjoy.

You’ve stolen the aspiration of working class young people and condemned them to an existence of getting by, letting them take the blame for an economic crisis not of their making.

You should go and you should take your nasty Tory sidekicks with you. We’re not fooled by your plans and neither are our young people.

* Now that the SWP is said to be solely responsible for a campaign defending young unemployed people and highlighting the exploitation of the disabled and unemployed I’m more likely to join. I’ll also check Mumsnet daily.

Why Emma Harrison and Workfare must go …

I’m told by a regular reader that being unemployed and in debt in the US means you’re less likely to find work. It seems a bad credit rating could mean your boss decides you’re a bad risk: you need money to clear your debts but those debts stop you from getting work.

I share this not to point out how much worse they may or may not have it in America but to highlight another example of blaming the unemployed for situations beyond their control … and what we might face in the future following the brutal welfare reforms.

A site outlining the history of the US welfare system states, “Throughout the 1800s […]  there were attempts to reform how the government dealt with the poor. Some changes tried to help the poor move to work rather than continuing to need assistance consisting of caseworkers visiting the poor and training them in morals and a work ethic was advocated by reformers in the 1880s and 1890s.

During the Great Depression, “when one-fourth of the labor force was unemployed” the government stepped in to solve the problem: under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Social Security Act was enacted in 1935. This system is celebrated but it relied upon the Civilian Corporation Corp of unskilled, unmarried men working for $30 a month and giving that money to their parents.

Then in 1996 President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act – giving annual lump sums to the states to use to assist the poor and asking those states to ensure the unemployed were encouraged to move from welfare to work.

Now Obama is being accused of bloating the welfare state by bringing in reforms – and is called a socialist more times than Che Guevara – despite plans to make those needing food stamps work for them.

Even in Australia – where the language is more honest – there is Work for the Dole which started in 1998 intended to help young people develop a work ethic but not looking at the causes of youth unemployment.

The suggestion that workers should not be helped when unemployed is nothing new nor is the talk of personal responsibility or the spreading of blame to the jobless: it is a convenient political trick for which we must not fall.

We’re told we have no need to help out strangers with welfare or taxation – but we do. A global economic crisis and a recession that has put 2.7m in this country on the dole is a national – indeed a global – responsibility, not a personal one.

It is the developing narrative of personal responsibility which gives companies – including Superdrug, Asda, Tesco, Argos, Matalan, Royal Mail, Burger King, Poundland, Top Shop, Boots, McDonalds, Primark, HMV, Evans, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, Pizza Hut, WH Smith – the arrogance to employ people to do a full day’s work for no pay.

It is this rhetoric used by charities such as The Salvation Army, Scope and Oxfam to dismiss the fact that instead of finding those who want to volunteer they they are using slave labour.

Boycott Workfare, a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare, states “Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage.”

The system is forcing the unemployed, the vulnerable and the ill to work – providing Jobseekers’ Allowance plus expenses as payment.Rabid Tories would, no doubt, find this acceptable and say people need work experience, people need to have a routine, people need to develop a work ethic, people need to learn not to rely on the state – I say people need to be paid for the work they do.

Marie Curie Cancer Care is among those opting out of the scheme and state, “We participated in this scheme because we believed it could offer volunteers an opportunity to gain valuable experience. However, there is a difference between volunteering and being forced to work and if there is any chance that people with terminal illnesses could be made to take part in this scheme we would take this very seriously.”

Now Emma Harrison, Cameron’s sidekick behind the Work Programme, is under scrutiny herself. It seems the woman who says there are “hidden jobs” and that you just have to find them has a few questions to answer about her own income.

The Daily Mail reports that Emma Harrison “pocketed £8.6 million in one year, mostly from state contracts and […] MPs said the company’s record in placing the jobless in work was abysmal – with a success rate of only 9 per cent.”

The Guardian points out, “Ministers have been urged to suspend welfare-to-work contracts with a company at the centre of allegations of fraud […] five shareholders were paid £11m in dividends last year, of which Harrison received 87%.”

This comes as a Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton states, “I deplore the Workfare programme for many reasons but primarily because it is deplorable. Trumpeted as a programme that will give the unemployed key skills, it serves nothing of the sort.

“What it is, in actuality, is a benefit system for sections of our work force. And there was I, foolishly, thinking that when you are part of the capitalist work force then the appropriate term for remuneration received is salary. Apparently not. These days, and under Cameron’s stewardship, we receive ‘benefits’ to become part of the job market.

When Middle England is comparing Cameron to a Nazi even rabid Tories have nowhere to hide. The plans are cruel, selfish, brutal and money-spinners for those running them.

The plans do nothing to help those most in need in our country and fail to recognise that the unemployed are not to blame for a global economic crisis – we should oppose them. Click here to find out how to do just that.

Which unemployed worker stereotype are you?

Are you a slob? Do you deserve nothing but contempt? Are you a so-called chav who should be humiliated at every chance? Well, here’s your chance to find out with this personality quiz asking: which unemployment stereotype are you? The answers are based on a scientific analysis of the Department for Work and Pension’s desired response to your situation no matter what the reality. Good luck.

1. What job did you do?

a: I’ve not worked yet. I’ve just left school/college/university and can’t find a job

b: I was an architect/journalist/middle manager but the company closed down.

c: I had a manual/professional job but struggled to find work at home so moved to the UK.

d: I’ve never worked and I never intend to. Working is for fools like you.

e: I was a qualified, experienced worker who enjoyed working but, sadly, I can’t work now because I’m unwell.

2. If you had to work what would you be willing to do?

a: I’d like to do something I’d enjoy or to use my qualifications because I’ve just graduated and I’m proud of my achievement. I’d do anything to start though.

b: Ideally I’d like to do something I enjoy, closely linked to my qualifications and experience.

c: I’m willing to do anything that’s available but would much prefer not to be here, if I’m honest.

d: I told you, I’m never going to work. My parents didn’t work, my siblings don’t work. No one in my family works, never has and never will.

e: I’d go back to what I like doing. I’d start tomorrow if my health improved.

3. How do you spend a typical day?

a: I look for jobs on in the internet and in papers then I watch David Dickinson or other afternoon television but with a great sense of irony. I’m often bored.

b: I search for jobs online, in newspapers, contact friends then I watch afternoon television with a great sense of dread. I’m often bored.

c: Looking for work: I go to employment agencies, check newspapers, try to make a call home if I’ve enough money. I’m often bored.

d: Hang about with the locals, sleep on the settee for a bit, then I might have something to eat before hanging about again. Take it easy, you know? I get into fights in my neighbourhood sometimes but, seriously, why stress out about stuff.

e: I have a routine around my medication and healthcare which can make doing anything else almost out of the question.

4. What do you spend your benefits on?

a: The essentials. It’s not enough for anything else.

b: The essentials. It’s not enough for anything else.

c: The essentials. It’s not enough for anything else.

d: I want decent food. No store brand rubbish and I can usually get it. If I can’t get it myself I know someone who will.  I also get the drugs I want, the bedding I like. I come and go as I please. I live a charmed life.

e: The essentials. It’s not enough for anything else.

5. How many people do you know who are unemployed?

a: A few people. Some have found bits of jobs others got lucky and have full-time work.

b: Quite a few. These are people who thought they had job security but are now like me.

c: A few, here and at home. We none of us like it.

d: Those I depend on are unemployed. Makes no difference to me. Why would it matter? What is this obsession you have with working? Chilling out is much better.

e: I know more and more people in my situation and many are now being forced to work despite still being really, really ill.

Mostly As: You’re lazy. You’ve just left college/university and not looking hard enough for work. You clearly find living on benefits a suitable alternative lifestyle because it keeps you in luxury accommodation, enjoying fine-dining and enough computer games to keep you awake all night so you can sleep all day. You’re still cheerful and proud of your educational achievements. Stopping your entitlement to benefits will sort you out.

Mostly Bs: You’re lazy. You lack motivation, ambition and the ability to start-up your own business. You’re dependent on the state when you should be out there finding something, anything and lying about your qualifications or experience just so long as you find work. Did you not see The Pursuit of Happyness? That man slept in a toilet while he looked for work and so should you. Workfare will sort you out.

Mostly Cs: You’re lazy. Worse still, you’re foreign. You’ve come over here thinking our benefit system is easy and you can live off the taxpayer. We’ll show you by making sure there’s no work here either. Being scapegoated and blamed for mass unemployment in the UK will sort you out.

Mostly Ds: You’re my cat, Chaplin. You sleep most of the day and think people should run around after you. You’ve no intention of working, can’t begin to understand what it even means. You’re a cat but sometimes your characteristics are forced onto people who are struggling to survive on the least amount of money it is possible to live on.

Mostly Es: You’re lazy. Just because you’re ill doesn’t mean the taxpayer should help you. It’s not our fault you got ill. You should’ve taken better care of yourself or kept on eye on your dodgy genes. If you can walk, you can work, now get up and get earning.

Could UK have Cameronvilles?

I’ve experienced homelessness. Now, as I find my benefits still suspended – meaning I have no Jobseekers’ Allowance, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit – the panic is creeping in that I will experience homelessness again.

I’ve not been told why this suspension has happened beyond “loss of paperwork” but that was said in a phone call, leaving no paper trail, so I suspect either untrue or not the basis of a complaint for me.

I told the unemployment office that I had part-time work, I asked if I was within my rights to take it, I was told to keep signing on until I received my first wage – then my benefits were stopped and I was left with, literally, zero income. I checked my bank account this morning and I am penniless with my rent due in a week.

I’ve effectively been penalised for trying to find work. I would’ve been better off staying on benefits: I would still have my dole payment and still be filling in my Looking for Work booklet and going through a routine which meant I had money for food, bills and accommodation.

I never imagined while working for years as a journalist, while studying hard for all my qualifications, while trying to build some sort of financial stability for myself that I would, one day, be sitting at home panicking that I might not have one for much longer.

As a child I lived through a housing crisis and ended up in a squat in a derelict terraced house. This house was in the middle of a street of squats and became the subject of a BAFTA-winning documentary in which I can been seen dancing happily amid the chaos.

My moment as an early reality TV star didn’t leave a mark – I don’t think I even saw the documentary untiI I was much older – but the experience of homelessness certainly did. My fear of it can quickly lead to panic and depression: if you have no home, you have nothing as far as I’m concerned.

We were of course abused for being homeless: insulted by passers-by, bullied at school as the squatting movement came under attack from the national press – those without homes and income seen as having brought it upon themselves, as not taking personal responsibility for their financial hardship.

Now, some 35 years, later this social problem of too little housing, mass unemployment and increasing poverty is again a growing problem which is creating homelessness.

I watch the BBC news, my fists clenched in fear and anger, as I see Americans make tent cities having lost their jobs and their homes – but still desperately trying to cling to some sort of normality. Just like the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression these settlements are being found on empty land across the country.

Panorama writes, “Conditions are unhygienic. There are no toilets and electricity is only available in the one communal tent where the campers huddle around a wood stove for warmth in the heart of winter.

“Ice weighs down the roofs of tents, and rain regularly drips onto the sleeping campers’ faces.

“Tent cities have sprung up in and around at least 55 American cities – they represent the bleak reality of America’s poverty crisis.”

America is the richest country in the world but people are living in tents and “47 million Americans now live below the poverty line – the most in half a century”.

These people have lost their jobs and had their benefits cut by a brutal system that demands financial independence of individuals while failing to provide a way for them to achieve it – there are no jobs.

Conservative minister Maria Miller says that in the UK there is “no shortage of jobs” and rabid Tories cling to this lie to excuse a lack of compassion and to spread the blame to those of us slung on a scrapheap while the rich get richer.

The reality though is that in Lewisham 34 people chase every vacancy – with over 10,500 unemployed for 300 jobs available. In Hartlepool it’s 21 people chasing every vacancy. In Hackney it’s 22. While in South Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and the City of London it’s fewer than two people for every job vacancy.

Much like the US we find that no jobs followed by benefit suspensions – even for those who have made the effort to find work but failed – means abject poverty. People are cutting back on food and fuel bills to pay their mortgage or rent. And the government not only wants to cut the amount of Housing Benefit people receive but also want to raise the age at which single people become eligible to claim for a one-bedroom property to 35. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this could inevitably lead.

All this while there are no jobs to help people out of poverty: history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second as farce and I now hope I won’t get to experience being homeless again.