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…


Is compassion just for the “loony left”?

I’ve been told a few times this week that I’m whining about “compassion” or told – with an equal lack of irony – that it isn’t just for “lefties” but for ardent Tories too.

In 2008 the Tories were being hailed as the compassionate conservatives. Three years on, a Coalition in place, and attacks in the most vulnerable in society impossible to ignore and this now sounds like a bitter joke.

But Cameron tried to reaffirm his compasionate Conservative credentials at the Tory conference where he said: “Conservative methods are not just good for the strong and the successful but the best way to help the poor and the weak and the vulnerable.”

Adding: “Because it’s not enough to know our ideas are right. We’ve got to explain why they are compassionate too.”

I don’t know about you but – as more people need benefits at the same time as Universal Credit ensures they’re denied them –  I can see the Tories changing their approach to “compassion”. I think, in much the same way as rants about “political-correctness”, they’ll soon declare it’s “compassion gone mad!” as they silence anyone defending the vulnerable.

I’m so certain of this I will bet my £71 a week which is, of course, such a huge amount of money I’m now entirely unwilling to work and, instead, happy to live in state-funded luxury with the obligatory enormous television.

Recently though I’ve found that rare species we know exists but hardly ever encounter … a compassionate Job Centre Plus adviser. He is friendly thing, doesn’t speak to me like I’m a thief, stupid or both … and he advises. Perhaps this is an indication that those who consider themselves to be in a powerful position – that is, in work – are recognising their own employment vulnerability. That they too could soon be treated with a lack of compassion and accused of whinging if they demand it.

This also to some extent explains why it’s been some time since I’ve blogged. It’s not, sadly, due to my being employed but to my feeling I have, in a way, little left to say.

Firstly, my experience is a repetitive one – I am again moving from unemployment to under-employment and so fighting the draconian measures of my benefits being suspended before I’ve even seen an employment contract. I am as ever stressed out by this but also oddly used to it. I now know how to “play the system” because you have no choice but to learn because – aside from the Lesser Arrogant Job Centre Plus Advisor I’ve just encountered – no one helps you at all.

I’ve again gone without heating – but I imagine you have too. I’ve again gone without food and have no social life – but I imagine that sounds familiar.

My experience is now a very common one: many of us are now losing our jobs; seeing our homes threatened; being treated as parasitic benefit cheats; being ripped off by utilities companies; being blamed for our poverty; watching as banks benefit from it in charges; recognising our qualifications are not worth the money we paid for them; waiting for the axe to fall or signing on then off then on then off then on then …


Chaplin is well. He is currently enjoying a catnip cigar and, thankfully, prefers Lidl and Aldi catfood to the big name brands

Luxuries I’ve bought to irritate Tories who think my benefits are too high: an electric blanket; a halogen heater and the aforementioned catnip cigar

Poverty plan: To work two part-time jobs in the hope that this means I can sign off until March 2013. Fingers crossed

Revealed: Why Tories lack compassion …

It staggers me that I can still be dismissed as lazy, that those facing the brunt of mass unemployment globally can still be dismissed as lazy. With 2.64 million unemployed in the UK alone  – the highest level since 1994, according to official figures – this reaction, and the short-sightedness and cruelty of it, is beyond my understanding.

Perhaps it’s because most Tories – certainly Tory leaders – don’t worry about such trivial things as low-pay, gas meters, the threat of homelessness with repossessions and rent too high for benefits, redundancy, over-priced train fares, losing their Disability Allowance or other benefits …

And perhaps it’s also as a fascinating recent study from UC Berkeley suggests – that individuals in the upper middle and upper classes are “less able to detect and respond to the distress signals of others” while “people in the lower socio-economic classes are more physiologically attuned to suffering, and quicker to express compassion than their more affluent counterparts”.

Social psychologist Jennifer Stellar, lead author of the study, says the upper classes “may just not be as adept at recognizing the cues and signals of suffering because they haven’t had to deal with as many obstacles in their lives”.

According to the latest statistics, as reported by the BBC, the numbers claiming benefits rose by 3,000 to 1.6 million in November last year and the total number of employees fell by 63,000 to 29.11m, mostly due to job losses in the public sector.

I blogged about how I’m going to take up a job offer – despite the fact I’ll have less money, despite the fact it will cost me to work, despite the fact it is not permanent or even full-time – I am going to work. I’m doing so because it might lead to more work, but I recognise it might not. The chances are I will be unemployed again in a few months and I have no control over that.

This somehow met with abuse. It would seem we – the unemployed – can’t do anything to satisfy the rabid Tories. Not even while their party leader admits that unemployment is a problem. Not even when it’s obvious that unemployment is a global problem.

I’m told “get a job, you lazy bum”: The Telegraph (Torygraph) reported that there are at least 23 people chasing every job adding, “over the past year, the number of applications for each job vacancy has jumped by more than 50 per cent for customer service, secretarial and retail roles. An average of 46 candidates apply for each customer service job, 45 for each secretarial job and 42 for each retail job.”

I’ve been secured interviews, indeed I’ve been congratulated at interviews having being picked among almost 100 to make it to the shortlist. Sadly, there was one job available and I didn’t get it.

Still, my inability to get a job – despite applying for many for which I am over-qualified, many for which I’m under-qualified and thinking as laterally as Dali on LSD – is, to Tories, my fault.

I’m told “start up a business”: I don’t have enough money to start up my central heating so where I’m going to get funds to launch a business is beyond me. One would have to lead an odd life to think anyone, anywhere can start up a business. The romantic notion of having a market stall that turns into a chain of supermarkets is celebrated because it is remarkable.

Still, my inability to do so – despite volunteering to join the government-funded New Enterprise Scheme and having a business plan for a social enterprise – is, to Tories, my fault.

I’m told “a stint in Tesco’s/M&S/McDonalds would show you some humility”: I’m not able to get a job at McDonald’s or the other places. I fail to understand why people think just anyone can get these jobs. It’s not snobbery on my part but recognition from employers that I have zero experience in retail: it would be extraordinarily arrogant of me to assume I can just walk in and do these jobs. Employers also know I won’t stay working there for a moment longer than I have to because I want to earn more and do the work for which I qualified.

Still, despite working hard to gain qualifications which I was assured would secure me work for life, my current failure to don either a McDonald’s uniform or a Ronald McDonald suit is, to Tories, my fault.

I don’t mention my qualifications to appear superior but because I have them, I worked hard for them, and I still can’t find work. The change in education and our understanding of it as workers is discussed in an excellent video which states: “We were kept at school with a story that if you worked hard and did well and got a college degree you would have a job. Our kids don’t believe that and they’re right not to.” All workers are in this mess of mass unemployment together – whatever qualifications we do or don’t have.

I agree wholeheartedly with Owen Jones who says, “Mass unemployment is not an individual fault; it is not the product of millions of people ‘choosing’ to go on benefits out of a ‘lifestyle choice’; it is not the consequence of people failing to look hard enough for work. It exists because – to repeat myself – there is simply not enough work to go around.”

I saw – and still see – many jobs cuts in journalism and I became freelance. I worked in schools, wrote articles and taught at university where I was lucky enough to have my department pay for me to qualify as a lecturer. Then the axe fell in higher education and I struggled for a while – a good friend even paying my rent one month – until I had no choice but to sign on. I still haven’t been able to pay my friend the money I owe.

I rest assured that I’ve done all I can to find work, that I’m still doing all I can and will continue to do all I can. I now hope the coalition government will do something, anything to create jobs. No one chooses to live on £67.50 per week if there is an alternative.

Still the Tories – with a sociopathic lack of compassion – want us to blame ourselves for the state of the economy. They think we can’t recognise that we’re not responsible for a global economic crisis.

Instead they want to reform welfare cutting benefits and forcing people off the dole in search of jobs which don’t exist. Instead they stop Disability Allowance and force even more people – those unfit to work – to search for jobs which don’t exist. You can read more about this here. Instead they plan to stop Legal Aid for those challenging benefit decisions: intending to change the rules so it can’t be used to help people challenge mistakes despite the fact that inaccurate decisions push people into poverty. You can sign a petition to stop this here.

I can’t see how forcing people off benefits by arguing they can find work can make any sense to anyone during a global economic crisis, a national recession, when unemployment is at its highest in 17 years and when dozens of people are chasing each and every limited vacancy.

The Tories know that what they are spouting is economically and politically untrue. The Tories want to create a nasty narrative of hatred towards the unemployed, to blame individuals for their situation, despite global economic problems, and to divide and rule workers. This is easier than creating jobs and helps justify the vile decisions they’re taking which plunge individuals and families into abject poverty.

Wanting to leave people with no state help at all in such economic circumstance is, again, a lack of compassion beyond my understanding: I simply don’t hate and dismiss my fellow human beings in this way. To me, calling anyone a lazy bum for being unemployed in the current circumstances shows a lack of understanding of economics, political history – and a severe lack of empathy.

While we’re talking about the psychology of Tories, I also think their constant suggestion that we’re lazy bums, snobby and avoiding work is a massive psychological projection on their part.