Monday, January 31, 2011

How Your Government Works


Today I am not unemployed. No longer am I a dole scum. I'm so glad you're pleased.

Until now it had been costing the Great British taxpayer around £66 a week to keep me in the manner to which I had become accustomed. Woop woop! Rejoice! That should see the end of the recession and the re-employment of millions of unfortunate victims of Thatcherite capitalist greed.

Except it doesn't work like that. I am now a mere pawn in the massive game of statistical massage that goes on behind the scenes to convince you that your government is working for you. Bollocks is it. I'm still unemployed but for 13 weeks I'm on a course.

Today, at the insistence of the Department of Non-Work and Pensions Enhancement (Prop. Iain Duncan Smith, who wasn't exactly exemplary at holding his own job down), I started a work experience course. This aims to help me with my CV, provide resources to aid me in re-writing to all the companies who have hitherto rejected my previous approaches, only difference here being that I will be writing everything down on a white board in some cheap office accomodation and drinking free tea. Hopefully they will place me in a company for a few days a week to remind me of how it feels to do a job. This is not to be confused with cash-strapped employers getting staff on the cheap for a few weeks. Oh no. Definitely not.

I don't really need experience of work, I have done it before. Several times in fact. Apparently because I have been out of work for so long I am demotivated and need to have the experience of doing a job again before I er...get a job. I am not demotivated; I have an excruciating amount of debt to repay, to institutions and friends and family, this is motivation enough. I just don't really want to clean offices for 15 hours a week at 5 in the morning and earn less money than it costs me to drive to work. But to re-enthuse me and my fellow slackers, an outside training agency is employed at vast public expense. Moreover, should you actually become successful in your job search, the outside training agency already engaged at vast public expense will receive a reward from the government. I have yet to get my head around this arrangement. Even more moreover, the government is paying me another £15 a week for 13 weeks to do this. Should I be unsuccessful, I will revert to just being unemployed, not long-term unemployed, as if I'd been made redundant from a job I never had.

The real problem is that I voluntarily gave up a job in order to save the state a vast amount of money by helping to care for a family member and thereby keeping her out of hospital. Several years later I now find myself well into middle age and the skills and abilities that were appreciated 20 years ago are of little or no practical use to an employer, even though these skills are probably no different to those employed twatting about on Facebook. Because I don't have a degree in something that was done at the local technical college when I was at school, I am deemed under-qualified. The length of my CV, even without dates, works against me. The Department for Non-Work and Pensions Enhancement has done absolutely fuck-all to address these prejudices against the able yet unqualified middle-aged. Huh...the first notice I read on the wall in the training establishment as I made my second cup of free tea claimed that they were going to give me "advise on producing a CV". Go, as they say, figure.

After a few weeks of being newly unemployed, back in 2009, I approached the Department of Non-Work and Pensions Enhancement with an idea for a small business. I needed a bit of help with the finances though as I had no IT resources of my own and that's all I needed to get everything going as you can't try and run a business with an hour's internet time from the library or poncing off friends. A modest grant or bursary or loan would have seen me up and running and by now I would have been employing a couple of people and reinvesting in the local economy. I knew about local initiatives but I really wanted to test the system to see whether they really were doing everything they could to help. I was told to wait until I'd been unemployed 6 months when help would be forthcoming, they thought. It wasn't. I got stuck in a never ending circle, I couldn't really work up a plan when I couldn't devote the time I wanted to it. I couldn't devote time to it because then I wouldn't be able to do my jobsearch and would get no money to live on. Working up your own business plan being tantamount to skiving, when to be honest it involved a lot more effort than writing a couple of letters a week for jobs you knew you wouldn't get. I got demotivated, at least with regard to starting my own business. I got depressed. I got a promise of a job, and actually succeeded in getting a small contribution towards retraining from the DNWPE but my health prevented me from taking it up. It was frustrating. I got even more depressed. When I went to sign on and vented my frustration, not by shouting because I am very well-behaved, I was just told to "sign and date", usually by the patronising Scottish git who always seemed to deal with me when I was at my lowest. In two years only two people at the Jobcentre have ever showed me any empathy or did anything constructive to help me. One poor girl even told me she couldn't be seen to be overtly helping me as it was beyond her job description and it would be seen as favouring me. She did though. Bless you, Emma for using your initiative. Don't seek promotion, they'll kill it.

On the other hand, there is a strong argument for keeping a vast army of unemployed for precisely the reasons that I am now unemployable. We are not inactive, we are a mobile and capable sector of society that does things. We help out, we volunteer, we do odd jobs for the price of a pint or a gallon of petrol and by doing this we keep the social services at arms' length for hundreds of thousands. In turn our administration provides employment for legions of civil servants. It's trickle up. Cameron thinks he invented big society but as ever with a stinking-rich professional politican with bugger-all knowledge of the way people actually live (my entire house would fit in his downstrairs bog I suspect), he's way off the mark. Please don't vote for them, it only encourages them.

Otherwise I am as happy as the proverbial pig in poo.