Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Groping Scandal

Lord Rennard is accused of the sexual harassment of up to a dozen women

Lord Rennard is accused of the sexual harassment of up to a dozen women

Nick Clegg MP recently gave an accurate description of what journalists are – self-appointed detectives. They dig up the facts and then report them, exposing things liars, cheats and wrongdoers would rather keep hidden.

The media are the third estate – sometimes called on when power-abusers cannot be dealt with by the police or the law. They may be able to escape the legal system but they cannot risk their reputation. Parliament had failed to act on groping claims directed at Lord Rennard. He was a Lord “holding the purse strings for any winnable seat [in Parliament]” and abusing his power, behaving as he wished with no consequence. Women had apparently gone through official channels and been let down. His friend Lord Stoneham is now accused of harassing the lady who went to the press.

Lord Rennard's chum, Lord Stoneham

Lord Rennard’s chum, Lord Stoneham

The fact is that Lord Stoneham was responsible for his friend’s conduct and one would hope that he addressed it with him. It is alleged that he promised a victim he would. A groping offence is no laughing matter, I have suffered this walking out of a bar and I felt shocked and disgusted. It was a complete stranger. My manager once said “we could have sex right now and no-one would know” when the office was empty. I often spoke about my boyfriend to remind him that I was not interested. A previous colleague had alleged sexual harassment and it had been brushed off as “banter”. This it is certainly not. It is inappropriate, ignorant and disrespectful.

It’s time the offence stopped being viewed as something comical that women “bring on themselves” or worse, that they “should be flattered” or even “enjoy” it. Women in the scandal were dismissed as “red hot babes” “silly girls” and “hormonal women”. If a woman says no or becomes uncomfortable men should know when to stop. Lets shift the focus away from the victims and onto the perpetrators.

Another problem this story highlights is the issue of management accountability. I was once in a company where bullying of a colleague was addressed in the internal post, as the accused was friends with her manager. Prior to this, when it happened to me, I went through official channels with the perpetrator’s manager. I was hauled into her office for a good dressing down from both of them. The frustration colleagues felt was epitomised in this picture which they laughed about. >>>>>image0011

How can a situation be addressed when the person responsible for the accused’s conduct is their peer? Surely they would side with them, as seems to be the case in this scandal, with the result that the problem was not dealt with. This leads to whistle-blowing. Victims are then hounded. We need to have management systems whereby whistle-blowing is not necessary, where someone can address an issue with someone more senior – a “my door is open” approach.

When there is no redress for disgruntled workers this may result in a negative working environment. Productivity may decrease as a result. I was in a company that was the most successful branch in the country. They had a culture of communication – the managers would talk to you on the same level, would hold meetings with you and would listen. They would work with colleagues, not above them. We were inspired by their success.

As for sexual harassment, I expect to encounter this again as it is so endemic. I will not hesitate to point out that I am not OK with it and find it inappropriate, and I hope readers will. If it is not addressed it will only continue.

Lets make management more approachable and accountable and lets stamp out sexual harassment, not only in the workplace but elsewhere.

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The Power of Networking

Since I threw the stone advertising unemployment into the Facebook lake, there have been quite a few ripples, as old school friends got in touch saying they knew about something or could ask for me.  As the Japenese saying goes, a rolling stone gathers moss.

These positions were available through agencies that were not based in the city where the job was. So there would have been no chance of me knowing about them otherwise. In these intensely competitive times, it’s not what you know but who you know. It’s a case of contacts – from a course you attended, college, university.

At first I was too ashamed to broadcast my job seeking status. I thought it seemed like failure when many of my graduate friends were in nice impressive jobs. I’m rather envious of a guy from my year who is now a broker at Christies, constantly posting pictures of his champagne lifestyle. By their mid-20s it seems most graduates have found decent/steady employment.

I told one friend that no, I was not above doing warehouse packing – any job to release me from the state’s shackles.

Speaking of which, I waited 45 minutes for my Jobcentre appointment to make a new claim. Security staff hovered about occasionally as I sat there, steam coming out of my nostrils. I had paid 20p extra on a quicker bus and run to ensure I could not be sanctioned for being late.

I had a job to apply for and I had to send in details before 5. This didn’t happen. I was expecting a call back about a legal matter (more on that story when it gets to court). This did not happen as I can only be contacted on my home telephone – my mobile is broken and I cannot afford a replacement. The charger on my old replacement mobile has broken so I need to buy another. There are always things to be bought.

I sat next to a guy who was being text by an angry girlfriend, unhappy about his financial situation, or maybe about his personal hygiene, with his overpowering natural cologne. He had been in the Jobcentre for two hours and  waited another 30 minutes to be seen, such was the backlog. His friend had just got a delivery driver job. He had his tracksuit on, hood up and was bouncing about with suppressed joy. A girl on the other side of the room with bright red hair sat, nose aloft, reading a novel the size of War and Peace, wearing a tracksuit but with walking boots instead of trainers. We almost quick marched out of the place and into each other.

I understood this display, having read The Week in an effort to show that I most certainly did not belong here thank you very much. I also didn’t like the way we seemed to be called “customers”. I wasn’t buying anything, I just needed temporary financial aid. The sooner I could escape from this two week cycle of despair the better.

Finally I was seen by a lovely young lady who said sorry for the wait and continuously apologised for Jobcentre policies. I had apparently been penalised because I hadn’t been in to sign on. Why? Because they’d referred me to a “Finding and Getting a Job” course and I was on that. When I pointed this out she tentatively said that had I contacted them within 5 days my benefits would have continued. When I asked why I wasn’t contacted for 27 days she apologised and said this was policy.

I once again provided every payslip for my Saturday job, but still have to fill in a form telling them what they say. I have applied to get the money back for the past 26 days, but this depends on a God-like decision-maker, sitting in some cushy office upstairs with that all-important rubber stamp.

But I won’t be messed around for long – things are looking up…

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Staring poverty in the face

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Today I was informed by the Jobcentre that due to my appointment missed three weeks ago, I would no longer receive benefits, leaving me with £85 a month to live on.

I had attended that place of misery and contempt the day before to see my adviser. She put me on a two day “Finding and Getting a Job” training course, which I found useful. I attended it unaware that I was no longer receiving any support from the Jobcentre.

I had provided all evidence of my Saturday job, only for my employer to be asked to provide more information.

lifelineA friend said his benefits had been stopped for two weeks, after telling them in advance that he would not be able to attend an appointment. He never received money owed. I have heard of people being sent to interviews when they do not meet the basic job description.

They had all my personal details, why did it take 27 days for them to contact me? Why couldn’t they have asked why I missed the appointment, or at least given me warning that my lifeline was about to be cut?

Stop playing with my money Jobcentre! Unemployment is no game.

Stop playing with my money Jobcentre! Unemployment is no game.

Luckily although I am nearly out of money to live on, I have received support from family and friends. I have food parcels, tins and the freezer stock. I walk wherever I can to save on public transport. I am making do with a mobile on which I can hardly hear someone’s voice, rather than buying a new one. “Make do and mend” and “waste not want not” are my new job war mottos.

What is annoying is that I did everything that was asked of me. When I was aware I had forgotten for the first time I rang them up and went in on the day. I provided full evidence of my Saturday work and full evidence of my job hunt, I attended all meetings apart from two which I forgot, as I attended the Jobcentre so regularly it was difficult to keep up. I will need a diary now just to put their appointments in.

Despite having a first in Careers Development I even went to the optional (so I was told when I attended) Group Information Session, where I was reminded about how I look for work, along with repeated information about sanctions this, sanctions that.

Where is the compassion? Where is the accountability? Where is the respect for those who are suffering? As a big faceless organisation I do not know who to address my complaint to. I don’t want to bite the hand that literally feeds me, but if I had more financial commitments I would have been tearing my hair out for the 26 days it took them to write to me.

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An adviser smirked when I said that I could now buy a printer as I had food. It seemed like a big expense, but I needed to print out job search documents without paying 10p per sheet at the library every time.

In between saving up for one, I was referred to their free printing service. It involved a computer with a program different from Word, so every time I copied and pasted from Word it wouldn’t format and I spent about an hour playing about with it until my c.v could actually be printed on two pages. The reason given was “Word is expensive”. Once finally sorted, I had to ask permission from an employee to take it off the printer. You don’t get much more patronising than that.

There was no one to assist and while I was struggling, I heard two employees chatting. One imitated a man’s broken English. This father had just come in to get a bus pass so that he could take his children to school. I found the lack of understanding and respect disgusting. Clearly he had never experienced the daily financial hardship of being unemployed. The job seeker was desperate and needed his help yet he and his colleague thought it appropriate to joke about his language ability, something which was probably holding him back.

My adviser was really helpful and thankfully had people skills. I won’t be referred to her this time I expect. I am going to the Jobcentre tomorrow to get myself off the streets, so to speak. Although thankfully I have accommodation provided for. I would now be in debt as a result of the delay, had I not saved.

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No Horse-Play with Local Meat

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There’s a lot to be said for keeping it local. Now more than ever, as it was found yesterday that horse meat containing a banned vetinary drug had entered the food chain from Britain.

“Six contaminated carcasses were shipped from Britain to France”

Traces of the substance phenylbutazone or bute, an anti-inflammatory drug were found, but it is not harmful in small doses. Six contaminated carcasses were shipped from Britain to France, and half had already been processed and is on its way to supermarkets. After previous scandals with our meat, such as the mad-cow and foot-and-mouth disease, it’s a wonder our neigh-bours across the sea still accept our exports.

In France the meat was much less common and considered working-class fare. Now though, it seems they want to see what all the fuss is aboutFrench equine butchers have seen a 15% rise in profits – they still enjoy eating horses for courses but they want it drug-free. Here there has been curiosity about it too, Findus beef “100% horse” lasagne was being sold for £70 on E-bay before sellers were reigned-in.

Although we have shouted about it til we’re horse, many people have already consumed vetinary drugs recreationally – ketamine (K), a tranquiliser causing incontinence, remains popular with 200 000 using it last year, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales. I once saw someone hallucinating with it, hiding under a table, in another world. Perhaps this scandal will affect its popularity.

We already knew ready-meals were bad for us, being high in sugar and salt, but maybe more people will cook from scratch now. I was not caught up in the hype – you never really know whether suppliers have horsed around with your bolog-neihse when when you eat processed food anyway. I was not surprised 200px-Donkey_from_Shrekthat products were beefed up. Then we discovered we’d really been an ass buying cheap meat as donkey was found. Animal DNA kit manufacturers must be ass-tounded by the sales increases.

An upshot of this is that people are supporting their local shops more – The National Federation of Meat and Food Traders reported a 15% increase in sales at independent butchers, as people turn to sources they can trust.

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When I went to my local farm event this week most of the shoppers were interested in the meat, 100% from animals who roam free (less fat).

Reasons to support your local butchers and greengrocers:

1. It may be slightly more expensive, but you get what you pay for – food which is generally tasty, wholesome and organic. My friend and I found that prices were about the same as supermarket organic food, and some products were actually cheaper.

2. Small shops have a vested interest in providing quality products – they need the business, unlike supermarkets who need to get rid of a certain quota. There will always be enough customers for supermarkets, whereas independent stores have to work harder to keep their patrons.

3. By buying local, you’re supporting your community – the farmers, shop owners, and the local customers who rely on the convenience and quality just as you do. The profits go back into your area.

A friend gets a weekly vegetable box delivered which is filled by nearby farms. The products are full of flavour, ready-to-eat and a good size.

I have got into cooking recently and the extra time spent making meals from scratch is well worth it. Using fresh ingredients makes a healthier and tastier meal. Jamie Oliver recommends organic produce but recent studies indicate this is no more healthy or environmentally-friendly than standard varieties. They do taste better though, and you often get more for your money. His Ministry of Food book is inspiring in getting beginners to have a go. It’s easily accessible and he has made an effort to use simple, cheaper ingredients. I would recommend using truffle oil as a treat sometimes though – it adds a rich flavour.

Click this link for more horse jokes.

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Pros and Cons of Unemployment

You’re probably wondering how there could possibly be any upsides to unemployment. But some of the negatives have a silver lining…

Negatives

1. Financial hardship

Most of us do not get much in benefits and every time you go shopping you have to be aware of your dwindling bank balance. You have to budget according to your reduced income.

2. Cold callers article-2167683-0C6EFE84000005DC-962_468x286

Thinking it’s that important interview call you rush to the phone, only to hear it’s some rude dimwit advertising something you have no interest in!

3. Daytime TV

4. Negative attitudes towards your job status snooty

Don’t listen to them though, it’s just ignorance.

5. Lack of company

Most people you know are working and you’re home alone noting down details of every job you’ve ever done and every qualification you’ve ever achieved.

Positives

1. You have more time

You may be busy filling in application forms and doing interviews, but in between you have time to enjoy yourself (albeit with free or cheap activities).

2. You can go to events during the week

I went to a lambing event yesterday, something I couldn’t have done if I was working. I saw piglets, I had a meerkat on my shoulder and saw a skink, armadillo and racoon for the first time! Unfortunately the 80 lambs were 4 days overdue and didn’t appear. We just saw a lot of grumpy sheep standing about, scoffing so much hay you weren’t sure which lump was baby and which was belly.

3. You learn/have to be more sensible with money images

As it runs out, you think of ingenious ways to save, such as living on tins and frozen food! You should minimise expenses or debt will be your enemy. You may start going to your grandparents for Second World War/post-war saving advice. In those days it was “waste not, want not”! We need to remember the wisdom of  previous generations facing harder times than we are in today.

4. You can enjoy the sunshine

I went for a run this week in the glorious sunshine under a bright blue sky and took in the scenery. Usually I’d be in an office during the week. You may miss the sun as you work, and when you get home you may be too tired to enjoy the fading light. Now you can enjoy daylight hours outdoors. You may have more energy to enjoy the day. You can get a good sleep with fewer early starts.

5. There is good support for Job seekers

Unlike other countries, we are lucky enough to have a welfare system. I have heard of free training courses which may help me find work. I have already made use of free interview training. People are generally understanding because they’re aware of the tough job market situation.

5948249-piggy-bank-squeezed-by-a-measuring-tape--concept-for-money-is-tight-budgeting-squeezing-money-out-ofTurn the negatives into positives

Money is tight, but when we do have it,  we may be thrifty enough to start saving or spend more wisely. Maybe you do a training course and edge out the competition to get the job. Your dream job is still out there, there are just more people applying for it, so you have to stand out from the crowd (this does not mean wearing a pink suit to an interview). You may have had more interview practice than employed people going for the same job so you may perform better.

Of course we all want a job, but when we fall on hard times it’s best to make lemons into lemonade, rather than eating them and getting bitter.

Another blog writer suggests throwing the lemons you’ve received back at life!
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is an expression meaning when life gives you negatives, turn them into positives.

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February 22, 2013 · 1:48 pm

Struggling to find work? Could be your degree!

I had an interview yesterday where a manager said “yes but you have a  degree, it seems such a waste”. I had just said to the panel that due to my study of medieval literature, the Latin spellings in the typing would be no problem. I got  a funny look.

“My degree is a hindrance rather than a help”

I had a job-specific qualification, but not in that particular field. Management were hinting that a degree meant I wouldn’t stick around, and asked me why I had left my previous secretarial job. In a small city with a lack of degree-related jobs it is necessary to look at other areas. Graduates are two-a-penny, so I have worked in non-graduate jobs as well.

TEFL-diploma

I can no longer use my English teaching postgraduate qualification, as the government has made a “Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector” Certificate compulsory. I realised after the first lesson that it’s the same course I did with a different name. My expensive qualification is unusable due to this policy.

“As Nick Clegg MP said, “the minimum wage is not a living wage””

I have another interview next week – the care sector is expanding as the ageing population grows, and I have found the search there quite fruitful. The problem is that even if they don’t require you to have a qualification (for something I have done for years), or don’t require you to have your own car, you’re lucky if you get more than £7 an hour. You are probably less well off on minimum wage than you are on benefits. But MP David Cameron is cutting benefits rather than raising the £6.19 hourly rate.

How can Mr Cameron understand the plight of those struggling on a daily basis? I wonder how he would cope living on the breadline. I have known people who after bills, rent and student loan payments are deducted are left without enough money for food. How are they supposed to save for a pension?

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clegg-300Nick Clegg MP nailed it when he said that “the minimum wage is not a living wage” in Parliament. Mr Clegg is a dedicated, caring, lovely politician who has helped me as his constituent, despite being responsible for central government matters.

“Some roles require NVQs for jobs I have already done”

I have become aware that my degree is a hindrance rather than a help. I will have to directly address concerns about it at interview. Of course it depends what type of degree you have. Those I know with a post graduate teaching qualification are all in work. Those that graduated in I.T and maths have mostly found work.

I have applied for 5-10 jobs every day for the past month and a half and I have had three interviews. I have applied for work in two sectors. Some roles requires NVQs which I cannot afford to do, although I have already done the jobs.

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It is stressful being in work, all the outgoings mean that the average person is not much better off. It’s tough being out of work too – usually I would go halves on food when my sibling visits but as I am living off tins and pasta I cannot afford to do that. I have found that if I spend more than £2 on an item of food during my weekly shop I go over budget. Meat is a luxury, as are other things I used to take forgranted, like pop tarts…

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“People are surprised when they hear I can barely feed myself”

Some people get fooled by the media and think that the dole is cushy, that people just lie around waiting for their handouts.  They are surprised when they hear I barely have enough per week to feed myself.

There is lots of temporary work available, and some people who are desperate bounce from that to the dole, as I have done since I graduated. This short term work means I have not been able to get enough experience to do permanent roles. Those jobs are like gold dust.

Wages are low, with the average wage in administration being £14 000 per year and for care work £11-14 000. If you are prepared to move opportunities may be better.

“I have encountered discrimination on my job status”

Times are hard, but if you are unemployed you need to keep hope and keep hunting. Your c.v should be fresh with voluntary work/part time work too. I like to talk about my Saturday job at interview because it shows that I am not just sitting around getting money for nothing. Indeed I think the proportion of jobless people doing this is smaller than is widely assumed.

I have encountered discrimination on my job status which surprises and disgusts me. I am avoiding meeting new people as one of the first questions people ask is “what do you do?”. Our identities are defined by what we work as. Sometimes we are judged accordingly.

118E9573F5AEE9CB4B9EC713D844_h316_w628_m5_cLLkGXHSBIt is easy to use those out of work as scapegoats, as some in government like to do. The media encourages this too – just the other day I saw the story about a lady on benefits with 11 kids and a pet horse! But I think a much larger proportion of us are desperate for work and are trying.

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February 21, 2013 · 6:06 pm

Looks are deceiving

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On Saturday my boyfriend booked a “Royal” “Hotel” in Birmingham. The rooms looked modern and clean and the price was reasonable, reduced by £20.

As our taxi drove up the road we spotted a prison and a housing estate with an equally high fence. Then we stopped in front of a rundown pub. There were people hanging around it smoking with their beer. We both checked whether this was indeed the “Royal” “Hotel”. The pub’s car park was labelled as the hotel one. As my boyfriend crashed up the kerb entrance, we saw youths in tracksuits smoking and drinking outside the pub disco – all 90s music played through a sound system of the same era. Asbestos hung out of the car park ceiling where something had crashed into it.

Making our way past the leering locals, and already feeling rather out of place, we squinted in the disco lights as we were assaulted by noise. I wondered if the car would last the night and what delights we could expect in our accommodation. Trying to find reception, we walked through the disco and into the main pub. We spoke to the barman, and minutes later a pleasant, thin, anxious young man appeared. He took payment at the bar and then accompanied us. It was a bizarre experience being in a pub disco waiting for our hotel lift to arrive.

The second floor was completely different. There were modern-looking hotel rooms and framed pictures of the city centre in the cleaned corridors. We were shown into our room. The bed was a decent size and I was impressed with IMG_0853[1]the cleanliness. Instead of a kettle they had a “Tea-Mate”, a fast boiling tea pot. This looked fancy so I took the pot out and had a look. Mould floated in the water. I poured it out. It was marked with multiple drinks.

We left for Birmingham city centre. I was amazed at the size of the buildings, towering around us. I felt as small as an ant in a human’s world. The taxi driver remarked that there were too many people in Birmingham. He said there was a big problem with illegal immigrants putting a strain on the city, and that developers had demolished the beautiful old buildings and replaced them with ugly new architecture like the Bullring. He took us to Chinatown, as we wanted a reasonably priced restaurant meal.

496We found a diner, China Town Noodle Bar, off the main street. The decor was basic, just laminated wooden tables and plastic chairs. I was put off, but my boyfriend was keen. I was persuaded when I noticed the customers were mostly Chinese. We were seated in front of a roast duck, complete with head and legs, and a roast chicken, shining as they rotated. I’d never seen a whole cooked duck before. I ordered some in a noodle soup. It was delicious, and I had it with cream soda, not generally available when eating out.

We had a great night. When we collapsed into bed in the “4*” “hotel” we realised that our “bed” was in fact beds put together. A thin sheet covered the mattress.

At 7.40 there was knocking on the door and incoherent shouting. My boyfriend was asked to move his car as it was in the way. He’d only parked in the space because someone was reversing out of it. I opened the curtains to our grit bin and road view. My throat, dry like paper, demanded a drink. There was none due to the bacteria-laden pot. So I had a shower with the “toiletries” – two thin pink soaps. It was really powerful and I enjoyed it until I began wading in the previous occupant’s dirt from the partially-blocked drain.

I avoided the exfoliating towel and used my own. With filthy feet we went to breakfast. There were no staff around, although we were 5 minutes before closing time. Finally the cook came down and grumbled as much as our stomachs. He told us he had cooked for 15 but only 9 had booked, so it was a case of “making do” with what was available. We had never experienced this sort of customer service before. Apparently when guests complained about the noise keeping them up, he told them they “should have slept in the day instead”!

I sat down expecting scraps. In fact we got a lovely cooked breakfast, so it didn’t matter that the toast was burnt. “Was everything ok?” asked a barmaid as we left. I didn’t have the heart to comment.

The moral of the story? If you’re booking a hotel, check it out on Google Map street view first. Our “hotel” had good reviews on our booking website, so always check Trip Advisor first.

On the other hand, don’t be put off by the appearance of a diner/restaurant. It may serve excellent food despite the decor.

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