Tag Archives: benefits

The Not-So-Needy

Bagged-Lunch-Program-Ted-Gurin-Portland-Oregon

The Saturday after my last post I bought a smoothie, some tea, a pasta salad and a flapjack. I found the beggar sitting outside my local supermarket and gave it all to him.

The man wore a grey wool hat. He had a vacant expression in his brown eyes and a straggly brown beard. He wore a scuffed grey overcoat and was sitting on a sheet. I explained that I was touched after watching the programme and hoped it would help. He did not smile or show appreciation with any facial expression but thanked me as he stared vacantly at me. This was not the response I was expecting but perhaps he was just really hungry.

Two men watching told me afterwards that he got picked up in a brand new Audi every day and lived on the other side of the city. Perhaps the Audi driver was his drug dealer that he owed money to, who knows. As I came out of the supermarket I saw him coming out with only the tea as he walked off. Had he just claimed a refund for the items? Or thrown them away?

The next weekend I saw him sitting in his usual spot enjoying a pizza.

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I felt a sinking feeling that people appearing destitute might be earning some extra money on the side or for someone else. Indeed, Nottingham homelessness charity Framework warns against giving to beggars as there is no way of knowing where the money is going. This warning came after someone who was not homeless was found with £800 of profits (pictured right). The only way to truly help a street person is to buy a Big Issue magazine or give to charity. I saw a good one called CentrePoint that buys them a room, offers counselling and trains them in skills they need to get work. You get regular updates on their progress. Next time I feel guilty I will give to them.

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Well if it’s on Prince William’s charity list…

Homeless people keep half of the profit they make from selling Big Issue magazines and it was an initiative started by a man who used to live on the streets himself. I went further up the road and bought the magazine. The man was called Ronaldo and smiled broadly as he asked how I was. He told me the magazine was £3.50 and kept me talking. When I asked how he was he smiled and said, “I’m good, it’s a nice day, it isn’t raining”. I thought it was inspiring that someone with nothing could be so positive. Later I realised he’d added a pound on to the retail value of the magazine, but I didn’t mind because I knew he genuinely needed it.

The magazine’s slogan was “supporting working, not begging” and the website states it is a “hand up, not a hand out”.

I would rather do that.

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Legally Representing Myself (Law DIY)

This is not me

This is not me

This morning I acted as my own legal representative for the first time. It was both intimidating and exciting.

Unable to afford official solicitors, I decided to try it myself. I made my own court bundle of evidence and made sure I read up onMan with Bound Book legal and case points beforehand.

I wrote on my previous post about my Employment Tribunal claim for non-payment of wages and constructive dismissal. I described how I worked for 5 weeks as an English language teacher without pay, despite being given a contract. The excuse was that I was going to be paid but there was trouble with the bank. It has been seven months and I have not seen a penny of it.

Today was the big day. I nervously deliberated about what to wear. I decided on a dark grey business dress with pin lawyer-786478stripes which stopped just before the knee and was slightly figure hugging, with opaque black tights. It did not have sleeves so I wore a simple black cardigan, as I knew from being a legal secretary that sleeveless clothing was frowned on in legal proceedings.

I attempted to print off extra documents with my expensive white elephant of a printer (it only works when it feels like it) and spent extra time preening. Thankfully two of my former colleagues, Marilyn and Karen, who had also not been paid, agreed to meet me there and were both allowed in the Hearing room.

We went into a concealed small entrance into what looked like unassuming offices. A receptionist told us to go up to the Claimant’s area and we were met by a kindly, reassuring usher, who was sympathetic and a good listener. She told us how the building used to be a children’s school and still had a playground on the roof. There was another Claimant in there, a middle aged bespectacled man, red-faced and perspiring profusely. He looked in horror at my chronological, alphabetically ordered court bundle, no doubt wondering whether my overkill was common practice. We were told we may have to wait an hour, as he had been called in first. However soon after she told us this, another Judge magically appeared and within a mere half an hour I was ushered in.

I helped myself to a glass of water with trembling hands and waited for the Judge to arrive. A few minutes later he Employment_Tribunalentered. He was a tall, middle aged, slightly balding man with glasses and an intellectual, laid-back air. He instantly dismissed all formalities with a wave of his hand and said there was no need to go to the Witness Box, as no Respondent had arrived. He explained that this was considered admission of guilt in itself, as by non-attendance the Respondent had suggested that there was nothing to defend. It was a Remedy hearing, so he had already considered my evidence and made a decision in my absence.

“this is a sad situation which I see time and time again”

He told me that I was entitled to gross compensation rather than net compensation for my Schedule of Loss. This is a document showing how much the company owed me for work, holiday and notice pay, and how much I had comparatively lost in wages since my alternative employment. Jobseekers Allowance was not added on to the claim. The Benefits Office would issue a claim to the Respondent for public money owed as a result of my resignation following non-payment. I was not entitled to statutory pay as I had not worked there for two years. I reminded him that I was claiming under the exception of asserting a statutory right. He got rather irritated, shifted about in his chair and said “I am aware of that”. I quickly apologised and accepted his explanation.

We moved swiftly on and it emerged that the Judge agreed with everything I had claimed for. He told me a Judgement ordering the pay of almost £6 000 was in order. However, he said that I could not enforce any Order he made in the Employment Tribunal. I would have to transfer it into the County Court for that, but he believed that was free. He suggested he had previously worked in the legal field before becoming a Magistrate, which was reassuring.

I pointed out that my former colleagues were victims too, at which point he remarked on our “sad situation” and said it was something he saw “time and time again” with “a steady stream” of cases coming through “all the time”.

“this new change is a rogue’s judgement and will side with employers”

He also warned that it was “highly unlikely” the Respondent would pay as a result of the Order and that I would money_972_19521169_0_0_7049696_300probably need to pay to get it enforced. However I have heard that all my former employees have been dismissed and she has just established a third business with a different name.

“there will no longer be any justice for the common man or woman”

We then had a discussion about the injustice of legal fees coming in to the system from the end of July. Again, he completely agreed with me. He stated that although he was supposed to be politically impartial, he had to say that the new change to the system was a “rogue’s judgement, as you would expect under the Conservatives”, incriminating employees when employers are just as often at fault as those they hire. He agreed that there would be far less cases being pursued like mine, resulting in more scam employers getting away with it.

He said “there will no longer be any justice for the common man or woman like you and me”. He told me that a case like mine would cost in the region of £1 300, and that even if I just pursued the most simple claim it would still be £350.

We left and as I walked down the steps of the humble old building I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. It was finally over. Or was it?

We had a coffee in some public gardens with a large fountain. We watched two men barbecuing chicken legs until they were ticked off by one park warden, then his colleague. After a while a “bobby on a bike” turned up and then they finally agreed to leave. They strolled off with baggy pants falling down as soon as the policeman began to talk into his radio.

The sun was out and I felt so content until I felt the sun burning my shoulders. We went for lunch in a cafe and talked more about our experiences. Marilyn, as the unofficial detective of our group of former (unpaid) employees had found out all sorts of information about our former Director.

Emboldened by my first legal representation, I decided we should march down to the Police station right then and police-helmetthere and update them on their ongoing investigation. The detective was absolutely excellent. She came out to meet us and attempted to take us into an interview room, but there were none free. I updated her on Proceedings and she was most surprised that I would not be able to enforce anything. After all, what is the point of an Order that the miscreant will just ignore?

After a progress update we felt reassured. Marilyn and Karen were grateful to meet her, as they had been interviewed by some of her colleagues previously.

I walked out into the sunshine with them feeling rather proud. Things were making progress, I had been awarded more than I claimed for, a Judgement would be sent in the post and the Police enquiry was picking up pace.

Maybe I should train to be a lawyer…

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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 or 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 I had run to ensure I could not be sanctioned for being late. The worst thing about being unemployed is being at the beck and call of the all-powerful Jobcentre who control everything from what you have to do next on the endless run of job skills workshops, to whether you get to eat or not.

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, judging by his overpowering natural cologne. He had been in the Jobcentre for two hours and he waited an extra 30 minutes to be seen, such was the backlog. His friend next to him 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 was sitting with her 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 girl who apologised for the delay 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 to inform them of this within 5 days my benefits would have continued. When I asked why I wasn’t contacted for 27 days she apologised again for the 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. (Update – I never got my money back).

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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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

Competition and Coffee Cake

Job-Seeker-01  job-competition

Are you in it to win it? Show the recruiter you are!

Today I took a bus then a train and then walked to get to the recruiters. There were so many applicants the employee would not tell me about the competition. He just said they did have 400 positions and now they have 50. I didn’t get interviewed for about half an hour as other candidates were dealt with first. This was good as it was an open-plan office, so I heard what was said. This helped me to get a job one time, earwigging on the questions.

The lady before me was interested in leaving her permanent job for the temporary position, for a change. She had good experience.

The next lady was from Holland. She had been out of work since early last year, having graduated from York University and then worked at M and S.

I sat there with my degree and all my worldly documents feeling a little uneasy, until the manager went round offering home-made coffee cake and there was a spare piece. Needless to say with my eagle eye on it he noticed. After succeeding with my cake application I sat there in seventh heaven, cream oozing between moist chocolate cake. The office faded out and all I was aware of was the taste sensation going on. A bake-off was proposed. I want to apply for another job in case they interview me next week, when a recruiter promised to make raspberry chocolate cake.

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Awakening me from this taste experience, someone rang up about the job I wanted. The agency had taken the advert board for it inside and I could see and hear why. It started on minimum wage and was for a month.

Allow me to share some of the things I have learned from this experience.

Network

  • I had heard about it through a friend and I couldn’t find it advertised. It’s all about networking. Ask for help on Facebook, ask friends and family.

Register with the agency before your meeting, and check it

  • Ensure your registration has gone through – mind hadn’t. The recruiter had to do it for me. He would have expected to process me quickly and he had the pressure of the next candidate waiting. 

Prepare 2 days in advance

  • I knew an assessment centre test was involved but I only started revising yesterday, and this affected my performance.

Bring bank statements to cover company absence

  • As I said in my previous post, you should make sure you have all your documents the day before. With references, if there are any gaps in your employment history, or if you have not worked for a company in that time, bring along your bank statements covering this period. 

Don’t consider the competition, consider why you’re the best

  • With a new burst of confidence from the coffee cake experience I decided that I would no longer be intimidated by the opposition.
  • Instead I would demonstrate why I was the best, and I planned how I was going to do that in my head. 

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A highlight of my travels into town in the morning is The (Mighty) Metro, a newspaper available free on the bus. It has all I need, plenty of sensational news and romantic/celebrity gossip. If I want to read more in-depth news I buy a paper – I feel the need to support print journalism as the industry is really suffering. I opened my saved copy. After chuckling out loud at a series of pictures of a border collie balancing Pringles and biscuits on its head I turned the pages to more news of economic gloom.

Jessops shop England UK. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown. _65329541_65329226 blockbuster_cut_2453342b

On Wednesday Republic fashion chain joined the host of high-street shops that have had to go into administration, with 2 500 jobs at risk. I then passed the store, decorated in bright signs advertising impending doom and REDUCTIONS ON ALL STOCK. A great time to be in work I thought as I gazed enviously at (still) unaffordable fashion. Last month 2,000 jobs were lost at Jessops, 4,190 at Blockbuster, and 4,123 at HMV, according to the paper. That’s over 10, 000 redundancies and thousands more on the way, not counting cuts to smaller and government businesses.

If you are/have been made redundant think of all that experience you gained. I’m sure it will be an asset on your applications. If things are tough maybe look at another area you could go into. The high-street is suffering from lack of spending as job security, spending power and consumer confidence have been affected. £375 billion has been put into circulation as a last resort, to no effect. The Metro suggested this was partly due to a “high turnover of Treasury stock-photo-869687-background-of-english-sterling-pound-notesstaff”. This means that due to budget cuts services may be affected. I have witnessed skeleton staff situations in the police and NHS, threatening front-line services. Surely money can be saved elsewhere.

Anyway I digress. After another security clearance to confirm that I am not a terrorist (in the American immigration department this involves a tick box question “are you a terrorist : Y/N) and possibly a submission of several months of bank statements I will wait and see whether an 80% test pass rate is acceptable…passfingers-crossed

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