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My First Pandemic

coronavirus

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If you want a break from continuous Covid-19, I have an article coming soon about my Philippines adventures. The photos and memories are an escape from the chaos.

The threat emerged in China. It was awful but far away.

“Don’t go” my aunt begged. But there were few cases in the Philippines. I was going via Singapore. People had spread it at their airport and a London airport shortly before I arrived back, but it was not a common event.

Someone on the plane has a fever.

A poster at a bus stop, beside a nurse who was coughing profusely.

We were hovering over Heathrow when cabin crew marched quickly up the plane, one wheeling a suitcase. There was a flurry of activity up the aisles and a curtain was yanked shut.

“Just to let you know, someone on the plane has a fever” announced the captain. There was stifled anxiety and a father was explaining the situation to his child.

We landed and a health visitor distributed forms. Unlike the cabin crew, reassuringly, he was not wearing a mask, just gloves. Waiting outside the plane a medical professional stood wide-eyed, wearing a hazmat outfit with a clear visor covering her face.

Days passed and I heard nothing, so I forgot about the pesky plague.

Then it came to Italy and coronavirus contaminated my newsfeed.

I’ve got a temperature.

My boyfriend had gone skiing in the North Italian Alps in February and there was a good offer for the Austrian mountains, in Tirol.

“Do you need another ski holiday?”

“It’s not for long” he replied.

I said goodbye on the 1st of March.

“I’ve got a temperature so I’ve come back from work early” the text read, on Wednesday 11th.

He phoned NHS111.

“You haven’t been to an affected area so you don’t need a test” they responded. No mention of infection control.

The first UK nationals returning with the virus had been on holiday to Europe. A friend who had dared to enjoy the Sagrada Familia and Sangria in Barcelona was now cuddling her cat in bed.

sagrada familia

We never get ill. Not like this.

Worried, I text my boyfriend. “What are your symptoms?”

“Headache, aches, sore throat, cough and my chest feels tight”.

“You must isolate.”

“I’ll go back to work when I’m feeling better.”

Day 3:

“How are you?”

“Temp going up and down now. Woke up last night with the heat, had some really weird dreams. It’s strange how a fever affects you.”

loo roll lockdown

On Saturday 14th March the panic started.

It was day 4 of my boyfriend’s fever but it was finally dropping. I wanted to be sure.

I desperately visited every shop in a five mile radius.

Boots nearby? sold out.

Boots in town? sold out.

Superdrug? sold out.

Argos? sold out.

John Lewis? didn’t sell them.

Online? sold out all over England.

This could have put his life in danger. Why were they so selfish? Why didn’t they have thermometers? Why didn’t we have thermometers?

Because we never get ill. Not like this.

The media started announcing a daily coronavirus count. There would be bulk-buying. But to my surprise it was business as usual in the pharmacy that morning. There was still a sense of calm. Everything was in stock apart from most of the paracetamol. I bought two lots of products to ease flu. One for me, one for my boyfriend.

A man in the queue turned and looked at my basket, whispered to his wife and walked to the side to wait for his prescription, staring at me nervously as I purchased the items.

“Is this just for you?” the retailer asked.

“No, it’s for someone else as well” I said smiling, as the shop went silent and people gawped.

I was in Waitrose looking for snacks. The bread shelf was empty. The flour shelf (to make bread) was nearly empty. The pasta shelf? empty. The soap shelf? empty. The medicine shelf? empty. The Vitamin C shelf? empty. The toilet roll shelf? empty. Why? “Well at least there’s still beer” someone joked.

star wars corona 1

A nurse was crying in her car after trying to get food. She has now come down with it too, possibly. My brother came back from an A and E shift in Wales to find his supermarket almost empty. My sister found the same in London.

I was going to see a friend that night when she messaged. “Sorry, I have discussed it and we don’t think it’s a good idea”, explaining that her boyfriend had asthma and sending a link to government advice on social distancing. I don’t know when I can visit her again.

Some people have had to make the heartbreaking decision not to see grandparents,parents, partners or even their own children.star wars corona 2

Only £94 sick pay.

The Prime Minister’s announcement came on Sunday 15th. All those with symptoms were to isolate for seven days. My boyfriend now needed to stay home for another four days.

“Great, that’s only £94 sick pay.”

“Think of the vulnerable and older people you’ll be protecting.”

I went swimming with a friend and we went in the steam room, with no steam. I had not wanted to go in but there was only one other person.

My friend is a cancer survivor and had been told she was “medium” risk. She has now received a letter telling her she was one of the 1.5 million English nationals that could end up in hospital from the virus. She had been out on the town until midnight, should she worry about it? she asked. No, I replied. Better to go out now than at the peak of the epidemic in mid-April or May. I sent her a flowers and wine delivery with some of the last Merlot left in the city. Yesterday I won the last sour cream in my neighbourhood and last week I bought the last two packets of chicken in the supermarket. Yet I was frustrated one day when I forgot to buy the vegetables for dinner and couldn’t make another trip for a single cabbage.

Her colleagues got coronavirus taking blood.

I later read that the virus was easily spread in Chinese gyms. But again the source was not revealed, so could not be verified. Fake news and “medical” advice began to infect social media, including gargling with salt water for “protection” and holding your breath for ten seconds meant you had “virus-free” lungs. You could “wash the virus away from your lungs” by drinking tea and “kill the virus” by sunbathing.

I informed my friend that the “e-mail circulated in a hospital” was  actually government guidelines with a smattering of lunacy.

The only way to avoid contagion is to keep your distance and wash your hands.

But the public think that does not apply if you are outdoors, so now, as of Monday 23rd we are all on lockdown and gatherings of more than two people are banned. Countryside car parks are shut and the roads are almost empty, perfect for cycling. Meanwhile, our heroic key workers are keeping the country going, including my siblings. My sister worked on the “front line” for two weeks without adequate Personal Protective Equipment and four staff at her hospital tragically died. Her colleague got coronavirus taking blood with only gloves on, and survived.

My brother got infected from his girlfriend who worked on a coronavirus ward. Luckily they got off with a cough and fatigue.

From day 4 onwards my boyfriend started to get better.  His sore throat eased and he no longer had a temperature.

A week later, his only irritation was an inflamed nose and a reduced sense of smell. His housemates did not get infected as he kept his distance, wiping kitchen and bathroom surfaces after touching them.

The Guardian has recently reported that around 70% of infectious people have few or no symptoms. With that figure it is easy to understand why numbers are increasing rapidly. This is from a reputable source, a microbiology professor.

Help others more and read the news less.

Now, every time I get home I wash my hands and wipe down anything I have touched before that. I have even started spraying my shopping in case it has been touched by someone who has coughed coronavirus onto their hands. It is so unlikely, but why take that chance.

People suffering from anxiety have told me that the worry around them has made theirs worse.

The most effective way I have found of dealing with the apocalypse is to help others and to read the news less.

One useful story referred to Mutual Aid groups mobilising volunteers on social media. I joined one and bought some items for a local family.

Do you think she’ll get worse?

A family of four was isolating due to their daughter having a cough. She would give me money. I gave her my details for an online transfer instead. The money could have the virus on it. “I will stand three steps away” I replied.

There was the patter of little feet running to the door. A toddler peered up at me with bright eyes.

“She doesn’t seem to have a temperature” I remarked.

“No, she just has a cough” her mother replied.

“She probably doesn’t have it then” I said, hoping to reassure her.

“But children aren’t as badly affected are they.”

“Well no, that’s true.”

“Do you think she’ll get worse?” she asked.

“No, if she’s only got a cough she should be ok, and like you say, children aren’t as badly affected.”

“Will I get it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What if I get it? Will I get it worse?”

“Well have you got a good immune system?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any underlying health conditions?”

“No.”

“You should be fine then.”

She thanked me and I left, assuring her that I’d message her if I needed anything. I delivered more bread and milk a few days later.

A board read “GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”

Last weekend we went on a walk with my boyfriend’s mother. As we expect that he is immune, we were not worried about him spreading it. He will not be able to see them now until the non-essential travel ban is lifted. Roadblocks have begun to spring up on local motorways.

A fast-tracked emergency bill is ensuring that new infection control laws can be enforced.

Walk with Jonny's mum

The beautiful Pigeon Tower above Upper Rivington Reservoir in Lancashire. Copyright literarylydi

I tried to keep my distance from in case I was asymptomatic (infectious but with no symptoms). We also tried to create some distance with groups walking past. It was only a problem if they coughed or sneezed the virus, but better safe than sorry. Irritatingly we ended up sandwiched in between groups of people and sharing narrow paths with them.

No one was willing to keep their distance. We wiped our hands before eating and at the car before we went home, as we had been touching gates.

corona chaos 1

That land is now shut.

On the way home in the Peak District, we saw a board that read

“GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”

The streets were nearly empty and older people were all inside, isolating for 3 months.

At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.

But there were people sitting in parks, walking and cycling. I doubt we will see icecream vans for a long time, maybe not even in the warmer months.

I have been watching “Summer of Rockets” on the BBC recently and it has reminded me that things could be worse. At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.

Audio poems are soothing, those who are creative can find comfort in the arts. Those who are practical are doing more D.I.Y, the drilling disturbing my work. But at least I could cook myself lunch and spend the rest of the break shooting hoops.

There are entertaining videos and memes doing the rounds. An unemployed sports commentator has done commentary for everyday events, such as the “South East halloumi-buying champions” frequenting Waitrose.

There was a video of the actor Antony Hopkins playing the piano with his cat on his lap.

corona cuteness

Classic FM/Instagram / @AnthonyHopkins

I have also found it helpful to try not talking about it, to absorb yourself in escapist programmes and do what you can, instead of fretting about what you can’t.

No, we can’t go to schools, universities, gyms, pubs, clubs, cafes, clothes shops or restaurants (as of Saturday). We might not be able to see our family, friends or colleagues in person, maybe even our children.

But we can see them online, as long as the Internet withstands the increased demand.

We can do so many things in our homes or individually to entertain ourselves and exercise, so we must enjoy that.

Stay three steps away from others, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth and wash your hands when you get home.

The poem If by Rudyard Kipling is good to keep in mind: “if you can keep your head, when all about you. Are losing theirs[…]you’ll be a Man, my son”.

My favourite is Warning, by Jenny Joseph.

As they said in another war: “Keep calm and carry on.”

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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

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?

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 27 days it took them to write to me.

An adviser smirked when I said that I could now buy a printer as I had food. It was 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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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?

  5857387835_637b75b1cd_z

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.

man-in-debt

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…

pop-tarts1

“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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Interviews are like Exams – prepare to succeed!

Employment blog – useful advice
http://80000hours.org/blog/109-should-we-stop-interviewing-people *Clean-shaven!

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Revise and you are more likely to get a good result! Preparation makes perfect.

If you want a positive outcome you have got to know what you’re talking about and go in with all the documents you need.You need to revise and get everything you need in advance to save rushing and panicking on the day. Then you need to make sure you get there on time, but not more than 15 minutes early or they may think your time-management skills are off.

Read on for advice which I hope enables me to pass my interview tomorrow. I have another one next week – look at the rest of my posts for more advice which has helped me with my jobhunting mission.

Left or right? I have a striped and plain shirt, which should I choose? it’s an office job.

Check out http://www.jobiety.com/9-tips-for-dressing-for-interview.html for more interview dressing advice

– Looks

Are your work shirt and trousers ironed? are your work shoes clean and shiny?are your tattoos covered? is your hair neat/tied back? is your dress or skirt knee length or longer? are your earrings subtle? is your make up/jewelry subtle? I avoid wearing jewelry. A nice watch should suffice, although mine no longer tells the time…

Proof

– Papers

Have you got all the relevant certificates? especially for essential qualifications.

Have you got your passport and driving licence? have you got two proofs of address (bank statement/bill/bank card and cheque book)? National Insurance proof – P45 or P60 or card?

Have you got references? Check that former employers are prepared to give you one in advance. I need 3 years worth – that’s all the contact details of pretty much everyone I’ve ever worked for…Check the list and make sure you have all the documents and photocopies of them, so you look really organised and efficient.

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– Essential skills

Have you practiced them? I need good spreadsheet knowledge, so I’m reminding myself. No good saying I Excel at them if I can’t prove it!

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She's thinking about how her cv skills match the job description!

She’s thinking about how her cv skills match the job description!

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– Have you got down potential answers to potential questions?

This is important for the competency-based questions. Check what qualities they want from you. E.g attention to detail, and think about how your previous work highlights those skills. Prepare your answers and analyse them. Are they the best examples?

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– Travel time

Once you have everything you need make sure you know how long it will take to get there in total – including walking to the bus stop/train station and from there to the interview. If you’re driving, check out where you will park and leave time for it. Check you have enough money for transport costs.

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– Preparation time

Give yourself double the time you usually take to get ready in order to make sure you have everything and remind yourself of the skills you are going to highlight and how.

 – Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes

1. What would you ask to find the right person for your company?  2. Plan your answers. 3. What would they want to hear? How does this compare with what you have planned to say?

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Finally don’t be beaten by nerves! Think about why you’re the best for the job and convey your positive attitude. This will convince the interviewer too, if they can see that you believe in your skills.

I intend to go in there tomorrow fully prepared and therefore confident that I am the one and they would be losing out by not picking me.

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