Tag Archives: unemployed

The Jobcentre from 2008 to 2018 – the view from the shop floor.

It was astounding how much the Jobcentre had changed.

When I was first unemployed a decade ago, following graduation in the summer of 2008, the queue usually went out of the entrance.

Today there was only one person in front of me with sleeves of tattoos, ripped jeans and a cap. He was sent downstairs to the long-term unemployed section. I had been there for one appointment before I finally got work. That is where you go when you have been down and out for more than six months. It is like going down into hell, a pit of despair and depression with “customers” who look like they gave up on life a long time ago.

Today was my first appointment at Jobcentre Plus plc. Hopefully my one and only, I thought, as I scanned those waiting. They were all on their phones with the exception of one young guy who had his headphones on. There was a chair for everyone today, I had never seen the Jobcentre this quiet. Five years ago in 2013, there were always people milling around the lobby as there weren’t enough seats to go round. There would be maybe 30 people waiting. Today there were probably about 8. The Jobcentre is a micro snapshot of our economy. From where I was sitting, the economy had never been so strong.

There were two mothers with prams and I was soothed by a babbling baby as I read a book about the experience of flying by a pilot. It was a thought-provoking and I was able to get absorbed.

I lost track of time but I must have been waiting at least 20 minutes. The advisor apologised. He was clearly rushing because he was behind, but he couldn’t do enough to help. He said that I needed to come to the office with more paperwork about my savings and that because of these, I would get around £20 per week to live on. I am not going to spend it though because that is for my future. I did not work and save for five years just to spend it all in hard times. There was hardly any point in going through the long, painful and irritating process for £20 a week. But at least it was something, beggars can’t be choosers.

In 2008 when I was claiming unemployment benefit, all you had to do was sign a piece of paper. When I brought in evidence of work the advisor smiled and said “it’s ok love, I don’t need to see that, just come back in two weeks”. Those were the days when you were trusted to get on with it without being pushed. It was relaxed and painless. In 2011 I was bounced back to the dole after a temporary job ended and I was told I would need to bring evidence of job searching every two weeks. That was no problem. Then I was told I needed to fill in a booklet instead. When I saw them two weeks later I’d finished the booklet with evidence of job searches and applications and asked for another. You should’ve seen the look on the advisor’s face.

Flash forward to 2018 and I have been asked to “follow the Jobcentre on Twitter” and “publish your jobseeker status on social media”. I have already broadcast my embarrassing job status on that I told him. I also said I thought Twitter was for twits and didn’t use it on principle, but he told me that that was actually how people got work these days. I was stunned. So in 2018, not only do I have to presumably show evidence of looking for work every two weeks, probably attend job skills workshops every month, register to their “job match” service, sign multiple times and in exactly the same way on a digital machine every two weeks, I now have to join the Twitter twits and “follow” companies. Then I have to sign a legally-binding contract agreeing to all that or I don’t get a penny. Next they’ll be telling me to “like” the Jobcentre on Facebook.

Someone give me a job. Fast.

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Shopping on a tight budget – five top tips

Shopping takes on a new dimension when you have low or no income.

Recently I was a student and my shopping budget was £17.50. Currently I am waiting for benefits to start so I am getting by with my savings.

So how do you manage? Here are some tips for getting the best deals.

  1. Skip Shopping (known as “skip diving”).

No, I don’t mean give shopping a miss altogether, I mean shop from a skip. Seriously. It beats “dumpster diving” (salvaging items from shop bins is a step too far for me). It is not illegal to take items from a skip as it is rubbish and it is in an area accessible to the public. There is always one in our neighbourhood. I look over its contents quickly as I walk past. If I see something, I wait until I go back home via the skip. I check to make sure the street is empty (for the sake of my dignity) and then I whip out the item as quickly as possible. I have so far retrieved a leather Michael Kors handbag, a lacy black top and a flowery mug from two skips. These items are completely free of charge and all they require is a thorough and careful clean to restore them to their original glory. I simply sponged the handbag with soap and water and used some make-up wipes to remove any makeup on the inside. The mug went in the dishwasher and I am waiting to see how the top looks after a good wash. Getting the handbag (worth approximately £100) from the skip gave me the same dopamine hit as finding a cut-price bargain at TK Maxx. Priceless shopping is just what you need when you’re on a tight budget.

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2. Get back to basics

If you shop at Waitrose when you are on low income or unemployed you either live off your partner/trust fund/inheritance or you are delusional. Waitrose was the first shop I crossed off my list when I became a student. Say goodbye to the pink Himalayan rock salt and culinary experiments. I stick to the economy/basics section of most supermarkets or I shop at Aldi. I still haven’t found cereal cheaper than their £1.15 granola.

But be warned, other supermarket basics are often a similar price. Retailers sometimes just sell less food for the same price. My diet mostly revolves around the 30p bag of pasta and the £1 bottle of pesto.

The secret is to buy in bulk. I bought a 5 kilo bag of rice for £5. It requires 30 minutes to cook instead of the 3 minutes for microwave rice, but it is at least three times cheaper and I have the time now that I am unemployed. To make that into a meal, I combine it with a sliced frankfurter from a jar or packet (whichever is cheapest) and a 15p tin of tomatoes with herbs from Aldi. You can also buy a tin of frankfurters in tomato sauce and have that on toast if you don’t have the preparation time. I actually like tinned ravioli as well.

You can make a meal out of instant noodles by adding spinach, ham and even a boiled egg, ramen-style. For a snack I do nachos with a packet of mozzarella for 80p and a tin of tomatoes, with a small pot of sour cream (cheaper than guacamole).

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3. Shop savvy with “discounts”

Newsflash. Just because it’s reduced or on special offer doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Sometimes the shops use this as a psychological grab because most people presume that this means it is much cheaper. If the discount doesn’t make the item at least £1 cheaper then forget it, it’s not a good deal and you’re just buying something more expensive than the basics variety. My mum taught me this trick and it’s really helped me look after the pennies (and the pounds will take care of themselves).

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4. Want new clothes? Let family/friends know, go to a clothes swap or charity shop.

Recently two friends have had a wardrobe clear out and I have accumulated a new one as a result. The only problem with those clothes are that they are past season. They fit, they look great and I now have more than one day dress. Charity shopping is about knowing when to go. The best time is in late June or July when students move out or return home.

Shopping

Credit: The Tamburlaine Hotel, Cambridge

5. Special offers and vouchers

Use vouchers as often as you can for as much as you can.

If you are on 3 Mobile you occasionally get a free tea/coffee, a free film or even free chocolate! The free tea offer encourages me to get out of the house and gives me much-needed caffeine for the job hunt.

 

 

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Unemployed…again.

“The-greatest-teacher-failure-is.”-Master-Yoda-Star-Wars

Since my last blog post, my life has changed completely.

In November 2017 I decided to apply to do a postgraduate nursing diploma. I had spent years working my way up to a well-paid steady job as a civil servant. But I wanted to have a job where I could help people. It was a gamble but it was the last year of the bursary – it was now or never.

“My bursary was £450 and rent is £380 – all activities were limited by my budget.”

I am no longer on the course but I hope that I can start again, because I really enjoyed both the academic and practical aspects of the course. It involved military discipline and if I wasn’t passionate about nursing I wouldn’t have managed it. I woke up at 6am to go to placement, got back at 5 or 6pm, ate a sandwich for dinner and then wrote a 6 000 word essay in the library until it shut at 9pm…for over a month.

My bursary was £450 and rent is £380, so all activities were limited by my budget, even food shopping. Gone were my flights of fancy at Waitrose. Now it was Aldi or Co-Op basics. The 30p bag of pasta and the £1 jar of pesto with some defrosted peas or carrots became my go-to meal.

Despite the long hours and low budget, patients kept me strong, smiling and focused and made the experience enjoyable. Being able to provide care was a privilege and gave me a deep sense of contentment.

It made me realise that caring for others is not just what I do, it is a fundamental part of who I am. It gives my life more meaning and purpose.

This is why I volunteered to help at a Dementia Cafe with a wedding theme this week. I immersed myself in the experience, from blowing up confetti balloons to hearing people’s life stories. It was a welcome relief from the stress of feeling lost, confused and worrying about the future.

If I don’t get another chance, what am I going to do?!

Things couldn’t be tougher. The intense combination of university and placement have been replaced by throwing myself at the job market. My bursary has been stopped but I still need to pay the rent. I have already had to endure two consecutive days of rejections from two job agencies.

“I didn’t get off the sofa most days.”

If I don’t find work in June, I will be forced to give up my independence and move back in with my parents. My housemate couldn’t believe it. “I love living with you” she said, “please don’t move out.”

I never thought I would be in this position again. It has been two weeks so far. The first week I was an emotional wreck and I came down with a sore throat and a cold. Exhausted and drained both physically and emotionally, I didn’t get off the sofa most days, crying, blowing my nose through a full loo roll and watching TV. I didn’t have the energy for anything else.

But when you’re at your lowest, you realise how lucky you are to have so many good people around you. Everyone gave their time to listen, offer advice, meals, and a shoulder to cry on. With their support my week gradually improved, and I was able to focus instead on my birthday celebrations.

I have already tried to get care work but sadly it wasn’t possible. I have no formal qualifications in it (despite years of experience) and I can’t afford a car.

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A few days ago I decided it was time to stop crying and get off the sofa. Partly because I had watched everything remotely interesting on TV catchup, from the BBC to More4 and ITV. There was only dreary daytime TV left.

I started by creating a more positive and restful environment. I tidied, cleaned and hoovered the house. The saying “clean space, clear mind” is confirmed by research showing that messy rooms cause excess cortisol production and can be distracting for the brain.

I then began a Post-It Power Plan, where I brainstormed ideas to find a way forward. It was a good method to get some clarity in the chaos.

I am either too qualified or too unqualified – I am stuck in Catch 22 limbo.

Yesterday my job mission continued. I rang up three job agencies and applied for admin work online. So far I have been turned down by two job agencies on the basis that although I have experience, it is not recent enough. This is a new level of competition compared to the “you don’t have enough experience” response when I was last unemployed some five years ago.

But persistence is key if you are to break through the increasingly reinforced walls of the current job market. The next day I ramped up the pressure by going in person to other job agencies with my CV and even going into various businesses with it. It is always more effective going to a job agency in person than contacting them by telephone or email. In person they can practically smell your desperation as you offer to give their employers your time on any basis, working for any pay and at any level, as you hand them your CV, your passport, your CRB certificate and your dignity. They can see that you’re tired from walking around all afternoon in the pouring rain in your business power dress.

Next week I am going to a job fair where up to 25 companies will be hiring and I will be spamming companies with CVs. By the time I’ve finished, I will be surprised if there is a business in the city that has not heard of me. Short of walking around with a billboard strapped to me, reading “AVAILABLE FOR WORK NOW” and my phone number, there isn’t much more I can do.

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I now have a busy week of job-hunting to look forward to next week. I have signed up with one agency and I have an appointment with another next week. I also have an appointment for Jobseekers Allowance. I am dreading going back to this handout again, it is so shameful that at my age and with my experience I will now have to sign up to weekly harassment involving job skills workshops, when I got a first in a careers development module at university. I know how to gain employment. The problem is that I am either too overqualified, or too underqualified – I am stuck in Catch 22 limbo.

I was in this desperate position when I started this blog in 2013. The blogging community spurred me on and eventually my documented struggle to find employment attracted over a thousand views a month from all over the world.

If you are in the same boat and you are struggling to keep your head above water, read this article about the importance of learning from failure and being patient until you succeed.

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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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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