Tag Archives: unemployment

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 Not-So-Needy

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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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What’s hot – thermals and my blog on its anniversary!

Hello and welcome on a rainy dark cold English winter evening.

First of all I just want to thank you for checking out my blog over the last year. In 2013 I was unhappily unemployed and decided something needed to change. With qualifications and experience but fighting just to get an interview I began blogging and found a virtual family. Thank you to all those who read, commented, and supported me through that tough time and gave me the strength to keep going.

Thinking of ways I could help readers in my situation gave me something to do other than the endless repetitive task of filling out applications mixed in with a YouTube workout or two. I suddenly had an exciting project to do that stimulated my neurons far more than the endless repetition of personal details.

A year on I yet again face an uncertain future. But either way I will have gained more experience to help me stand out.

So what have I learnt during my year of blogging?

Rose Heart (4)1. Love and relationship stories are the most popular. My highest spike in viewings was the story of my first date. There are some highly entertaining dating blogs out there.

2. To accept an award you are expected to write endless drivel about yourself. I have only done this once, although I have appreciated the nominations.

3. The blog world is a real community – there are always friendly people that have been through exactly what you have and can sympathise. I found this especially helpful during times of financial hardship and struggling to get work. Use this support network.

4. It is a great way to help others. My most popular article remains Pros and Cons of Unemployment. I couldn’t find any articles on positives of unemployment. In this dire situation I thought about the British idiom “every cloud has a silver lining” and realised that if I could focus on this I would be able to cope with the situation much better. I began feeling happier, more confident and began interviews by following my own advice (for once). 

5. Blogging is a great tool to test creative projects – sharing photographs, paintings, cartoons and so on.

international-students1_10892518_std_16. I have been surprised at how international it is – my blog has been viewed in an incredible 87 countries and counting.

7. There is such a great variety out there. Just search for the topic you want to read and it’s all free.

And finally –

I have just realised how fantastic these are. Most people know that wearing layers keeps you warmer because they trap heat. The most important layer is the one next to your skin. Then the second one insulates and is also close to the body to minimise air gaps. You can read more about this technique here.

The lower the rating, the warmer it is! By silk I assume this means thick woven fabric…

Everyone raised their eyebrows and told me they were for the elderly and the elderly alone. When I looked on the thermals section of a clothing company the metrics did show that all comments were from the over 50s. But when thinking about saving money why not remember the wisdom of previous generations. Instead of turning up the heating, buy a few undergarments.

It cost me about £12 for the shirt and for the leggings but it’s a one-off purchase. You will get a lot more off your heating bill than that. I’m currently wearing thermal leggings with trousers over the top, thermal and standard long-sleeved shirts and an acrylic jersey. I have worn them all day. I don’t need an expensive wool one with all these layers. I find it itchy anyway.

As you have clothes over them, it doesn’t matter what they look like and you don’t have to admit to wearing them. But actually there are some good looking ones now – my shirt has dark blue and white stripes and being a scoop neck I can wear it under other tops without it showing. The leggings I’m wearing at the moment are more effective at retaining heat. They are mostly acrylic and their snug but comfortable fitting means there are no air gaps.

So go on, stay warm for less this winter.

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The Gift of Giving

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In the break between posting I have accepted two jobs which I heard about through networking, constantly posting the woes of unemployment on Facebook. My Facebook friends probably offered me jobs they knew about just to free up their newsfeed! I currently work in the Blood Service. I was surprised at the amount of people calling in to book appointments.

Ironically I have a needle phobia, like a third of young people surveyed by the NHS Blood and Transplant Service and so I have not donated. I am looking for someone to go with me and hold my hand, as last time I had a blood test I nearly fainted. Phobias are strange, you know it’s irrational, and yet when you’re in that situation the object of fear seems magnified and the irrational thoughts seem all too real. Like arachnophobia, where the spider seems bigger in your mind’s eye and you imagine it crawling on you, when that is the last thing it would do.

Anyway, back to beneficence. Some people book time off work, some travel by train and one man even booked in early on the morning of his birthday. Around the office there was a photo of a little girl and her drawing of herself when she had leukaemia. The note below said she had required 20 blood donations to recover. I want to give to help cases such as this and I am also curious to see what my blood group is.  There is a shortage of regular blood donors with only 4% of eligible donors giving blood. Just 14% of those who donate regularly are aged below 30 and there has been a 20% drop in donations from 17-24 year olds in the past 10 years. It was explained that in my parents’ generation it was seen as a duty to donate and indeed most of the donors I hear from are around 50 or 60. I think donations would increase from my generation if some places opened in the evenings and on Saturdays, as some already do.

A study is being conducted to see if people can give blood more regularly – perhaps a month sooner than they would normally be allowed to. This is already the case in some other countries and donors are monitored at each attendance. If I can face my fear and give blood maybe I will join it. You can ask about it and sign up until June if you attend a static centre as the study does not run from mobile vans and you must be 18 or over.

Have you given blood? What was it like?

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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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