Friday, 29 March 2013

It's been an interesting few weeks. First of all, the revelations coming mainly from Walthamstow Job Centre have entirely blown my mind (as this is where I sign on, incredibly), and secondly the fall out from this new information.

To say it has been a kind of important story for me is somewhat of an understatement. The dates in this blog correspond directly with those in the story- I was sanctioned on the 1st February and staff were allegedly told they must start sanctioning more to complete their targets by the 15th February. There was also the whole cock up with the form (their fault) which definitely increased the chances of me losing my money. I think what happened is that they read my appeal and decided I might not get sanctioned as my reasons for not doing MWA were actually very good. So then they pretended I had to submit the information differently, in a way that did not give the whole story. I plan to complain.

Since starting this blog I have spoken to many people in the same situation as me, all of whom talk about the negative effect it has had on their lives. I have thought on some level that this has been my fault- maybe I was being unreasonable not going on the A4E course, or by making a fuss- perhaps I am just being lazy, or reactionary- or as Iain Duncan Smith calls it 'one of those clever people' politicising my reluctance to do menial work or whatever else they try and make you believe about yourself. But having read about targets and also by learning about other people's stories I have realised that I am not to blame. This may seem like a small thing, but for me it is enormous. It's tied up with my self-worth and by extension how much I like myself in general.

After it all kicked off, my MP Stella Creasy put the word out that she wanted to get to the bottom of what was happening so I got in touch and showed her this blog and spoke to her assistant at length about what has been going on. Yesterday I also went along to a meeting that she called, which was pretty interesting. Weirdly enough, Stella and I practically went to school together so it was odd to see her doing her politician thing- it has to be said she is pretty impressive. I wonder if this is the main job of a politician- to be convincing and seem trustworthy? Probably. My own political beliefs could be viewed as being somewhat radical, so I felt very much like a fly on the wall.

I met some very nice Socialist Party members who were pretty pissed off with Stella over the Emergency Legislation issue. Her get out of jail free card is that voting no wouldn't have brought about an end to Workfare. Stella emphasised the point that this bill wasn't about sanctions but rather the intent of Parliament and she reckons that she didn't trade down, as they wouldn't have got the right of appeal had they voted no. Furthemore, she says she is being consistent as she believes in sanctions when they are used appropriately (such as within the Future Jobs Fund).

It was all very convincing. However there was a lot of anger in the room, primarily from TUSC Candidate Nancy Taaffe who was not convinced at all. I wonder if that was ever an option though? The disillusionment with the process was obvious in the room. People just don't trust politicians anymore. Is it worth it for an MP to send a message or become a symbol anymore? Is that not just a way of losing influence ultimately? Most of the people at the meeting thought that standing up for the people is really the only way.

Ms Taaffe's mother Linda especially thought that the time has come to make a stand, start a movement- get people down to Parliament and take action, and I also thought she was very convincing, possibly in a more human way. I liked it a lot when she said we need a 'system that plans for need'. Linda said what many of us believe ie: if Labour were in it'd be exactly the same. However, I could see what Stella was saying, and I understood why she'd done the things she had- maybe my personal history with her was part of it, but I also think she is intelligent and well meaning, and all you can really go on is gut feeling, which is an interesting notion isn't it.

I'm hoping there will be more revelations, more leaks. I would like for the DWP to be exposed as liars and be made responsible for basically wrecking people's lives. I'm one of the lucky ones as I am not living in poverty and I have a network of people around me who look out for me. What upsets me is that many of the people who have lost their money do not. We are supposed to be civilised yet all this points towards a huge disregard for some of the weakest people in our society. Really, if you are not angry, then why not?

Saturday, 16 March 2013

I haven't written for a while. I still haven’t heard about my appeal- I wonder how long it takes? I can’t seem to find a number anywhere to call ‘Scotland’ to find out. I think I’ve almost lost the will to pursue it- as bad as that sounds. 

I’ve wanted to write a post about how all this has affected me psychologically for a while but I’ve been wary to, as that kind of thing often attracts a special kind of criticism. Having finally decided to go self-employed next week, I feel like maybe I’m in a better frame of mind to write it.

Unless you’ve been unemployed then it is hard to understand how much the constant pressure from the Job Centre can affect you. For the last six months I have felt as if I am a terrible person with very little worth, even though I have been trying hard to get a job. Much of the media tries to reinforce this view and after a while, it really gets to you, no matter how resilient or clued up you are.

In some ways I am not a typical benefit claimant (whatever that may be- I am trying hard not to align myself with the rhetoric here), I am well educated and middle-class and have had a lot of opportunities in my life. I read a lot and think I have a good grasp on why people believe certain things- yet I have still suffered a lot from being described as a ‘scrounger' etc. You begin to believe that you are not good enough, and that it is only a lack of effort that is stopping you get a job. I can only imagine what it must be like to not fully understand the mechanics of a situation like this.

To get an interview for a recent position that I applied for I visited the premises, interviewed the staff, wrote an article and got it accepted for publication in three different places. I got the interview, did a mock-up interview with a friend of mine who is in the same profession, practiced my interview answers for hours in front of the mirror and did an excellent interview. I made it to the last two candidates and only just missed out.

This is Iain Duncan Smith’s idea of someone who is not ‘doing everything they can to get a job’, and this is just one example out of many jobs I have written carefully worded cover letters or application forms for. I don’t expect it to be easy to get a job having been out of (paid) work for 7 years, but the competition for these positions is absolutely phenomenal. I phoned up one employer this week to ask about a job I’d applied for and was told they’d had over 300 applications.

As I’ve said in a previous post, I have worked as a cleaner before- I’ve done pretty much every low-paid job you can think of. Maybe I should take one of these positions but I feel I have so much more to give to society- I’m full of ideas and capability. At 36 and with a daughter to look after (and impress) I think it might be the time to get a job that really makes me happy and that I can invest a lot in. Is that a luxury? I’m just not sure anymore.

The Job Centre doesn’t care about any of this. Every visit makes me feel worse about myself, less able and productive, and less hopeful. I recently lost 4 weeks money for refusing to go on their A4E course and work placement (see below). On speaking to one of the Job Centre staff I was told ‘of course you’ve been sanctioned- you are one of the polite ones- they are not scared of you. They know the ones who are playing the system but they won’t touch them as they’re the ones who will kick off’.

The power of the media cannot be underestimated. Even one of my good friends recently told me that she ‘would rather have an abortion than be a single mother on benefits’ and that I should ‘get off my arse’. Admittedly she was drunk and I have forgiven her because I don’t think she was very happy at the time, but it’s an interesting example of how these notions sink into people’s minds. I am sure my more moderate friends and even some on the left hold similar ideas about welfare. As I say, I really don’t think you can criticize unless you have been there.

It is pretty hard for anyone to have a positive relationship with themselves nowadays. It is something that has to be worked on and developed. You have to have enormous strength of mind to stay optimistic and happy and forward-looking. Many people do not get the love and care as they grow up that is necessary to develop the core of self-confidence and self-assurance that comes naturally to others. Depression is rife and the lack of social mobility these days can act as a huge deterrent to ‘sorting yourself out’. I am only partially talking about myself here, but I can see how so many people struggle to become productive members of society, and it has very little to do with being ‘lazy’.

Perhaps that makes me a bleeding heart but if so, I can’t apologise. I go and sit in a room with these people every week and see it for myself.

Interestingly, if I had been feeling better about myself lately I probably would have gone self-employed a lot earlier. In fact- if the Job Centre had listened to me and advised me properly I may well have done it six months ago and been spared this ridiculous rollercoaster of emotions. Happiness really is the key to economic stability- or maybe that is just unrealistic. My ‘utopia’ would probably never work. Haha.