The Dreaded Taboo Which Begins With a UPosted: 10 December 2010
This week I went to the cinema to see Harry Potter with my mother. When we bought the tickets – concessionary, as usual – I was struck by the mix of emotions I felt as I hesitated before admitting I was unemployed. It seemed like a taboo; like I should be ashamed to be unemployed – because being unemployed means you’re lazy, incapable and unwilling to work. Is this true?
Of course it isn’t. There is no reason why I should feel ashamed of being unemployed.
In the last year or so, my working life has been a rollercoaster. This time last year I was about to discover that after months of unemployment I had landed the job of my dreams: a library assistant at the local council. The first half of 2010 was amazing. Though my position was casual, my hours gradually increased until I was earning enough to sign off. I had a lot going for me. I was looking forward to a full-time job, buying my own house, a bright new future. The recession was in full force, but what did it matter to me?
Six months ago, I was effectively rendered unemployed. Government cuts in funding to local councils meant a loss of jobs, and, given my job had no fixed contract hours I was among the first to lose them. The work was there, but the council was no longer willing to pay me to do it. Back I went to the Job Centre and the miseries of Jobseeker’s Allowance. Six months of searching later, I still haven’t found a job.
Having been in this position before, I’m familiar with the negative feelings that are part and parcel of being unemployed. I’m also well aware of the opinion the general working public has regarding jobseekers; before I signed up for Jobseeker’s Allowance for the first time I shared it. Having been brought up to not willingly accept anything from anyone – especially money – I saw going on the dole as letting everyone down, being lazy and living off a handout which other people were paying for. I thought I would be happier if I didn’t sign on; but unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like that and I had to.
However, the guilt and paranoia about being seen this way stays with you. I am lucky in that I’m able to live at home and I’m not in the position where I’m struggling to meet my own daily needs; but still, knowing that I’m unable to support myself is soul-destroying. The self-confidence and personal achievement which I felt when in work is gone, and it manifests itself in a lack of self worth which is exactly the opposite frame of mind I need when advertising myself as a potential employee.
Neither is it easy to be a claimant of Jobseeker’s Allowance. With 2.4 million people still unemployed (1.5 of those claiming), the government cuts are hitting hardest here. Job Centre employees are under a good deal of pressure to cut the number of benefit claimants. Sad though it is to say, I am thoroughly unconvinced that this is a positive action aimed at getting jobseekers back into employment, and rather just getting them to stop claiming benefits.
If the Job Centre did what it claims to do, the number of unemployed people in the country would match the number of claimants. It doesn’t. Why?
I’ve experienced the system. I know it doesn’t work. People I know have signed off in disgust feeling they have been mistreated, despite the loss of needed income. I also know of people who just play the system to get their handout, because they have no hope or aspirations.
It’s difficult to be a legitimate claimant of Jobseeker’s Allowance. It is often those who honestly do their best to find employment who are targeted and have unfair pressure placed upon them. This is because, in my opinion, the Job Centre believes these are the people who they can most easily get rid of, one way or another. I have been targeted in this way. I have been constantly treated like a liar and a cheat, even a child, to the point where it is hard to bear. Yet I have done everything asked of me (and more, given I actually *do* want a job), yet I have been given more hoops to jump through and more traps set for me than I ever experienced in the time before I began working at the library.
I slipped and hurt myself on the ice last week and phoned in to notify the Job Centre that I couldn’t get there, especially in the icy conditions. Yesterday I discovered that my claim had been closed because I had not reported at the Job Centre in person, and it was insinuated that I was lying when I said I had contacted them about it. Today I have to go in again to open a new claim; probably losing the allowance I was entitled to for the last month.
I can’t help but think that all this is designed to annoy me so much that I sign off and abandon the financial assistance I am entitled to. But what worries me even more is that the whole system is engineered to belittle the people who depend upon it in their vulnerable position between jobs, so that they will accept mistreatment and injustice without complaint.