A rewriting of an article that appeared online today, Easter Sunday 2014, and which is now truer than it ever was when the MOS published it. Some original text kept, the rest written for parody.
After being asked to provide feedback, I composed this letter. I expected no response, and so I wrote freely and for my own amusement/pleasure. I rather like the result, and it saw me invited to meet one of the bosses to discuss what changes could be made. They refused to pay me a consultant’s fee, though, so this is all they got. Well, this and two years of my life.
Dear Work Programme/Working Links/[Company name redacted]/Whatever organisation I actually attended,
You asked for my feedback. Make yourself a cup of tea and come back to this, it is going to be lengthy.
For a start, why have you asked for “customer” feedback? I am not a customer, I was forced to attend mandatory fortnightly meetings. By definition, as I did not purchase goods or services from you, it is incorrect to address me in this manner. Had there been any element of choice, be assured that I would have avoided your organisation like the plague it so often seems to be.
Your survey asks about the welcome I received upon first attending [company name redacted]. I remember this clearly, as my hobby is stand-up comedy and in the beginning I was provided with ample source material. Having been required to attend a computer course, the level of which ensured that I knew not to stand on top of the monitor while typing, I was treated to the sight of the man next to me drooling over his keyboard. Meanwhile, two of your staff members demanded to know of an Iraqi gentleman with poor English if he was in this country legally. Given that we were all referred as JSA recipients, a benefit (before that became a dirty word) claimed by having a National Insurance number, it would suggest he had gone through due process to be (mis)treated in this way.
My confidence in your staff waned swiftly, after the lead tutor (and my initial advisor) turned from one desk and walked fully into a pillar into the centre of the room. I am not convinced that slapstick is necessary or conducive to your role, although the distraction was appreciated. I am not inclined to trust someone to help me find a job if they are not even able to simply avoid smacking into the architecture of their surroundings.
After this shambolic introduction to your services, during which I had to fill in a form that asked for full detail of my circumstances but which limited me (as I discovered after twenty minutes of typing) to a few hundred characters – thus preventing me from answering the questions asked – I was referred to a CV-writing course.
Call me old-fashioned, but if you are going to employ somebody to teach me how to write an appropriate cover letter perhaps you could ensure that their spelling is up to scratch and in line with accepted grammatical standards. I am not professionally successful enough to refer to myself as “a writer”, yet I do write often and am frequently praised on my output (without wishing to blow my own trumpet, this is just a fact provided for background) – and so it was insulting to have my time wasted by a writing coach who could barely spell the term “CV.”
I have kept a blog for some years now, on which I documented a few of the more absurd or frustrating elements encountered on your programme, and I will provide external links to these articles rather than re-write them here. However, in brief, my feedback will include:
– Your inability to provide the training I most need and which would render me extremely employable.
– Frequent, positive talk of jobs that failed to materialise (painting a factory, window-fitting, landscaping).
– Being accepted for a job that I was then told I could not take (parks department).
– Being promised four months of work, which turned into seventeen days and thus cost me money (Royal Mail/Manpower).
– Having my advisor changed several times, and having to re-explain my circumstances repeatedly.
– The suggestion that I might like to attend something that I later realised was mandatory.
– Being coerced into working in your call-centre under the guise of being “trained.”
– Having my ILA courses booked, cancelled, and rebooked so often that I never used the funding available to me in the end.
– Having my time thoroughly wasted applying for a call-centre job for which I was not eligible.
Let us begin.
I learned to drive when I was eighteen, and was at a standard where I would have passed my test, as my instructor repeatedly told me. For one reason or another, I neither booked nor sat the theory test, and was therefore unable to sit the practical. Years later, when I realised how important my driving license would be in my chosen career, I sat the theory and passed it comfortably. Unfortunately, life intervened and I could not afford the necessary refresher lessons prior to taking the practical. Owing to its limited validity, I now need to take the theory test again.
Twice in my working life I have been in a position to pay for the few lessons and two tests it would take to immeasurably enhance my employment chances. The first time, I was hit with a backdated council tax bill for two-thousand pounds. The second time, I lost my job and was forced to use my savings to pay my rent.
From my very first day with your programme, and at every subsequent meeting and with every single advisor since, I have been asked what the major barrier is to my finding and staying in work. This is my answer, and it is always met with the same response – you do not fund driving lessons. Neither does the Jobcentre. I know this, believe me when I say that this is a conversation I have had easily a dozen or more times, and probably twice that. It turns out that I have a second major barrier to employment – your organisation.
My background is theatre. I have worked behind the scenes since I was fourteen, running shows from the legal minimum age of sixteen. It began as a hobby, becoming a paid hobby as I subsidised my everyday work with casual shifts, and when I decided to obtain a degree there was only one subject that interested me sufficiently to ensure I would put in the necessary work. I continued to work casually during my studies, later supporting myself with work in theatre, film, and television. My ambition, in my final year, was to obtain my own listing on IMDB, the Internet Movie Database. Having achieved that within six months of graduating, I now understand that I should have aimed higher.
My argument is that, by funding my driving license two full years ago, you would have spent more or less the same amount as you did on my case anyway, except that I would now be in a far better position to achieve and maintain employment. You have wasted your money and you have wasted my time. My advisors have told me that you used to fund it, or whatever else was required to get people back into work. It is disheartening to know that I am not worth the expenditure, and it is a sham that you ask what barriers are in the way of your “customers” finding work while effectively putting up a barrier of your very own.
The Work Programme is not about getting the unemployed into employment – it is about shuffling numbers.
There have been various moments of hope in the past two years, fleeting moments where your advisors have had information about work coming in and positively spoken of it.
I am available and looking for work. I was turning thirty years old when I was referred to you. This is, in theory, the prime of my life – I am still considered young, and about as fit and healthy as I am likely to be for the rest of my life. I did a degree in theatre, specialising in scenic carpentry, only to find that these skills are not easily transferable to the construction industry (itself in decline) as I do not hold any recognisable joinery qualifications. There was talk, at one time, of trying to obtain these, but your organisation would only go so far as to get me the most basic CSCS card, enabling me to be a site labourer. There is plenty of competition out there for site labourers, believe me.
I am educated, intelligent, diligent, polite, and good-humoured. Your organisation has no idea how to cope with this. I am no work-shy waster, I am desperate to be in employment, to be surviving off my own back, contributing to my country, and with my confidence, self-esteem, and sense of purpose restored. This is useless. I am willing and able to undertake virtually any job offered to me, the only exception being jobs to which I am not suited. I am not sure how much wider my scope could be, and yet in twenty-four months you managed to find me a mere seventeen days of work.
Please do not get me wrong, there was plenty of talk of jobs. There was the taken-over car factory/showroom that needed a complete repaint. There is a subtle pronunciation difference between carpenter and car-painter, but I was happy to overlook that. Despite my asthma, and the known irritant that is paint fumes, I was willing to do the job on provision of respirators and other appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE). It came to nothing.
When I was given my second or third advisor, he guided me through a complete overhaul of my CVs – I have two – and rang me up one day, all excited that he had found a window-fitter loooking to take someone on. This client wanted somebody with knowledge and skills, was willing to train them in all aspects of the job, had steady work lined up, and specifically wanted somebody a bit older – perhaps aged thirty – who would treat this as a career and not as a way to kill some time in their late teens. It sounded perfect, and was certainly talked up to be so. This positivity continued for approximately five weeks, before petering out exactly as the painting job had done.
Most recently, I spent six weeks dreaming of a job landscaping in and around Glasgow. There was a group overview from the employer, individual interviews, and then – nothing. Weeks and weeks of nothing. I later overheard that the employer had taken a contract with one firm, and then tried to avoid using their staff/clients. I can only presume that negotiations broke down somewhere, or that he was unable to provide the promised employment to the sixty or so of us who attended the overview session.
The Work Programme is a purveyor of false hope. It is very hard to be enthusiastic at the prospect of some new job that yet again fails to materialise. These are just three examples, the most memorable ones, indicative of the impotence of your organisation. You are very good at making empty promises, and little else.
On one occasion, one of these jobs actually transformed into something almost tangible. The council were recruiting for their parks department, on a strict six-month contract. Not ideal, but it was a start, and as I have stated I am prepared to do just about anything for apppropriate financial remuneration. Working in the parks in summertime? That would be, well, a walk in the park. I am not above picking up leaves and emptying bins. Provided with the right PPE, I would do more than that.
All went well. I was given the description and the application form. The group session was fine, as was my interview, and everything looked to be in place for the start date. I had filled in the medical form, giving details of my asthma and hayfever since those may temporarily affect my ability to do the job. Both are controlled with medication, and I was not unduly worried that it would prevent an offer of work forthcoming. I also noted that, in my teens, I had had a problem with my knee.
When I say that I walk everywhere, I mean that I walk everywhere. Shanks’s Pony. Having lived in Glasgow for nine years, I know my way about. My feet are cheaper and often faster than public transport, especially in the centre of town at rush hour. I currently live four miles from the heart of town, and I regularly walk home – it keeps me vaguely fit, it gives me thinking time, and it allows me to avoid the overpriced fares, slow maneouvring, and BO stench of public transport. I know all of the landmarks on the way, and can make it home in forty-five minutes or an hour.
This was of no interest to your organisation, who dismissed my application out of hand on the grounds that “the job involves a lot of walking and bending.” I had no opportunity to plead my case, although I asked to do so. It seemed, and seems, ridiculous to me that – in the interest of full disclosure – I managed to lose a job based on something that affected me seventeen years ago. There have been no recurring problems, no adverse side effects, and although it was over half of my life ago, I felt it best to be honest. The more I see of the world, the more I discover that honesty is rarely rewarded.
The Work Programme, it appears, will use the flimsiest pretext to keep somebody on their books. Whatever your motives might be, you would not allow me to appeal against the decision to not employ me – even though I was fit for the job, willing, and capable.
To your credit, you did find me work once. Unfortunately, it was an absolute farce that ended up costing me money. You claim ignorance and innocence, of course, and I cannot prove that you knew the full details – but somebody did, and we were stitched up properly.
The agency Manpower were recruiting on behalf of the Royal Mail, looking for Christmas staff. The hoops were all jumped through – meetings, application form-filling sessions, interviews, all the usual. As is standard, start dates were promised and changed, hopes were raised, postponed, dashed, and then finally – miracle of miracles – a contract was signed.
Throughout, your advisors assured us that this would be a few months of work – starting in November, and ending around March. Perfect! Four months of guaranteed work, regular hours, steady wages. Chance would have been a fine thing.
Off we went, me and (conversations revealed) a dozen or more others all from the Work Programme. In came the mail cages, lined up in neat rows, and the sacks were emptied. Small parcels were sorted into first and second class, with additional cages for foreign mail and bulkier parcels. There was a high turnover of work, a fast-paced environment where any delay caused congestion and build-ups as more lorries arrived and were unloaded.
It had been drilled into us, through you, that the best way to be kept on was to keep our heads down and work hard. I wanted to be kept on. Very quickly, I stepped up and began emptying the front cages in the row, into the sorting trays for others to separate, removing the empty cages and replacing them with full cages from behind. I ran the risk of being told to get back to doing the same work as the others, but instead I was instructed to continue. My job, then, became to keep the work flowing for everybody else – often I was left unattended, relied upon to shuttle cages around neatly, quickly, and efficiently. I emptied front cages, replaced them, and broke them down, before returning to do the same again. Every night I broke sweat, a fact regularly commented on by my supervisor, and I noticeably lost weight while working there. I am not clear how much harder I could have worked. I was determined to prove my worth, and in truth I enjoyed the job and the responsibility.
The work tailed off as Christmas approached, and on Thursday the 22nd we were sent home early and told to await a phone call. On the Friday, an hour before my shift was due to start, I ended up calling the agency to find out if I had a job to go to, or not. The answer, given rather curtly, was not. This four months of work had ended after seventeen days, at zero notice, on Christmas weekend.
Do you know anything about the infrastructure of the Department Of Work And Pensions? Or how it relates to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit? You see, it is entirely possible that you can work enough to lose all of your benefits, without earning enough to cover your rent and bills. By the time I added up my earnings and took into account all of my outgoings, I owed my landlord just over a hundred pounds. It cost me money to work. And to work, as I have tried to demonstrate, remarkably hard.
Please remember, here, that “benefits” is not the bad word that the Conservatives and the Daily Mail would like you to believe. Housing Benefit in particular is available to those who are in work but on low-paid jobs, and if we were to stop and think about it then perhaps we would realise that work should pay enough to exist on without subsidy. Benefits, too, are drawn from the pool of money to which every person who has paid tax has contributed. We have all paid this money so that, in times of crisis or when there are insufficient jobs, we can claim some of it back and not be utterly destitute. It is a stop-gap, and I personally am angered that it is seen as shameful to briefly rely on a fund into which I have paid, and which I will pay into again once I find my feet. If we could get away from the propaganda for a minute, perhaps the truth would become evident.
The Work Programme expressed, or feigned, sympathy at my predicament. They had not known, they claimed, that the job would end so abruptly. It is my firm belief that somebody knew. Manpower could not have been less interested, although they did invite me to a meeting to discuss the issue. As it was one of their own who had been so ignorant and rude to me on the phone, I put little faith in their desire to actually pursue anything against him. My suspicions were correct, and the branch manager wrote to me on headed notepaper. As I was certain to get nowhere with it, and as she had printed her reply upside-down on the headed paper, I decided to write an entirely facetious letter of complaint. You can read it on my blog if you are interested.
The Work Programme, then, on the sole occasion it actually helped me into employment, left me financially worse off and more demoralised than I had been to start with.
This experience with the Royal Mail made me realise that my most recent advisor was effectively just a big drink of water, a streak of piss with no substance to him. Unbelievably, I was relieved to return to my original advisor, the one who had walked into a pillar on my first day there. We had spent much of the time since at loggerheads, until she miraculously revealed herself to be human after all on the back of this debacle.
We found a new understanding, something almost akin to friendship insofar as two people on opposite sides of your desk can be in any way “friends.” She sympathised, she almost empathised, and she changed tack. It is possible she now saw just how and why I feel so defeated by the entire process, and there was no hiding the strength of my desire to be in work and out of this situation. She enjoyed reading the very cheeky letter I had sent Manpower, and passed it round the office. In truth, that was the most that I had hoped to achieve with it.
She no longer works for [company name redacted], she left while I was in employment the second time. That was three months in a call centre which you provided no help in finding.
I have had other advisors too – the one who redrafted my CV for me and found the alleged window-fitting vacancy. You did not renew his contract.
There was the big guy that I have seen twice in two years, several months apart. There was the hard-faced woman who would not even given you the steam off her mince and tatties. There was the tall incompetent guy who had persuaded me about the benefits of the Royal Mail gig. He shrunk away quite fast after that, and has fastidiously avoided eye contact ever since. There have been various people who have turned up long enough to discuss specific jobs that have (of course!) never come to anything – one for the call centre fiasco (I will get to that) and one for the landscaping.
My most recent advisor has been comparatively helpful, revealing herself to be very human after a bumpy start. She sees that I do not need my hand held, and that this string of incompetence and falsely-raised hopes has coloured my vision of you and all who work for you.
The first time we met, she asked – as so many before her have – about my background, qualifications, and why I felt I was not in work. I asked her if she was joking, adding an expletive that I shall not include here for fear of undermining my point. The pair of us were stand-offish from the beginning, her wanting to know why I was being so sullenly defensive, and me demanding to know why she did not just read my file, which must surely by now contain every last detail.
Slowly, I began to explain everything that I have detailed here so far, and she accepted the reason for my demeanour. Once we got past that, we developed a healthy working relationship, although I am fully aware of the irony of using the word “working” here. If I was working, I would never have had to speak to her nor attend your utterly worthless organisation.
The Work Programme is a great place for meeting new people, and then being forced to explain your entire life story to each of them in turn – even to the ones that you only see once. If i ever see a job vacancy advertising for somebody to be a parrot, I will apply. You have given me a great deal of experience in repeating myself.
One of my many temporary advisors went to great lengths to make a local job fair seem appealing. He told me how wonderful an opportunity it would be, and I suspect that he could see my cynicism. I am past being able to hide it well, especially not within the walls of your office.
Credit to him, he was brilliant at selling all of the points and making it sound like a helpful and useful thing. Unfortunately for him, I did not appreciate his subterfuge and he had to resort to telling me explicitly that it was mandatory. I will not go into further detail here, I wrote a couple of blogs about it.
The Work Programme is a place where advisors try to disguise the compulsory nature of its role by making it appear like they are doing you a favour.
Another bone of contention with my original advisor came at the point when I was instructed to attend a fortnight of training in your call centre.
The training facility is in a place most accurately described as the middle of nowhere. It is a secret location reached only by taking two buses, in the kind of area where you can watch a man enthusiastically punching another man’s head in broad daylight. Once you alight from the bus, and walk a mile in the wrong direction, you will find a petrol station. Upon entering, you will be asked if you are looking for the [company name redacted] training centre, a sure sign that everybody follows the same route. A signpost would not kill you.
Upon arrival, it quickly became apparent that I would be doing a few days of training, followed by five weeks of taking calls. This sounds less like training and more like work. My argument, and I did argue, is that if it looks like work and it feels like work, then it is work and should be paid at a legal wage. Forty hours a week for seventy pounds does not equate to anything close to the minimum hourly amount set out in law.
While I was debating this with my advisor and with my trainer, I received a phone call from a friend (and sometimes casual employer) who posited that, instead of working for the Work Programme for nothing, I could go and work for his company for nothing instead – and at least be in the industry that I trained for.
This is a problem in my industry, everybody wants you to break your back in return for “experience” because it “looks good on your CV” – neither of which pay the bills. I did my time in that capacity, as did virtually every student on any kind of technical theatre degree. You quickly learn that the only thing it is good for on your CV is showing that you will work for nothing. Experience shows that, the less money that is involved in a given production, the more hassle you will have to put up with. Therefore, I decided a long time ago that my skills, knowledge, and experience are worth something. I do not work for nothing, be it for a call centre or for a chancing mate.
These points, eloquently put, convinced my advisor that the call centre was not for me. In the end, I found a job in a call centre of my own accord, and without mention of this episode.
Around the time I was removed early from your training programme, [details about a potential job offer redacted] It would be full-time, permanent, and paid at ten pounds per hour. It sounded ideal, not least because permanent jobs rarely turn up, and it offered everything that I wanted in a career – my industry, in an established firm, with job security and plenty of variety. There was, of course, one catch. It was being created using the Commonwealth Jobs Fund.
I did not meet the criteria to apply for a job that was virtually created with me in mind. The funding they applied for had an upper age eligibility of twenty-five, and I was thirty. I asked my advisor to check for loopholes, I called the council to find out if there was any leeway, I even wrote to my local MP to see if he would intervene. He did not reply, the council refused to consider my plea, and my advisor ran out of options. The job went to somebody else. He still works there.
My advisor’s best solution was to suggest that I go in to the office, speak to them in person, and offer to undercut the wage they were offering. The funding required that the position be created and paid at a living wage, the company were offering more than that, and I was advised to go in and say that I would accept less than the obligatory amount required by the funding small print.
This is the Work Programme, where my time and abilities have no value. The Work Programme, who could not help me to obtain a job that would have seen me in steady employment for the rest of my working life. A job that I was crying out to be allowed to merely apply for, but which I was denied by bureaucracy. The Work Programme – utterly impotent when it comes to having any say in anything that might have offered me a way out.
The problem with having so many advisors is that, among other things, they gave conflicting advice. I am entitled to ILA funding of two-hundred pounds, which I can use for one of a variety of courses.
What these courses are is a mystery, the website would let me search if I knew what I was searching for, but had no option to see what was available. There were no affordable joinery or welding qualifications, and I was told that upholstery was too niche (and again too expensive) for it to be viable. It was recommended that I get my CSCS card. This was duly booked, and cancelled, and booked, and cancelled again.
Later, I was informed that I would only be eligible for the most basic CSCS card, which would allow me on site to be a labourer and nothing else. To be a joiner, I would need to apply for another (or a different) card. I do not possess the joinery qualifications for that, and was dissuaded from acquiring the basic card as there is no pressing need for another entry-level site labourer in the construction industry.
Another advisor figured that I should apply for my SIA badge, and look for security or door work. He told me that it has a respectable number of vacancies just now, and that makes sense to me – as more people have less money, crime is bound to increase, and it seems logical to hire people to guard your property if you have it. I actually tried to apply to join the police, figuring that when the rioting starts I would prefer to be on the side with the weaponry, but as that industry is suffering from cutbacks and seeing the amalgamation into one unified force, they were not hiring at the time. I also considered the fire service, but my asthma makes me a liability.
With conflicting advice as to what would actually prove useful for me, and with interruptions as I left to work for seventeen days or when members of staff departed for pastures new, my ILA funding remains unused. I am still no clearer as to what I should use it for anyway. There was once talk of some new brewery-sponsored hospitality management thing. However, as so often with the Work Programme, it remained just talk. It never transpired into anything even vaguely approaching useful.
Speaking of massive wastes of my time, the one thing you are truly outstanding at, I think the pinnacle was the three hours you killed for me earlier this year.
I spent the last quarter of 2012 working in a call centre, a job which I sourced, applied for, and got, without your help. Unlike your call centre, this one was willing to pay me at the rate demanded by the government. I signed off, and went to work. It was a joyous time, the sun rose every morning and lit the world in a bountiful feast of colour. Birds whistled gaily overhead, small children skipped and laughed in the streets, and there was good cheer throughout the land. The girls were pretty, the guys were handsome, the food never tasted so sweet, and everything just felt right with the world. A general contentment settled upon me, and instead of simply existing I suddenly felt alive.
There is a small chance that I am romanticising here, but you get the gist.
I was amongst the first to be let go after Christmas. They took on in excess of six-hundred people, and could not sustain that level of employment. The company handle a lot of contracts, and a few months later I received a call from the Work Programme. An opportunity had arisen, and I was invited to attend your offices for a guaranteed telephone interview. There would, I was told, be an online aspect to the application, followed by the interview. It sounded simple, and easy. I gratefully accepted and headed in as arranged.
The online part, it turned out, involved filling in the appropriate form on the company website. Had I known, I would have done this in advance at home. I object to being made to use your computers, as I am reluctant to enter any personal details without knowing how secure my data is. Furthermore, in the course of completing one form (as it happened, the company had my details stored on file, all I had to do was log in and update my employment history accordingly) your computer system crashed three times. It was bad enough being forced to use your system, without having to suffer further by repeatedly waiting for the thing to reboot. A small mercy, I suppose, is that the majority of my form was already there for retrieval. Had I begun from scratch, I might still be there today, cursing the slow and unreliable nature of your terminals.
Having completed this aspect, and with my teeth now ground to a fine powder, it was time for a presentation. Hurrah, the Work Programme has discovered Powerpoint! Having emerged raring to go after submitting the form, I was instead treated to thirty minutes of the most tedious and uninspiring slides, described in monotonous detail by an advisor I had never previously encountered. He took my enthusiasm and deftly eroded it with pointless facts about the vocal cords, body language, and an illustration of the brain stem. Quite why this key part of the central nervous system was pictured is beyond me – I associated it in my head with Chris Morris’s brilliant satire “Brass Eye” and imagined that I was listening instead to Noel Edmonds describing the part of the brain called Shatner’s Bassoon. If you get that reference, you will know that Cake is a made-up drug.
When all of the energy had been unceremoniously drained from me, and with no acknowledgement that I had passed a telephone interview for the same company a few months previously, it was time to be interviewed. All I had to do was wait for twenty other people to be interviewed ahead of me, averaging ten minutes per call, and with only two phones available. What could be easier? Or less exciting? Good thing I was not in a hurry.
The advisor, another newcomer, took the phone from the person before me, and guided me along a corridor into a private room. He spoke to the interviewer, wished me luck, and handed me the unpleasantly greasy communal mobile.
The interviewer took my name, confirmed that I had worked for the company before, and accessed my file. She relayed the information visible to her – next to my name, where it asked “rehire?” it said “no.” Thus began my very long walk back to find the advisor, to present his confused face with the phone. I was as delighted as I am now being sarcastic at having so much of my afternoon wasted. A little advance research could have saved hours of our time, and saved you the cost of my travel expenses. What is four quid, though, if it keeps me occupied for half a day and permits you to check off the necessary paperwork?
I am no clearer as to why I was refused employment with them, by the way. To find out, I need to put my request in writing and post it to the operations manager. Rather than highlight myself in this way, I will continue to live in ignorance. My boss only ever spoke to me to praise my performance, with relative frequency and without prompting, and so I am confident that I conducted myself in a satisfactory manner. It must be some clandestine company policy that prevents me from reapplying so soon after being let go.
The Work Programme provides computers that are slower than a week in the jail, and which crash more than the average joyrider. The unnecessary (in my case) pre-interview training would render the most alert man catatonic, delivered as it was by an advisor unafraid of maintaining a speaking drone that failed to change in pace, pitch, or tone.
This is where I envisaged ending what has hopefully been an enlightening, if not altogether positive, insight into the Work Programme. However, there has been a development in the days since I began composing this essay.
I received a call on Friday, from another unknown advisor, alluding to some joinery work that has come in. The Hydro is behind schedule, and this new national venue requires carpenters immediately. It cannot open its doors as planned if those doors are not yet hung.
I was instantly wary, having observed and suffered so many pitfalls before now. He tried to allay my fears: it would not matter that I am not carded, no CSCS is required; I do not require a driving license, provided I can get my tools to the site; it is full-time paid work, for a few months.
I have zero faith in your staff or in their ability to actually find or help me into employment. However, I am in no position to turn down work, regardless of how unlikely it is to transpire. I agreed that he could pass my number on, listening to and then obeying his instruction to keep my phone switched on and nearby for the rest of the day. Unsurprisingly, the call never came. It never came on Monday either. I will chase it up on Tuesday, but I will not hold out much hope. Having singularly failed to help me while I was obliged to attend the Work Programme, logic dictates that you are even less likely to be of use now I have left.
I find it difficult to believe that a venue as high-profile as the Hydro is willing to take on emergency staff not in possession of the relevant safety qualification. [Edit: they weren’t. I was misinformed, unsurprisingly.] If they are, then it begs the question as to what purpose the thing serves in the first place – “you must have a safety card, unless we are pushed for time.”
My inclination is that this work will be uncontracted, with joiners booked on a week-to-week or even day-by-day basis. This is at odds with how the DWP operates – to sign off is a huge gamble, if there is no guaranteed number of hours per week. Work too little, and you cannot pay the bills. Work for just a fortnight and there is a chance you will end up losing three weeks of Housing Allowance. I have been stung twice before, once of my own accord and once with your help. I am unwilling to risk being stung again – I am unable to afford to live as it is, without accruing further debt and arrears.
I chased up this offer of employment, but my advisor could not tell me who had called me, and insisted that you do not have any contracts with The Hydro. She promised to investigate, aware of all the concerns I have listed above. It proved to me that I was correct to no longer raise my hopes on the back of anything you tell me. You have never achieved anything on my behalf.
To conclude, this has been the feedback you requested. It details, or addresses, every complaint that springs to mind when I think back over the past 730 days during which we have been acquainted. Two full years of empty promises, false hope, incompetence, ignorance, and downright inconvenience. I leave in exactly the same position as I started, only more bitter and jaded. You have achieved absolutely nothing, in my interest at least. You have wasted your money, you have wasted our time, and, since that first day when my future advisor walked into the pillar, nobody has even had the good grace to make me laugh.
I doubt that you will reply to any of this – for a start, it is going to take somebody an afternoon just to read it all. There is nothing you can really say anyway, save for a stock response about “taking my feedback on board.” If all you have is a stock response, please do not send me it.
Oh, your questionnaire asked, if I recall correctly, how likely I am to recommend the Work Programme to others. Not at all likely.
Not at all.
Glasgow, August 2013
References, listed on embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com
Losing the parks job: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/hello-world-you-are-absurd/
An overview of the Work Programme: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/the-work-programme-doesnt-really-work/
Mandatory jobs fair attendance, and driving license funding: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/free-to-do-as-youre-told/
Why the jobs fair was useless: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/further-down-the-spiral/
Follow-up post about G4S and the jobs fair: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/the-work-programme-still-not-working/
I changed my phone recently, a saga that will merit one or possibly two blogs of its own. My new data allowance is a meagre 750mb/month, and I managed to use it all within four days. As this is my sole means of getting online, it is not exactly ideal.
During this transitionary period, my access was slowed to an unpleasant crawl and I was forced to rely on the germ breeding-grounds of library computers (with their one-hour usage limits, and surrounded by unwashed heavy-breathers.) It had an effect on the time I was able to put into job-hunting online, and I resorted to other methods in order to fulfil the mandatory minimum of twenty hours’ searching per week. Last week, for example, I printed CVs and handed them into various suitable establishments.
On Monday night, in the small hours, my phone decided that it would ease up on the throttling, allowing me an unfettered 3G signal. This happens periodically, with no rhyme or reason, and it is extremely volatile. I seized the opportunity, jumping onto the app of one renowned job site, and applying for the first appropriate vacancy. As seems increasingly standard, I was required to create an account on the employer’s page, going through a number of different forms and saving them all as I went. The norm is that, upon completion of several different sections, you can only then submit your application. I duly began typing, using a smartphone that I hate using and which has difficulty responding to touch.
Three hours later, and I dearly wish that that was an exaggeration, I had finished describing why I want to work for them, with plenty of reasons why I am an exemplary staff member in every conceivable way. All I had to do was upload my CV, and this is where it all fell apart. My limited data policy would not let me transfer a file, regardless of size. I was due to sign on the next day, and as the jobcentre recently revealed that they have computers for “customer” use (I reject that word with reference to the context in which they use it), I decided I would take my CV along on a USB stick. It would be a simple matter to add it to my saved application, and theory is a wonderful thing.
Above: Image taken from lawblogone
My signer combed my job diary, checking that I had listed all of the jobs that I look at, whether or not I can actually apply for them. She questioned why I had noted seven hours of handing out CVs. I explained my situation, which led to a conversation that leaves me incredulous. She began by referring to a condition of claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance:
“Handing out CVs doesn’t count as Actively Seeking Work.”
Shall I repeat that? Read it again. Handing out CVs does not count as Actively Seeking Work. I asked the obvious question:
“How much more active can I be?! I spent seven hours traipsing the city centre!”
“Yes, but that is not in your jobseeker’s agreement. You’ve agreed to spend twenty hours a week looking online.”
I handed my CV in to businesses operating within industries where I have previous experience. The Jobcentre instructs me that my time would be better spent looking at advertised vacancies, regardless of how inexperienced, underqualified or under-skilled I am.
“That reminds me,” I said, “my advisor wrote into my agreement that I have internet access at home. I don’t. She asked if I had a computer at home, which I do. It’s not connected to anything though.”
This was corrected, and I signed the amended form. I asked if I could use their computers to upload my CV, complete this particular application, and submit it. Having spent three hours on it at home, ten minutes would be enough to send it off – once I also double-checked that auto-correct had not embarrassed me.
“I can book you in, certainly. The first available slot is on Friday morning.”
Friday morning? That was a full three days away, and I could have taken my sweet time over the form rather than rush to complete it. I had gone to bed at 4am, prior to my 10am appointment. This signer, incidentally, had previously “helped” (read “hindered”) me when I needed a Tax Rebate form stamped. On that occasion, one of the security guards had approached me when she left to photocopy something, looking at me sympathetically and confiding “she’s murder, mate.”
I decided that I would go to the library, taking my chances that I might get online sooner than seventy-two hours. Sitting down at a computer, having been struck by just how very empty the place was, a staff member apologetically informed me that all of Glasgow Libraries’ computers were being upgraded and thus unavailable “today and tomorrow.” Thursday would be the earliest I could get online. By Wednesday afternoon I had had enough of this ridiculous situation, and called the Jobcentre to speak to my advisor. I needed, and her title suggested she should provide, advice.
It was her day off. I spoke to an alternate member of staff, who listened to me.
“I have an agreement that says I need to search for twenty hours a week, online. The library is open six days a week, and the maximum computer time per person per day is two hours. I can go in every day and still be eight hours short. I can use your computers, but only once this week. Other forms of job search are discounted. All I want to do, at this point, is submit an application for a job that I have seen advertised, and want, and have already filled in the form for. They are not going to wait for me. What am I supposed to do?”
I can go in at 9am tomorrow and he will sort it out for me, making him the single most helpful member of staff I have yet encountered within that (dis)organisation. As it happens, I have newly taken out a contract for mobile internet, from a provider whose cheapest deal means that I have a new SIM card in my old phone, connected to my laptop and used as a modem. Being essentially a second phone contract, I realise that I should have shopped around instead of taking the primary one I agreed to two months ago. This new phone has enough inclusive texts and minutes to cover everything I would comfortably use within a month. So now I have two phones: one that I hate and struggle to use, both because it is unwieldy and because of the poor data allowance; and one that sits untouched on my table, connecting me to the outside world and to all the jobs advertised there. I am paying twice what I need to, two-thirds of it to a company whose services I do not require.
I cannot afford to be connected to the internet but, more importantly, I cannot afford to not be connected.
Today, I told my friend about this CV-handing-out anomaly – how looking for work no longer counts as looking for work.
“I was in that Jobcentre last week,” she told me. “They said that instead of just looking for jobs online, I should go round places handing my CV in.”
You know what? If they spent half as much time and resources on creating jobs as they do on clamping down on those desperate to find work, perhaps we would be in a better state. As it stands, the United Nations is now investigating the policies of this Tory Government. It is time for change. I am voting for independence.
I forget precisely what new story inspired my latest vitriolic social-networking chastisement of the leader of the government which nobody in my country voted for.
It was something to do with more cuts imminently about to take effect, further destruction of whatever last bastions of hope still remain, or the perceived abolition of the entire welfare state and all of its many benefits – benefits in the sense of positive attributes and not, as has recently become the norm, a filthy word to be spat out in a mixture of contempt and disgust. In hindsight, I think it was mention of the JobCentre having to send increasing numbers of people to Food Banks.
Demoralised and worn-down by the policies of our unelected Prime Monster and his millionaire cohorts, I have long since abandoned any formulation of argument and resorted to wearing a German army shirt adorned on the back with the handwritten, Punk-era-inspired epithet “Fuck The Tories.” I have also taken to referring to that cunt Cameron as “that cunt Cameron.” This is a misnomer, as – to quote a Jimmy Carr heckler put-down – I doubt he has the depth or the ability to give pleasure.
It was in this spirit that, fed up of more depressing pronouncements about how these seven-figures-rich, expense-claiming bunglers are “in this together” with people who are working every available hour in order to starve and freeze, I posted the following to my Twitter page:
“Could one of you be good enough to hit that cunt Cameron in the face with a shovel, please? Maybe a couple of times? Quite hard?”
It was a throwaway line, the kind of silly request that – tallied with extreme violence – characterises many of my posts to Twitter, Facebook, and which colours the jokes and stories I have developed over the past 29 months as a part-time, largely unpaid, stand-up comedian. If you follow my blog specific to those experiences, you are probably aware that my only journalistic review called me “fond of absurdity and with more than a hint of menace.”
As I checked the “connect” sub-page of Twitter, to see if I had had any kind of response to it, I saw that it had been retweeted – forwarded – by my wee cousin. This was of no surprise to me, as she has an equally abject hatred of the Tories – being, as she is, Scottish and of voting age.
The tweet was then retweeted by a “Derek Mackay MSP.”
Who? Never heard of him. I know what an MSP is, though.
At first, I presumed it was a spoof account – the kind of humorous, satirical account that alleges to be the new pope, or the JobCentre, or my local council, and posts a slew of witty, insightful, scathing, or absurd comments. That seemed the most likely occurrence, until I noticed that this account has a blue “tick” next to it, signifying that it has been verified as accurately portraying the notable person named. Possibly, this account had been hacked, then. Certainly, my post sat awkwardly amidst a stream of dry information about conference attending, going for a swim before attending a conference, and a trip to Dundee.
It was unusual enough, and raised my interest sufficiently, that I took a few screenshots on both my laptop and my phone.
The next evening, I was out with my wee cousin. I told a few people that I had been retweeted by an MSP, and at the point of checking I noticed that that particular notification had gone. I laughed aloud, figuring he must have changed his mind, and thought nothing more of it. Whether it had been deliberately posted by this MSP, or by someone pertaining to be him, it had now been removed. I joked that maybe it showed the true breadth and depth of feeling in this country, when even the elected members of our parliament can’t abide their Westminster counterparts.
Today, Wednesday 27th March, I met a friend for coffee. Doing some messages after that, I happened to look at my Twitter interactions page, and saw a message from one of my regular comedy colleagues. I thought he was alluding to publication in some obscure local rag, and it took a second glance to realise that he was using the common colloquialism to refer to the Glasgow Daily Record. In my haste to buy a copy from the nearest newsagent, I unsuccessfully tried to cross Union Street three times without detouring the five metres to the traffic lights, and managed to step worryingly close into the path of a moving bus while doing so.
As soon as I bought it, I turned to page four. There, indeed, was a short article about an MSP retweeting me. As soon as I got home I posted pictures of the tweet (screenshot) and of the article itself. On Facebook, it has been shared by nine of my friends and led to something of folk-hero status. On Twitter, it has been passed on less times, but with equal amounts of praise from those who have read it. Considering the Record included my Twitter username, it would have been very easy for people to object directly. At the time of writing, nobody has. I suspect they are all too busy working out whether they pay for heating, food, clothing, or fuel this week – being as it is not quite payday, and we can’t all be millionaire MPs with expense accounts.
Show me a person who approves of, likes, or voted for David Cameron, and I will show you somebody who probably lives in the south of England.
My friend McGovern has made me realise that I can extract, as a poster quote should I ever succeed enough in comedy to require one:
“Bile” – The Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservatives
And, thanks to the adjective they used, I can also include:
“Comic” – The Daily Record.
I am considering whether, on the back of the Tory’s comments as reported in that article, I should write to Alex Salmond in support of this Derek Mackay MSP.
Firstly, I do not want him to lose his job over this. It would be good if he could just admit that this was an error, and move on. God knows, there are more important democratic matters at hand. Like the fact the UK prime minister heads a party that had one MP returned from our entire country. Scotland did not vote for this government.
Secondly, I genuinely believe that this was an error on the part of Derek Mackay MSP. Not only did this retweet sit at odds with everything else he has posted, so far as I could see, he also had to be fully instructed on how to remove the tweet from his timeline. This is evidenced by the screenshot below. To me, that demonstrates a basic failing in knowing how to use the site, supporting my theory that this was an accident. On a smartphone, it could have been a simple slip of the thumb.
Thirdly, it borders on being inconceivable that any politician, by the very virtue of being a politician, would post anything so fundamentally unequivocal. Even if it happened to be his personal opinion, of which I have no knowledge. Deliberately retweeting this could be tantamount to career suicide, and at best it would be a foolish move for someone so open to public and press scrutiny. I very much doubt that this was intentionally retweeted.
While I decide if further press coverage merits me writing in support of this man and defending him for making what I believe to be a genuine mistake (and not even a mere oversight of judgement), I took the liberty of sending him a short message of support directly. Unsure how to word it, and trying to convey the right sentiment, I opened with my sincere desire that he is not unduly disciplined for this matter. I wasn’t sure how to end, though, and I suspect I may have undermined that sincerity with my closing sentence. I hope not, it just seemed apposite.
My overall response, naturally, was to post the following general advice to all of Twitter (well, to my 331 followers anyway) :
“If you’re in a position of public standing, it is inadvisable to retweet messages containing “offensive” language & requests for violence.”
I really don’t think he meant to.
[There is now a follow-up to this piece, which can be read here.]
Earlier this week, I was in my local branch of a mid-sized national supermarket chain. I happened to see an offer on burgers, and took a photo of the sign in order to make a silly joke on facebook, with reference to the UK horsemeat burger news story of last week. One of my friends looked beyond the cheap gag, and pointed out that the pricing information on the sign was arithmetically incorrect. I decided, for my own amusement, to write a complaint to the company in question. Ostensibly, it would be about the news story, and I would fill it with as many puns and as much wordplay as I could, before making a comparatively serious point about mathematical standards. This is the letter I sent, after the photo that I took.
Unless you have had the blinkers on, I am sure you will be familiar with the major headline story last week. On the back of the recent news reports about “beef” burgers and their contents, I’m afraid I wish to register rather a serious complaint regarding one of the products you offer for sale. I saw it, and took the attached photograph, in a branch in Glasgow, on Monday 21st January.
I understand that this brand, Birds Eye, was not caught up in the recent ‘horsemeat’ scandal. I can only presume that this is because they use their name to alert consumers to the possibility that their burgers may contain alternative types of meat, for example avian ocular organs.
I am aware that, by law, burgers must have a minimum meat content, and I absolutely trust that the majority of burgers do contain a minimal amount of meat. Listening to the naysayers, this issue seems to be less about eating Red Meat, and more about inadvertently eating Red Rum.
I understand, too, that – while your business may have stable suppliers – it is not your mane duty to vet all sources of meat used in the products you sell. I do not mean to nag, nor to stirrup trouble, and trust that you will not trot out a generic answer to this statement of concern.
Selling these particular burgers at half price, after this (without wishing to sound too grand) national outrage, seems – in a manner of speaking – a little like you are shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is almost as if you do not wish to be saddled with this remaining stock.
Having had free rein to bring this to your attention, I am now champing at the bit to explain the nature of my complaint. It relates to the advertising sign attached to the shelf edge in the photo, and I am not sure how it got pastyour quality control department.
Specifically, as you will see, the sign pronounces “Half Price” in large, bold letters. The original selling price, as stated and struck through, is £2.70.
You are offering this pack for sale at £1.29. I am not sure where you learned division, but it does not take great dexterity to realise that half of £2.70 is £1.35.
I realise that it is too late to amend this sign, and merely suggest that greater care is taken in future when calculating differences in price. Indeed, you could have made this offer seem more attractive to the potential consumer, by pointing out that it represents a saving of MORE THAN half price.
As you may gather, from reading this email, I am presently (like so many others) unemployed. I will be happy to come in and do basic maths or proofread signs for you on a regular basis, for a small fee. I am also available for any writing vacancies you may have, for example in public relations, subject to appropriate remuneration.
I do hope that you will give this some serious consideration, and await your reply..
If a reply is recieved, be certain that I will post it here. I sincerely hope that they will reply in the same spirit in which this was written.
Edit, 2nd May 2014: Fourteen months after I questioned their maths, to which no reply was forthcoming, they have still failed to grasp basic concepts. A three-day weekend is fifty percent longer than a normal one. They are eight hours short.
I haven’t written about the complete waste of time that is The Work Programme in a while, and this is largely because they appear to be doing less work than the unemployed people it is their sole duty to help.
I can say this with reference to personal experience, as – after they changed my advisor at Easter – I have had approximately three meetings in four months. It is supposed to be fortnightly, and they are supposed to be helping me conduct intensive searches for jobs and/or training, but due to a combination of Bank Holidays and the absence of my new advisor (who booked me in for a meeting on a day he had off as annual leave, and cancelled the latest one), I’ve barely been there.
In truth, I’m happier this way – I find the entire enterprise to be a mammoth waste of resources, and it is becoming increasingly clear to me that, if you are educated and literate, have no dependents or dependencies, and are aged 24 or over, then you are FUCKED no matter how strong your work ethic or desire to escape. They have no idea how to deal with you, or what to do with you, and so far have found me three months’ work that ended after seventeen days, and proposed numerous other jobs that have consistently failed to materialise. Fucking timewasters.
Recently, as evidenced by a blog I wrote here previously, they held a mandatory Jobs Fair event, at which there were no suitable vacancies available. Specifically, they had employers offering too few contracted hours to sustain anybody with rent to pay (based on THEIR OWN calculations), and others offering zero-hour contracts. The latter is a massive gamble, because monthly outgoings remain steady even if earnings fluctuate greatly – from lots, to literally nothing. You run the very real risk of not making anything, let alone enough to pay bills or eat.
One of the companies offering zero-hours contracts there was G4S, the security/stewarding company.
You may recognise their name as part of the first Olympics fiasco (I say first: others seem inevitable) – they were awarded something like £280m to provide staff, and failed. So now they are drafting in the army instead, and will lose approximately £60m of what seems like an unjustifiably large sum to begin with.
It has been reported that in Glasgow, G4S have lost the confidence of the police, who will now assume responsibility for security at Hampden. From the linked article:
Strathclyde Police’s decision comes after the force said on Monday that extra officers were being drafted in because G4S confirmed it was not able to meet its commitments at Hampden Park and training venues in Scotland.
This company has been paid a massive amount of public money to employ people, and Christ knows there’s no shortage of willing unemployed people and certainly not in Glasgow. So fuck knows how they managed to squander it so spectacularly – when there are folk crying out for jobs. It’s all zero-hour contracts though, so I guess people are reluctant to risk everything on nothing.
Give me Independence as soon as possible – Labour did fuck all for us, the Tories were contemptuous of us before and now it’s not just Scotland they are destroying. They’ve all proved they can’t govern us effectively, so it is time for us to have a go ourselves. The one thing that Independence offers, which they can’t, and don’t, is hope.
Without hope, we truly have nothing.
I tried this in my stand-up a couple of times, but it never really worked. I might try something different with it and use it again, but until that time, here it is.
I used to sign on in Govan, at the Jobcentre. They have jumped-up bouncers on the door, and there is very little more gratifying than going in for your appointment and seeing that one of them is sporting a fresh black eye. Heartening to know that somebody punched him.
They would demand to see my broo cards every fortnight, as if I had wandered in for the good of my health.
“What you in for?” they’d ask.
“Here to sign on,” I said, heading for the door that led me upstairs.
“Got your cards?”
“How, do you not believe me??”
The best bit was when they looked at your cards, looked at the clock, then delighted in informing you that you were late. Fucking later now thanks to you, ya prick.
I got stopped one week for having my ipod on. I listened to music on the half hour walk in, planning to remove the earbuds on my way upstairs. I didn’t make it that far.
“Need to take your earphones out,” I was told.
“Why?” I asked, reasonably enough. What did it matter to him?
“Health and Safety.”
Health and Safety. You can’t just give me those three words as a catch-all, an easy way to dismiss any query out of hand. I questioned it. He told me that it was “in case there is a fire alarm.”
Firstly, I’m fairly certain that fire alarms are designed to be noticeable – most that I have encountered involve loud and piercing sirens, pitched high enough to cut through any ambient noise. My ipod-supplied headphones were unlikely to drown out the urgent screech of a fire alarm.
Secondly, presuming that I was somehow oblivious to the noise, I’d like to think that – standing at a Job Point or waiting to be seen – if everyone else in the place suddenly stopped what they were doing, looked up, and then started heading for the exits; if they were being shepherded out by the office staff and security guards; I’d like to think that I might notice that, and follow suit. At the very least, I place faith in my curiosity and ability to speak that I would think to ask somebody what was happening.
Although, in order to ask them, I daresay that – removing my earphones – I would notice that my words were being drowned out by a fierce and loud piercing alarm.
With patronising logic like that, no wonder someone blackened his eye.
As mentioned in my last post, I had to attend a Jobs Fair today. My cynicism was well placed.
There were half a dozen companies with representatives there, two of them hotel chains; a photographer who had left before I arrived; an event stewarding company; and a cleaning company. The stewarding company are vaguely in my line (theatre, film, TV, and events crew) but they only offer a zero-hours contract, in line with the rest of the industry. They also only pay minimum wage, and so if I could risk the gamble of having no set hours then I would apply to every theatre under the sun ahead of donning a high-visibility jacket and parading football grounds and festival sites – the pay is better, and it’s what I want to do. The problem with no set hours is that there’s no set pay, and when you have several fixed monthly outgoings to meet it’s a risk. The Jobcentre don’t make it easy for you to take that option either, as by the time your claims are closed, opened, or processed your work situation has changed again. Somebody needs to address that.
The Work Programme have mentioned in passing a number of vacancies they have going in a recycling plant. It’s hardly glamourous, but I know they’ll provide all necessary PPE and it’ll be a lot more enjoyable than anything office based. If it’s lifting and shifting, then that is much the same as theatre to some degree. I thought that was the job I went to ask about today, but I was wrong.
The advisor sat me down and told me that this firm clean offices – fine, whatever, I’ll clean an office. At this point I don’t care, so long as it is financially viable. Then she told me that they’ve just been awarded the contract to clean a local theatre. Specifically, a theatre where I worked as a carpenter, flyman, stage crew, and followspot operator. I politely declined, because I’m not ready to turn up at my old place of work in that capacity. “Hi Jordan, how are you, not seen you in ages, what you been up to, what you doing here?”
“Can you show me where the hoover is?”
I can take a knock to my pride, sure, but I’m not about to dropkick it down a dozen flights of stairs and then stamp its head concave.
It’s not even full-time hours anyway, the most they can offer is 24/week and the Work Programme have already told me (via a Better Off In Work calculation) that I need to be doing at least 37 to make ends meet. So that’s the jobs they could offer me today – one that won’t guarantee it can cover my regular expenditures (rent, bills), and one that doesn’t provide as many hours as they’ve told me I need to be doing. Complete waste of time.
I held off writing that on the feedback sheet they gave me to fill in on my way out.
It’s been a while since I mentioned The Work Programme, partly because they fucked me over so badly last time they allowed me some leeway in the months it took to try and sort out all the shit I was left in. Then they changed my advisor.
That was a fortnight before Easter, and that holiday meant it was a month before I was due back. My new advisor had booked me in to see him on Monday past, a day he’d taken off as annual leave, and so I saw somebody else new to me. We went through the usual rigmarole of me having to provide thirty years of back-story to someone who will never deal with my case again, and I told him that I have accepted that the time is right to sell off my record collection. He tried to discourage me.
The truth is, my music tastes have changed considerably over the past ten years, and as it has been in storage for the past seven years my collection is of more use to me as collateral. At current market rates (by which I mean I’ve started watching ebay auctions to see what the stuff I have is going for), it will comfortably fund the driving licence that I feel will help make me infinitely more employable. There’s no way I’ll be able to afford let alone run a car any time in the near future, but at least if I have the Driving Licence Required by so many positions that I see advertised I will be able to apply. It’s a start.
He tried to dissuade me, though. “There must be other options for you, I don’t like to think of you having to sell something that obviously means a lot.”
“Do you know of any funding that would cover my driving?”
He snorted a laugh and said it’s hard enough to even get a couple of hundred quid in funding. I know this from innumerable past advisors. They can’t help. He was telling me I need to make myself more employable, and also telling me not to sell my belongings to do so, but couldn’t offer any alternatives to the one I suggested. He was nice enough, but completely fucking useless. They all are, hands tied by red tape and underfunding – if you’re smart and educated, they don’t know what to do with you.
He gestured to a flier on the desk in front of me, a Jobs Fair they are holding this Friday (tomorrow). “Great Opportunity!” it tells me in big letters, “We are holding a Jobs Fair. Join us.”
He explained that this will be my chance to meet a whole host of employers in various sectors, where I’ll get the chance to talk to them and they’ll get the chance to talk to me. I can fill in applications, give them my CV, and – my! – how wonderful and lovely it will all be. I expect the usual: offers of zero-hour contracts; short employment times; agency work (that last one is what fucked me previously, though all cause problems in a system not geared to cope with them); “Sorry, you’re over-qualified/under-qualified/can’t drive.” I think he sensed my cynicism, because he spelled it out for me – “I’m trying to make this sound like a really positive thing for you, because what I didn’t say is, it’s mandatory. You have to go.”
That’s the point when I realised that “Join us” wasn’t an invitation, it was an order. Suits me, I’m bored of unemployment to the point that I’ve actually sat down and photographed nearly everything I own that has “Iron Maiden” printed on it. That was the band I followed obsessively and compulsively for most of my teenage years and some of my early twenties. If they released it, I have it, usually in multiples and some of it signed. I feel a strange sense of detachment looking through every single item (of about 700) that I spent years of time, money, and effort accumulating. It used to be so treasured, a source of pride, but looking at it all now, after everything that has happened in the intervening years to change my perspective, attitude, and demeanour, I can barely relate to it. Nor to the person I was then. It’s sad, in a way, that all this that meant and symbolised so much now means so little.
It hit home the other day, when I was photographing all the magazine clippings that I cut out and kept – full page adverts, multi-page features, half-page articles, and everything else all the way down to clippings that are literally the size of my thumbnail. What struck me, looking at this vast scrap collection I have amassed, is that I can think of no clearer indication that I didn’t know nearly enough women in my formative years.
If anyone wants to just give me two-and-a-half grand for the lot, and save me faffing about with ebay for the next few months, please let me know. Imagine something they released, and I have it. Possibly signed. Some of it so rare I’ve never seen another one out there. Bargain. Ideal present for any socially-inadequate teens you may know.
Like I said, it makes me a wee bit sad that I feel this way, given how much of my life it represents. At the same time, it’s been a long while coming. And I’m enjoying the nostalgia aspect of going through it all one final time, to document it as fully as I can before selling it off. So yeah, I’m going to go and have a drink now. And then maybe go to bed, because I have to get up early tomorrow and attend a jobs fair.
At this rate, I might ask them if they have any vacancies going for archivists.
On the face of it, The Work Programme seems a good idea – an initiative set up to help the long-term unemployed find work. The problem is, there are too many people out of work (the figure just rose by another 28,000) and not enough jobs. Companies that aren’t cutting back on staff numbers are instead largely cutting back on hours and terms of employment. The benefits system isn’t designed to cope with zero-hour contracts (no set hours per week, so you can end up doing sixty one week and none the next, or anything in-between) and if you work over sixteen hours a week your Job Seeker’s Allowance gets stopped. That means casual work is out, as is anything part-time that works out at more than two days a week. Even being in work doesn’t pay.
Personally, I’ve been told that I need to be looking for full-time, long-term work for it to be financially viable to sign off the dole. If anyone knows of any full-time, long-term work that is even being advertised (let alone attainable) you’re in a better position than me. There is an undeniable stigma attached to being unemployed and claiming benefits, even though an increasing number of people who have worked their whole lives paying into the system now find themselves at its mercy. It’s just been announced that the Work Programme is taking on everyone that gets released from jail in the UK. So we are in good company, at least. Those of us with degrees, who have worked and will work wherever and whenever it is available, are now at the same societal level as ex-convicts.
My own experience with the Work Programme, well, I could fill a book were I inclined to post all of my personal affairs publicly. They are set up to get people into work, and so far, for me, they have found the following:
– 6 weeks call centre training, which quickly became five days training and five weeks answering their phones, unpaid. I refused, on the grounds that if it sounds like work and looks like work then it is work, and should be paid at the minimum wage or higher.
– 15 days with the Royal Mail, which earned me enough to lose my benefits, but didn’t pay me enough to cover all my outgoings. That full-time, short-term work left me financially worse off.
– 6 months cleaning Glasgow’s parks, a job that I lost before I started it after they read my mandatory medical history form and decided the problem with my knee, that bothered me 16 years ago, meant I was unfit to do a job involving walking. Despite the fact I walk everywhere, literally for miles to get home, and have no other means of transport.
There was one job came up in that time in my industry, a job that I found (or it found me), a job that I have dreamed for years of doing. It was created with specific funding though, the criteria of which meant I couldn’t apply, as I graduated “too long ago.” I appealed to the council funding department, who couldn’t do anything as it was taxpayers money and they had to be accountable for it. I emailed the council directly, pointing out that I’d be less of a burden on the taxpayer if I was in full-time work and paying taxes. There’s so few permanent jobs in my industry (theatre) anyway that if you find one within the specified two years of graduating then you’ve either been damned fortunate or have left to work in a call centre. They didn’t reply. I emailed my MSP too, making the same points, but all I got was a “thanks for contacting me” auto-response. Six weeks later, having heard nothing further, I emailed him again to tell him he’s lost my vote – and didn’t even get an auto-reply.
The Work Programme have broadened my search criteria, with my full consent, to include carpentry, joinery and general construction work, and I’ve been looking at jobs proof-reading and other similar roles too, based on the fact I read a lot and write quite well – if not always concisely. Their latest tactic has been to give me the address of a website to visit, where I am asked eighty questions about the kind of things I would enjoy in a job. Using my answers, the site lists the roles for which I am best suited, and it has been agreed that I will go through their suggestions looking for career-change options that might be viable in the current economic climate. So what was the outcome?
I am told, by this website that will succeed where they have failed, that I am best suited to working in:
– Music, dance, drama and theatre technology
– Building technology, furniture making, construction crafts, mechanical and manufacturing engineering (including fabrication and welding)
– Printing, publishing, graphic design
– Museum work, cleaning and related services.
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen – after several months, a few false starts, and the intelligence of this website, the jobs I am best suited to (according to the Work Programme) are the ones I did my degree in. Uncanny! I’m also suited to construction work and in printing. So what have we learned from this? Yes, that’s right, the Work Programme is a complete waste of time, money, and effort. Certainly for anyone halfway educated.
Given the state of those three industries, and their reliance on temporary freelance workers, I will now be looking for any full-time jobs that become available which offer the chance to clean museums. Apparently that is all that is left for me. Although, the construction options did tell me of apprenticeships that I “can apply for once you’re sixteen,” and I look forward to going back in time fourteen years once I figure out how.
In the meantime, now that I finally know which vocation to pursue, I would like to pass on that hope to the other 2,669,999 of you.
I wrote this on Saturday afternoon, and didn’t post it as the information I found for ticket prices varied greatly between my phone/the matinee and my laptop/the evening performance. Much of it holds true, though, and so – barring discrepancies in the actual price of tickets for the Theatre Royal – I’ve decided to put it up. If nothing else, it demonstrates how confusing it is to navigate their website when pricing seats. So here goes:
I’m writing this at a time when I would far rather be on my way out to watch the matinee performance of a play I badly want to see: An Appointment With The Wicker Man.
The Wicker Man might take its place, if forced to pick, as my all-time favourite film – a dark but witty tale made in Scotland with great actors, and featuring a memorable and beautiful soundtrack – and so this play immediately caught my attention. Co-written by Greg Hemphill, it promised to be a faithful and worthy successor to the film, as opposed to the Nicolas Cage version of the original, which you literally could not pay me to watch. I hate him and his inability to act convincingly in anything he has ever been in. If I see his name in the opening credits of a film on TV, I will switch it off – I find Cage to be utterly insufferable.
I recently discovered the sole benefit of being unemployed, which is the availability of concessionary theatre tickets. I realise that Cameron and the media are trying to make us out to be pariahs, and feel the need to mention that I did not choose to be unemployed, I am not happy being unemployed, and I will gladly take up employment just as soon as his backward government invest in industry, the economy, and job creation. Until then, strong healthy educated people will continue to swell the ranks of the “scroungers” and “cheats”. You may think that, signing on, we just get handouts. What we really get is the inability to afford things like food and heat, an overwhelming sense of embarrassment and inadequacy, and – if you don’t have any addiction problems – they try and help you out by making your life so miserable that you’ll seek any form of escape. As for the argument about big TVs and holidays abroad, I’m not saying there aren’t “cheats” out there, but bear in mind that all those Cash For Gold and Payday Loans adverts, and unsolicited visa card applications that arrive in the mail, are aimed at somebody: people must be using those “services.” When you’ve got nothing, and someone says you can have a brand new plasma widescreen blu-ray dolby HD 5.1 surround sound TV today and pay it up over the course of your entire life at an extortionate interest rate, sometimes you get blinded by the temptation of having something new to offset the relentless misery. Credit companies jumped on that. I despise that I feel compelled to justify to strangers on here that being unemployed does not make me feckless and workshy. Here’s a story from today’s news about real cheats – property developers who are using a loophole to get millions of pounds from the Government.
I’ve been a theatregoer my whole life, but there was a spell of a few years when I didn’t see anything, and so it was great to find out that the Citizens Theatre offer tickets to the unemployed for a mere £2. Last week, I went to see “The Brothers Davenport”, and I’ll definitely be down to see Pinter’s “Betrayal” this month. I wish I’d known about these prices ages ago. I looked into tickets for “…Wicker Man” today, hoping that the Theatre Royal would also offer a concession. They seem to, based on information about matinee pricing that I now can’t find on their site, but it ranges from £15 to £19. If you are signing on, that is between a quarter and a third of the money on which you are expected to survive each week. Ambassadors Theatre Group, who own the Theatre Royal and the Kings in Glasgow, have effectively priced theatre out of the reach of those not working. It costs ten quid just to sit behind a pillar in one of the Restricted View seats they offer, and as much as a bargain as that sounds…
The really stupid thing is, my employment history is in theatre. It’s an industry reliant on freelancers, with precious few long-term contracts and virtually no job security, and so most of the people I have worked with, graduated with, or consider friends, have had periods of unemployment. These are the very people most likely to want to go to see the productions that pass through town, to support their industry and keep it alive. As students, we were encouraged to see as much live theatre as we could, and those of us who took our would-be professions seriously did, and continue to do so. For many of us, it was already an existing habit.
The upshot of this is, I’m not going to see “…Wicker Man”, and I truly feel like I’m missing out – it has been getting rave reviews, which its producers are only too happy to retweet. I’d love to go, if I could take the hit financially, but for ten quid (to sit in a blind-spot) or fifteen (to actually see the stage) I can go to the Citz and see five or seven different plays. In fact, if you take the opportunity to pick up some of their 50p tickets, you could see even more than that. So that’s where my loyalty now lies, with a company that actually want people to see their productions.
I am disappointed, naturally, to have to miss a play I really want to go to, but on the plus side, for the same money I can go and see half a dozen equally-professional productions by writers like Pinter, Beckett, and Shakespeare. So please, support the Citizens Theatre – go and see their productions, take advantage of their 50p Ticket promotions and other low-cost prices, help keep theatre within the means of everybody. Who knows, maybe there’ll be such a boon I’ll find and get back into work.
I’m not looking for something for nothing, but while that’s all an increasing number of us have to live on it’s heartening to know that somebody is aware that that doesn’t make us heathens undeserving of art and culture. Cheaper tickets aren’t going to encourage unemployment, but they sure as hell take the edge off it for those of us already trapped here.
I studied at the RSAMD, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, in the days before they changed their name. They are now the RCS, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a name firmly in keeping with the pretensions they exhibit, and which has variously earned them the nicknames The Conservatory or the Arsey Ess.
There has always been a tendency, working backstage in the theatre and related industries, for people to offer unpaid jobs in return for those empty promises of “experience” and “looks good on the CV” – neither of which pays bills. I think many of us do a couple of those jobs then decide we are worth more than that – skills, experience, and ability cost money. It looks good on your CV only if you want your CV to show that you do not particularly value yourself. The practice continues though, perhaps moreso now there’s a recession. Over on the Scottish theatre forum, there isn’t a week goes by without people looking for free labour, free hires, favours, and other underpaid or unpaid help. Unfortunately, with new students looking for steps up and newcomers looking for ways in, there are always willing volunteers.
This damages the industry as a whole, because – if there is someone willing to work for nothing – then it fills a gap that would otherwise result in paid work for somebody. It is bad enough being undercut, but when you are being undercut by someone happy to work for literally nothing it is extremely hard to compete. This has long been a bugbear of mine, and now – with the Government’s Workfare programme – the habit is spreading. Populating businesses with unpaid staff has a knock-on effect, depriving others of paid work. And if you can get a person who’ll work free, why would you take on someone that needs paid next time? Instead, you know you can find a new volunteer.
A few years ago, I got a mass email from my course leader, looking for people to work for the RSAMD and with a national company for “expenses and experience.” The list of recipients included students and alumni, some of whose names I recognised – since our course only took in thirty people a year – from five years above me. I wrote back, saying it was terrible that they of all people were perpetuating this practice, and degrading – none of us spent three years getting into thousands of pounds of debt to graduate with a vocational degree so that we could work for “experience.”
It later transpired that that co-production managed to go £100,000 (yes, a hundred thousand pounds) over budget. It was widely reported in the press at the time. I wrote to my course leader again, asking how demoralised you would be if you had agreed to work for those “expenses and experience” and then discovered they’d managed to overspend on everything else, except your wages, by £100k.
Her response was to write and say she had removed me from the mailing list. Point: missed.
I worked for Royal Mail for fifteen days in December, through a recruitment company whose staff were stand-offish and disinterested, and whose communication was sorely lacking. I made a formal complaint, they invited me to initiate a Grievance Procedure, then wrote to me detailing the outcome of their “findings.” I had the right of appeal, and exercised it. Figuring that I’m unlikely to get anywhere with them, I responded with satire. I’m still waiting for a reply, but here is my letter to them.
ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED, ADDRESSES REMOVED, AND SOME PERSONAL INFORMATION REDACTED.
Regional Operation Manager,
Manpower UK Limited.
I write to appeal against the outcome of my recently-held grievance hearing. My purpose in writing to your head office in the first instance was to avoid dealing directly with the branch I hold my grievance with, in order to avoid bias in their handling of the situation. The response I received by post today is heavily biased, with seemingly unfounded assurances, incorrect information, and printed so hurriedly that one page of it is upside-down on your headed notepaper. I think if Charlotte had taken my complaint in any way seriously, bearing in mind the reason for the grievance was the aloof nature of one of her staff members, she could have ensured she printed the whole letter the correct way up.
I understand that my “assignment with Royal Mail” was worded in such a way as to provide you with the ultimate get-out clause: that just because it was heavily implied over a number of instances that the job would last until March, it was not guaranteed to do so and is therefore perfectly acceptable that you let me go after just fifteen days. What I resent, and what I complained about, was the fact that I had to phone Eddie, with whom I’d had no prior dealings, on the Friday before Christmas to find out if I had a job to go to that day, or not. A little bit of communication wouldn’t have gone amiss.
His attitude during that phonecall suggested that, being the Friday before Christmas weekend, he couldn’t get me off the phone fast enough, and I was being bothersome by asking him questions about whether or not I had a job to go to. He told me several times that “everywhere’s shut for Christmas” and refused to acknowledge or even listen to the fact that I was scheduled to be in, which blatantly contradicted his statement.
When I went in to get my wageslips (which I found you don’t print and make available in hard copy, presumably because you can’t guarantee that they won’t be posted out printed upside-down or back-to-front), Eddie gave me my personal log-in details, and details of my pay, indirectly including my National Insurance number and without checking any form of identification. I saw this as a breach of the Data Protection Act, and he also gave me full contact details of one of your internal accounts department staff, which was contained in an emailed screenshot that he printed for me. That was printed on blank paper, so it’s impossible to gauge if it was the right way up or not.
Charlotte, in her letter, assures me that she “can confirm that Eddie did verify [my identity]…by checking [my] passport details at ID on file.” Firstly, the latter half of this sentence makes no sense to anyone who constructs their sentences in English, and secondly, she doesn’t explain HOW she can confirm this. I guess she asked her staff member, who works in her office, about whether he’d followed company procedure. Amazingly, he seems to have agreed in the affirmative, almost as if he’s aware that his boss is carrying out a grievance procedure. Again, this was why I didn’t want it conducted by the people he works with on a daily basis.
Charlotte also states that she “can not find any evidence to suggest that [Manpower Branch staff had a general dismissive attitude towards]” me – I’d like to know where she looked for evidence. Presumably she asked her colleague. With whom she works, in the same office, every day.
Finally, Charlotte apologises for “any breakdown in communication” that I feel “may have happened” and she “can confirm that [I am] now in receipt of wage slips and P45 as requested.” Earlier this week I emailed her asking where my P45 is, the one that was allegedly issued weeks ago and that should apparently take only ten days to come. She said then that she would look into it, but without replying further she can now “confirm” that I am in receipt of it. I will be if it ever arrives. This seems to show the same casual and dismissive attitude to my case as demonstrated by her colleague Eddie in the first place. This letter lacks any real attention to detail, and seems so rushed that she didn’t even put your headed paper in the correct orientation before printing it. Then posted it without checking it, or she would have noticed that she only got one of the two pages the right way up.
I feel I can paraphrase her response fully below:
Dear Mr Mills,
Eddie is a nice man, because he works for us. He may have lied through his teeth but – because he works for us – we automatically believe him. You were only ever a short-term employee and so anything you say is worthless and suspect, as you don’t work for us.
I’m sorry you wasted my time, here’s some empty answers rounded off with an incorrect assertion.
I had my doubts that initiating a grievance procedure would be worthwhile in any respect – I only attended because I was invited to do so, on a day that I was already in town anyway. This letter I have received reinforces my initial impression of your staff – uninterested, rude, dismissive, patronising, casual in their demeanour, lacking in attention to detail, and just plain wrong.
I would like to take this opportunity to sarcastically thank you, as a representative of Manpower, for wasting so much of my time. Not only did I end up in debt and rent arrears because of the full-time short-term work I did for you, and miss out on money (tax credits) to which I should have been entitled, I have also had to enter into correspondence with Manpower, [REDACTED – names of seven other government/local authority departments and subsidiaries], that has now dragged on for four times as long as the actual job (or “assignment”) lasted. And still it continues.
I fully anticipate that you will continue to toe the company line as regards my employment, or “Brief Distraction” as it would be more fittingly termed, and will protect your own staff over and above any complaints made by your casual and exploited temporary workforce. At this point, all I want from you is the P45 that I am NOT yet in receipt of, as soon as possible, and ask that you remove all of my personal details from your files – most importantly the copy of my passport that you allegedly possess for checking “at ID on file”, anything containing my National Insurance number, and my bank account particulars.
I trust that you will do this at the earliest opportunity and that, if you decide to respond to this, you will make sure you have all of the headed notepaper facing the same way before printing. At this point, that’s the least I expect.
PS: This letter will not self-destruct, but at this rate I might. Sixty-two days and counting, sorting out the mess created by fifteen days of employment.
– END –
I was charged for having insufficient funds by RBS, and also for missing the payment by RBS Visa. This seemed like racketeering to me, given that it was established that money was due in my account the following day, and they change the payment date monthly. My first two letters elicited copied-and-pasted responses, appended with a photocopied signature of someone too high up to read correspondence.
By the time I wrote this third letter, I had completely given up all hope of getting any kind of personal response from the “customer care team” at RBS, and – seizing on the name of the person who’d sent me the latest copied-and-pasted reply – sent this letter back. I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere with them, which is why I put the swear-word in – past the point of caring. Having worked in Customer Service myself for a number of years, I know that as soon as the customer swears the argument is lost. I never swear when making a formal complaint, certainly not in the first instance. This one was in the context of a relevant quote though, and it was already clear that no appropriate reply would be forthcoming. I wrote this more in the hope that it would be passed round the office for entertainment, rather than acted upon.
They did reply, and said they wouldn’t enter into any further correspondence on account of my coarse language. That was copied and pasted too, so I can only presume that they get that quite a lot…
I consider this matter closed, and only post this letter here for your entertainment. Names and addresses have been removed, the rest is exactly as sent.
16th March 2010
RB Scare Team [Address Redacted, mis-spacing deliberate]
Dear Mr [Namesake of Famous Actor, Redacted]
Re: Your letter regarding my complaint, new reference [redacted]
I presume you are not the actor, although since your namesake once wrote a sitcom, it’s hard to be certain – your letter is a joke. It was good of you to take the time to copy and paste so many paragraphs, most of which were irrelevant to my previous letters. I did enjoy the irony of you apologising “if I feel some of the points raised in my letter were not dealt with, or responded to, correctly” in a letter that also failed to deal with or respond to my points raised. And OF COURSE the ‘bank considers its charges to be fair’, despite the overwhelming public feeling that the opposite is true – if you stopped charging everyone you would have to forgo those hefty bonuses, right?
I appreciate that you refunded £38 to my account, it’s just a real shame it seemed like a transparent bid to appease me and get me to shut up. It remained in my account about a day before you took it back out in interest or something – I’ve lost track of what you actually call your theft these days, but at least if you hadn’t repaid it I would have been hit with further ridiculous charges, so thanks for that. I suppose in your line that counts as compassion or something. Now, you assure me ‘my comments were noted’, but your company has failed to respond to them, for the third time. You know, I was asked recently if I would like to book an appointment for my annual customer review – let me make it plain that, as soon as my debts are paid off, I will not be your customer ever again.
Many people, it seems, are concerned with their carbon footprint. I am worried about RBS’ oxygen footprint – it seems your staff are using far too much of this valuable resource, and I would like to ask you all to stop forthwith. Surely your managers are largely breathing through gills anyway, unevolved as they clearly are. If only they could train chimps to copy and paste then they could do away with your entire department and reward themselves the money thus ‘saved’ (rather than, you know, repay the taxpayer). Anyway, I digress.
I have no idea what’s going on with my account, your staff are busy giving me conflicting answers in what could well be a deliberate ruse to confuse – last week I checked I had enough money to cover two switch payments. Then I was told the next day that they WOULDN’T be covered. So I borrowed £20 to pay in, only for it to sit there a week. Today, when I enquired what was going on, and if I was or was not £20 up (to spend on luxuries like food – mental, isn’t it? I’ve tried living on dust but it’s not so filling.) I was told that the £29 I thought was in my account has virtually gone in an interest payment. Quite fortunate that I left it there, isn’t it? You could, of course, do me the small courtesy of letting me know exactly when you plan to remove money from my account. If you include such information with my statement, then stop emailing it and instead post it to me again – I’ve explained before that I don’t have internet access. Or a TV licence, or anything else that so many people are able to take for granted.
Anyway, since you are clearly destined to ignore my questions and points for all eternity, I may as well just quote Al Pacino in the movie ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and say: kiss me. I like to be kissed when I’m being fucked.
Please, I implore you, also remember to use a condom – you are shafting so many people so royally (ah, that must be where the R in RBS comes from), I’m worried that you will infect me the same way your entire infrastructure is infected. You are a disease, your bosses are the cancer of society, and I look forward to reading what you are able to cut and paste in response to this. In the meantime it seems I, like so many others, have little choice but to bend over and take it.
PS: Don’t forget to grow a spine.
PPS: I realise you are probably just the minion to whom my case has been assigned, don’t take my comments personally. I did address two letters to the [Name Redacted] who photocopies her signature on all correspondence, but she’s clearly high enough up the food chain that she doesn’t have to take criticism. If you happen to know her, please inform her that evolution is a wonderful thing and she should try it sometime, instead of being thoroughly impersonal while pretending exactly the opposite.
PPPS: I have deliberately taken the time to word my letters articulately and with humour, because so many others must just be sending you outright hatred and heartfelt swearing. I don’t deal in standard paragraphs or cutting and pasting – please afford me the same courtesy in your reply. Even if it ‘is not company policy’ – your company is morally corrupt anyway, and you are – I presume – a human with your own brain, which lets you formulate independent thoughts and opinions. Just saying.
Again, I consider this matter closed, and only post this letter here for your entertainment.
Glasgow City Council are reducing the entitlement to Housing Benefit, by approximately a third.
I presently sign on, owing to a lack of jobs rather than an unwillingness to work. I could go into detail, but it’s nobody’s business. All you need to know is, I’m not in the position I want to be or imagined that I’d be in, and I don’t enjoy it. I’m honest, educated, and hard-working – provided I’m not being taken a loan of. The current system is inherently broken, and I foresee that I’ll provide more insight into that by documenting it on here in the future. There’s a lot to say, from my personal experience.
Housing Benefit is currently set at a maximum level, and all private rents are set at this level, artificially high. People under 25 got paid a lower rate, but this has changed and now includes all single people under 35. The only way to now get your full rent covered (which is set artificially high by the landlord, remember, to get the maximum he can) is to move in with someone and flatshare – which has a knock on effect on your other entitlements – cohabit with a partner (which has a knock on effect on other entitlements), or make up the shortfall yourself.
The shortfall, for those who are single, live alone in a one-bed flat, and are under 35 (not 25, now), is £136/month. This has to be made up, but keep in mind the dole pay you £270/month which is defined as the minimum required to keep you above the poverty line (it doesn’t) – now you’re expected to pay half of that directly to your landlord. Or move somewhere cheaper. There is nowhere cheaper in the city, they’ve all set the rent high enough to get the maximum available. The only viable option is a Housing Association.
These changes came into effect on 1st Jan, and Housing Benefit were made aware of them when they started back on the 4th. So they were three days behind from the off. They are now using the Discretionary Housing Payment fund, which is earmarked for urgent and emergency cases with extenuating circumstances, to try and make up the shortfall for as many people as possible.
I’m not looking for a free ride, rent needs paid, but suddenly a decade’s worth of people who were (comparatively) secure in their homes face moves or homelessness. Meantime, the emergency fund is helping out those who (four weeks ago) didn’t need helped. The system was flawed, now it is utterly fucked.
Anyway, I spoke to my Advisor about this. I said “They’ve told me before, because I’m a single white male, thirty years old, with no dependants and no dependencies, I’ll be on the Housing Association waiting lists for years. By the time I’m eligible, I’ll be old enough that I’ll be back on the current rate anyway.”
She laughed and said she’d never met anyone who could turn a negative into a positive so easily.
There’s lots of us who will be affected by this, but it seems so fundamentally ridiculous that they would cause widespread homelessness and use the emergency fund to help rescue those people, in the name of saving money, that I don’t know how else to deal with it. It’s the kind of absurd thinking that inspired the creation of this blog.