Thursday, 13 August 2009

'Now You're Unemployed, You Can Do ... Everything'

It seems mad that when you are unemployed you actually work harder than when in a job. Of course, in many occupations in the UK especially those based in offices, much of the time is spent not working but answering more or less important emails, going for coffee, sitting through meetings and so on. I have done jobs where you cannot slack so much, but even working in warehouses, there was time to linger emptying the bins, chatting with friends, playing games with damaged stock and even going to the toilet to read the newspaper and/or masturbate, the latter seemed to be the prime occupation of many of my colleagues.

Being unemployed, however, you are often under much more scrutiny than you would ever be in most jobs. I know in some jobs they expect you to account for every hour you spend there, but in many there is really little attention to what you get up to especially if you can manage to attain the overall target. Now, I have to outline every fortnight what I have been doing to find work. The job centre books appointments for you to turn up 20 minutes before you will actually be seen and this is to monitor what you do when at the job centre. I got into trouble on my first visit this time round because even though I had arrived when I was told I should and had informed the front desk, they had neglected to tell the case worker who then chastised me for not doing the 20 minutes of job seeking in the job centre that I was supposed to do, though in fact I had done it. Aside from this I have had to sign up to apply for 3 jobs per fortnight. I think this is unfair for me, as for many vacancies you simply send in a CV, for posts in my field you have to complete 5000 words of application, taking up to a day if you want to get it right. I have also had to say that I will visit various websites and read 'The Guardian' newspaper on a certain day.

I know many people will say that if you want money from the state you should be prepared to jump through hoops to get it. I know people who claim if you want any benefit you should be compelled to sell your car and television first, as if to prove you are deserving of aid. I have no opposition to the rules I am now under but am uneasy that there is an assumption that if I was not compelled to demonstrate I am looking for work I would simply not bother. The thirty applications I made in the run-up to my redundancy count for nothing. As is often repeated to us unemployed 'finding a job is a job in itself' and so it does take time, it does not happen instantaneously. However, trying tell the woman in my house this. This is something I know a lot of unemployed people encounter.

There is an assumption from housemates, partners, whoever, that now that you are unemployed, your life is utterly empty and that it must be filled with every domestic job possible. Often it even involves chasing up things that you soon find you cannot do because you are not the account holder. However, failure to do any of these tasks opens you up to being charged with being lazy, a portrayal you constantly battle against when unemployed but is particularly galling when it comes from people you share a house with. As I have noted before, I have always felt it was fair to split jobs in a house and I do not adhere to any gender division on this. I clean the bathroom and toilet, vacuum clean the house, make the beds, do all the washing up and buy the bulk of the groceries. Now I am unemployed this is apparently not enough and I now have to child mind, post parcels, tend to the garden and the laundry. The other morning I had to break off from all of this to actually apply for a job as I realised that I would have nothing to show the job centre when I turned up for my fortnightly interviews. However, my housemate has no understanding of the pressure I am under and I am simply seen, like so many unemployed people, as the free labourer she has now gained to make her life easier.

I have encountered this before even when one of four adult residents in a house. Suddenly the others find a free servant that they can criticise with impunity. Any complaints are responded to with the fact that you are lazy or not trying hard enough because apparently you sit around the house all day. Ironically for me I now work harder than when I had a job and in fact have far less time to look for vacancies and apply for them than when I was working. Of course, I cannot reveal this to the job centre as they would say I was unavailable for work and so not deserving of any benefit payments. So, I am trapped between two forces shaping my time and whipping me with the accusation that I am not trying hard enough. I have felt literally castrated by being made redundant. Men do find it hard when they lose their jobs and for me there is a real pain, a psychosomatic one I acknowledge, but uncomfortable all the same. I have no idea what the future holds even whether I can hold on to my house and this is not light stuff. Handling being unemployed and the daily humiliations that carries as well as lacking funds to alleviate the gloom, is tough enough, without being compelled to be an unpaid domestic servant beaten by the stick of accusations of me somehow being lazy. I can only fear that this will break me emotionally far faster than I expected and I will be unable to stir up any enthusiasm even if I get any more interviews, assuming, that is, that I can find some time between the next batch of chores in which to actually search and apply for some jobs.


Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued by your experience of the Jobcentre. In the East Midlands, about all they ever did was to check the little logbook to make sure I'd performed at least six actions in the previous fortnight (eg checked local paper, applied for job with X) and occasionally pulled up some job onscreen and asked if I'd seen it. Now I've moved back to Scotland they never, ever look at the logbook at all.

Rooksmoor said...


well, it does seem a lot less difficult than it did in the 1990s, but certainly they check up more than what you have experienced even now. It may be because I have always been unemployed in areas where unemployment is usually low even in bad times. Both times I have been out of work it has been in the South East, which usually does not suffer as much as the rest of the country, so perhaps they think people out of work are not trying hard enough, or perhaps with fewer people signing on in those regions they have more time to spend on each claimant, I do not know.

Certainly they are being less hard on me than I was expected to be on claimants when I worked as a civil servant. At that time we knew many of the rules were counter-productive, especially on voluntary work and would turn a blind eye. That de facto approach seems to have become de jure.

Sometimes I think it comes down to the manager of a particular job centre and how aggressive they are, as in my experience they set the tone for the work in the whole place. My boss was very officious, but always seemed to be overwhelmed of what was asked of her so fell back on doing everything by the book, which meant being tougher on claimants than might have been the case at the job centre in the next town.

Rooksmoor said...

Another factor, I think is what you did previously for work. Due to the fact that I was middle manager level in my previous job, I think the job centre staff expect more from me than if I was a recent school leaver. In fact at my first interview this time, the woman said 'if you're here then things must be bad', which was hardly heartening. The suggestion is that I must be doing something dodgy so need to be under close scrutiny.

The job centre staff certainly seem to expect me not to be unemployed for more than a transitional period. They also expect me to have more money saved up so to have no need to sign on, though of course, everyone should sign on even if it is just for the National Insurance contributions and not for any other benefit. However, I agree that people like me being unemployed for any length of time is a clear indication of the depth of the recession and certainly that it is approaching the proportions of the 1980s Thatcher employment crisis.

Maybe people just giving me hassle. I know I talk too much when I am at interviews of any kind. Clearly though, I look suspicious, as all the times I was pulled over by customs at Dover indicates. Ironically I am very law abiding, but it seems that many official bodies still adhere to the 19th century perception that you can detect wrongdoers by physical characteristics and despite movies like 'Shrek' and 'Igor', bad guys are still likely to have physical deformities in popular culture. I look like a Russian gangster, therefore, clearly, I must be trying to defraud on unemployment benefit, simple equation that seems enduring to officialdom.