Opinion: Job seeker’s allowance
An insight into the daily struggles of being in-between jobs and in-between idiots, with tips on how to avoid becoming one of those idiots.
When first adjusting to the removal of our structural safety blanket, that is the education system – whatever age or stage of your schooling that may be – one immediately finds themselves in a state of anxiety. This is one of the first key signifiers that you are entering adulthood, as you must quickly learn to adjust to this new – found weight of responsibility on your back. On the plus side, you are also on your way to experiencing the world of financial independence, earned respect (literally) and freedom. I imagine that this brings back thoughts and feelings that a large majority of us can relate to. Now, go back to that period of time before you got your first job, when you would bathe yourself in perfumes because you were starting to believe that your desperation was actually beginning to smell. But instead of getting the job, you simply didn’t; the years passed by, temporary work came and went- but no one would invest in you.
Imagine how often you would have received rejections, or how much more often than that you were ignored. Or what if you had been made redundant from the first and only job you had ever had, a role you had been working in for the past 25 years of your life- but now you had to re-build your career at 42. Or perhaps your partner died suddenly – which then forced you to revoke your plans for an early retirement together, and find work for yourself.
Less of us can relate to the last few examples, even less still than we could just over 5 years ago when unemployment in the UK was at 8.5% – almost double the percentage of unemployed people aged 16 and over today. However, this does not change the fact that just under 3 million of us are still a part of that statistic. Having said that, it would be foolish not to mention those who manipulate the system and who have no intention of finding a job because they are reliant on Jobseeker’s Allowance, a.k.a. ‘the tax payer’s money’. But, despite this stigma, along with the countless television documentaries (‘Welfare Britain’, ‘Breadline Britain’, ‘Young, British and Broke’, ‘Young, Jobless and Living at Home’, ‘Don’t Cap My Benefits!’- just to name a few), it is similarly foolish to tar all job seekers with the same brush, so to speak.
To further explain what Jobseeker’s Allowance is, here is more detailed description from the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions):
‘Jobseekers Allowance was introduced on 7th October 1996. It replaced Unemployment Benefit and Income Support for unemployed people and brought them together in a unified benefit with two routes of entry. It can be claimed by people who are available for and actively seeking employment, including those in remunerative work for less than 16 hours a week on average, and by people on a government training scheme.’
Anyone who has ever visited a Jobcentre Plus cannot deny that there is an overwhelming energy that washes over you upon entering the building – words like hopeless, demeaning and incompetent come to mind.
When regular appointments with your advisor become a part of your routine and each visit is almost identical to the last one, it can be quite challenging to maintain a positive, motivated attitude towards the whole process.
Again, please note that this article is not meant to criticise the benefit system – it is a known fact that Brits are in a much more advantageous position than most others around the world when it comes to matters of unemployment. Only, this doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement, or that we should leave issues unaddressed. For example, the kind of work or interviews being offered at the Jobcentre are often for quite laboursome roles, i.e. warehouse jobs, which involve heavy lifting, bending, standing for long periods, and so on. This may not be ideal for the more elderly job seekers, but a job is a job, as they say.
What’s much worse than the actual work itself is the way that you are treated by your employers, who work for organisations that see you only as a payroll number. I have witnessed and experienced people being barked at like stray animals; being hurried out of the way so that customers don’t see you on the shop floor; not receiving any breaks through a 12-hour shift; bags and coats being left in public spaces because we can’t use the staff locker room; blatant sexism, racism and nepotism, and unfortunately, the list goes on. Further to much discussion I have had with friends, family, strangers, advisors and employers, there seems to be a general notion that a job seeker or someone who is not in full-time work, is obliged to give up on any hopes, ambitions and even human rights that they were holding on to.
Some people also seem to be under the impression that the job seeker somehow owes the government, or the tax payer for the weekly amount of £57.90 (age under 25) or £73.10 (age 25 or over). Clearly, this debt cannot be repaid fiscally – so apparently, all of the above is deemed as acceptable. Critically acclaimed indie director, Ken Loach depicts this with precision in his award-winning film ‘I, Daniel Blake’, presenting a pretty grim look at hardworking, responsible English people who get sick or lose their jobs and are then mistreated by a social welfare system that seems designed to make desperate people give up. Reviewer, Barbara Shulgasser-Parker describes Loach’s work below:
‘This is a powerful, beautiful, and depressing drama about dignity in the face of humiliation. It’s also about humanity in the face of insensitive bureaucracy and about demanding respect and decent treatment for all, not just those who can pay for it.’
Although I do not claim to have all (or any) of the answers that might solve the Global Economic Crisis, I do believe that we all have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other when expressing our attitudes. One should be especially sensitive when addressing someone from a different walk of life to their own – at the very least, so as not to make themselves seem ignorant or narrow minded, (hence why being PC is so “in” right now).
The words we use have a huge impact and can cause lasting damage, where emotional stress can affect a person’s physical body, producing physiological effects. Moreover, numerous psychological studies have found that if something is repeated to you often enough, you will still believe the lie even though you know it’s incorrect.
Novelist, Gustave Flaubert supports this point with concision is his famous quote; “There Is No Truth. There Is Only Perception.” If we were to build each other up rather than put each other down, then our planet and its people would surely be in a better state, that could even be maintainable – but first we must perceive it for it to become a truth. One might argue that these struggles are a part of life, that such experiences test one’s strength of character, or even that such endeavours are character building – and that might be the case.
However, we should not pretend to know what other ‘life tests’ someone might be undergoing – nor should anyone feel obliged to assume the role of ‘life tester’. I understand that not everyone is burdened with empathy, yet it does not require an abundance of thought, or feeling to imagine yourself in a situation worse off than your own. Perhaps I am asking humans to act outside of the human condition, and perhaps this is an impossibility – but it couldn’t hurt to try.
As promised, I will leave you with 5 handy tips to bear in mind when interacting with an “unemployee”.
1. Refrain from duping men or women into giving you their contact details for business (but actually using it for your pleasure)
2. Do not advise someone who is striving for more that ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ (…just in general)
3. It is best not to assume that one’s entire work experience is reflected by their current job role (or the roles they are applying for)
4. Upon learning about one’s education, background, past career- maybe don’t ask ‘what happened?!’ (they’re probably still trying to figure that out)
5. Remember that there is no such thing as job security (it could be you)