A Woman of Substance

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May 19, 2011 by Rhi

I’ve reached a bit of an impasse here, folks. I’m trying really hard to keep the whole blog thing going, but the increasing demands of work means that, not only do I not have any real time to write… it also means I don’t have the endless hours to spend smurfing the interweb to read up on current affairs the way I used to. At the moment, the basis of my understanding of world events is coming from a flick through a copy of ‘i’ in my lunchbreak.

But whilst my frustrations at my writing time is something I’m trying to deal with, I have to admit that the fact that I am, once again, a member of the working masses far outweighs any disappointment. I feel, quite frankly, like a human being again. During the 7 months I was unemployed, I was treated like a second class citizen by Job Centre Plus employees, and my jobless state was apparently worthy of comment during a debate about university tuition fees (“Remind me what your employment history is again? LOL!”). I might be out of the woods for the time being, but the experience has told me that it’s still something we should be concerned about… and it seems like it’s not been mentioned in the light of unemployment figures showing a percentage decrease in figures released yesterday.

But that decrease doesn’t seem to tally with the actual increase in the number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance. Nor does the number of people claiming JSA give an accurate picture of the number of people on the dole. In my own circumstances, whilst I’ve managed to find employment, my partner has not. He is no longer claiming JSA, and is therefore not included in these stats.  It’s possible that he may be entitled to be registered as unemployed, but not receive any money, but quite frankly, the idea of going through the process of signing on, for no actual benefit (either monetary or via support and assistance) means that you’d have to be mad to do it.

Youth unemployment may have fallen… but let’s not forget that it’s now May. Universities and schools are nearing the end of their term, and that means there’s a whole new glut of unemployed young people just around the corner. I don’t envy their prospects. I have 10 years work experience, 6 of those in the arts. And I was resorting to applying for entry level assistant posts as a means to an end. And I STILL wasn’t getting called to interview, because there were people more experienced that me applying for the same jobs.

And yet… people still talk about benefit claimants as being some kind of scourge on society. But what other options are there? I applied to be accepted onto a scheme which offers not only capital for a business, but also training. You spend 6 months attending training sessions every week, instead of signing on, and at the end of it, you apply for your business start up loan. The perfect option for someone like me – on benefits through circumstance and not through choice. Claiming the bear minimum to survive on. Needing to work not just to survive, but because it was instilled in me throughout my life that it’s what you do. Except when I tried to sign up for the scheme, the facilitators were excited to hear my ideas, but the money had been frozen. By the Coalition Government. And the real irony? I found this out within days of George Osbourne’s speech to the Welsh Conservatives where he said that it was entrepreneurs who were needed to save the country.  Seems it’s only those with money in trust or savings who can better themselves in that kind of world.

Unemployment amongst women is rising, thanks to the cuts in the public sector. Every week when I signed on, there was some change to my partner’s claim. That’s why I’m not convinced of the fall in youth unemployment – changing the way 16 -24 year olds are dealt with means that the figure is not a true reflection. And where does this lead to? An under-experienced workforce who will be unable to take up the slack as the number of pensioners increases. And there’s an increasing chance that a higher number of 17 and 18 year olds will opt not to go onto university, thanks to the increased tuition fees. Which means the number of unemployed young people will completely outstrip the number of jobs they can realistically do.

As for me, whilst I’m relishing the fact that I’ve apparently fallen into the job of a lifetime, it’s still not all plain sailing. I work for a charity, who have already been forced to make staff redundant this year. It’s not just a case of being brilliant at your job, if the money isn’t there to pay you, then there is no job. I wish I had an answer to all of this, I don’t. But I do know that massaging figures and pretending everything is fine doesn’t help anyone. It only serves to stigmatise those on benefits even further. It’s not a lifestyle choice, it’s not an easy option. And until the Coalition government puts some kind of funding into creating work for these people, then we’re all going to hell in a hand cart.

The DWP announced redundancies recently… I can think of a few people who could do with an experience of living life at the sharp end for once.


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