Right now I am supposed to be spending five hours working on my search for a job but I am not. I am too cross and tired to spend five hours doing anything, let alone filling out Universal Jobmatch to show that after looking after two children for 13 hours on my own (and the countless hours throughout the night that I am currently preparing for), I have done the minimum amount of applications to qualify for my Job Seeker’s Allowance.
I was well aware of how morally reprehensible it is to cut off the benefits for those out of work because the rules haven’t been followed. It saddens me deeply that in trying to put food on the table and pay the bills the many have been punished because some people like to make examples of the few who choose to scam the system. I can really only speak for myself in this but if someone is skilled at playing the JSA game, let them do so because from experience, they really are the few and it is small price to pay to treat people with respect and dignity.
What I wasn’t aware of was with how little dignity people out of work are treated and how low down the scale children and family life are placed when money is concerned. Part of the problem is that caring for and raising children isn’t seen as unpaid work, even though it is essential for our society and the human race to exist. It is somehow seen by the DWP as a luxury that you should only do if you can afford to or otherwise: get a job.
I was told today that I needed to spend 35 hours a week minimum working on getting myself into employment, the Job Centre would no longer help or support in this and I was to do it myself as though it was my full time job. Additionally, I was expected to apply for every job within 90 minutes travel that I had experience in or could reasonably perform. I was to then evidence this to my advisor and show what I had done over and above this to get myself back into employment.
So far, so reasonable. That is if I did not have two young children relying on me. If they were older or I was childless, then of course I would spend my time applying for each and every job I could do rather than receive the dole. In fact, when I was made redundant from my first full time job I did just that; I got up at 5am each day and spent my entire day applying. Within a month I had a full time job again. But I am no longer childless.
Breaking it down, this is what life for me and my children would look like if I followed these rules. First of all, to spend 35 hours a week on my job search gives me two options:
Option 1: I do this in my evenings. This means after I have got the children to bed, I then need to be searching for jobs until at least 1am, probably later as parenting doesn’t stop when the children are in bed. This doesn’t include all the other things you do on an evening as a parent like clean, wash, prepare things for the next day. They would have to be done outside of this time.
Option 2: Do it in the day. My advisor said I needed to check the website and re-save my CV morning, noon and night. That means 5 hours in the day of essentially ignoring my children, putting their needs second, not meeting the developmental needs of my 9 month old. I would love 5 minutes in the day to go to the toilet in peace, let alone 5 hours to ‘work’ on finding work.
After finding 35 hours each week to look for jobs, if I were then to get as far as being offered one – in the extreme case scenario – 90 minutes away and full time. I should probably point out that this is not 90 minutes door-to-door but 90 minutes of reasonable travel time. For me, this would mean leaving the house before 7.30am and returning some time after 6.30pm. I wouldn’t actually see my baby awake for 5 days out of seven. My husband works abroad part of the time so for the best part of a week my children would see neither parent but hired childcare. Not only does this make me incredibly sad but after paying the cost of the childcare and the travel we probably wouldn’t be better off than we are now. I would be selling my kid’s childhood with their mother for a little bit of money or more likely, not getting into more debt.
I pointed this out to the advisor. I was told that while I can explain my family circumstances and it would be noted, it wouldn’t be taken into account as this was the bare minimum to receive JSA. It’s seen as a lifestyle choice.
I don’t blame the Job Centre advisors, they are simply following rules themselves so they don’t end up on the other side of that desk. To add insult to injury, they are no longer allowed to make reasonable judgments for themselves. I was informed that I would be expected to attend an Employability Workshop. This takes place once a week at 3.15pm on a Wednesday for two hours and is expected of all new applicants regardless of how ’employable’ they may actually be.
I pointed out that I had to collect my son from nursery on a Wednesday but if it was mandatory I would remove him an hour early and attend with both children. This is when I was told I wouldn’t be able to take either child. With a husband in Europe working and unable to afford childcare out of work, I asked how this would be possible. They agreed to pay for the childcare if I found someone before Wednesday but they could delay it a week to give me time. I asked if they thought it right I was being asked to leave my children for two hours with a stranger and what they recommended I do with my 9 month old who was still being breastfed and had yet to be left with a non-parent carer? I said I was unwilling to put my baby through that as I knew she would just scream for two hours and that would be traumatic for both the children. All to attend a workshop that wasn’t going to directly lead to a job. They are getting back to me with a decision as to whether or not I have to attend.
Suffice to say I left the job centre feeling stressed and down hearted. I am applying for JSA because in the past five months of applying for every part time job available in my area, I have barely heard back from any and we now need the extra support while I continue to do this. I posted on Facebook about how frustrated I was with the interview and how it saddened me that this is how we treat people in this country. The response from people I knew who had also experienced this was surprising. All found that the job centre has become a series of hurdles of overcome where you are trying to prove you deserve JSA and meet all the rules and regulations, regardless of whether they help or hinder a job search. On the most part, it feels like you are being set up to fail from the outset and done so on purpose so that you won’t claim, so the statistics show that you are not unemployed.
Sometimes people find themselves between jobs, they can be educated, have long careers, great skills and still need support. Regardless of why someone is unemployed or how long they have been, they still deserve a level of respect and dignity that is no longer given. Above all, family life should be supported, time with young children should be valued.