The Department of Work and Pensions aren't doing a lot for this middle aged job seeker.
|Diary entry for today reads: 'Bugger.'|
Being 50 and unemployed is a funny place to be. On Monday I was told by, I’m sure, an otherwise nice lady at my local Job Centre that, having been out of full time work for over sixteen months, I have to do a 30 hours a week work placement. That’s as well as an additional 10 hours a week job searching.
That’s 40 hours all together, when the average working week is 35 hours for people in employment. So, already I’m feeling victimised, particularly as I was explicitly told that, after a certain amount of time, the government will not tolerate people on Job Seekers’ Allowance not working. In other words, I’m being forced to do a full time job for the pittance of £62 a week I’m already getting while I’m looking for work.
And I really have been. The people who know will tell you that since I lost my regular work in 2014, I’ve been unstinting in trying to find something else. I’ve got a degree in Graphic Design and I worked in that profession successfully for over twenty years, working on everything from Car magazine up to an official calendar for David Bowie. I’m a published writer of five books and numerous articles on film and television, and I’ve produced documentaries for the Doctor Who DVD range. To keep myself socially interactive, I’ve been volunteering at my local library, the Centrepieces Mental Health Arts Project and an Ellenor hospice charity shop. On top of that, last summer I scraped together the money out of my JSA to do a web design course – hardly the definition of a work-shy fop, I’m sure you’ll agree. Yet, despite all that, I’m now expected to accept about £2 an hour for effectively doing a full time job, an hourly rate WAY below the minimum wage.
This is exploitation, pure and simple. If people on Job Seekers’ Allowance are working for Tescos, Primark, B&Q et al, they’re clearly contributing towards the turnover and profits of those businesses, and those businesses are getting free labour courtesy of the government. (For more on this, check out the Guardian story at www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/feb/16/work-free-tesco-job-advert). Just imagine what working for free will do to your confidence and self-esteem, as you toil next to someone doing exactly the same job who’s getting paid a living wage for doing it.
Someone I know recently said it’s a much harsher world these days and I tend to agree. It’s not just the establishment’s attitude to the long-term unemployed: getting a job interview is harder than it’s ever been. Companies now apparently use something called ‘Sift’. This means that if a computer – which most job applications go through before reaching a human being; well Human Resources, anyway – doesn’t detect between 10 or 15 words in your application the same as the ad you’re responding too, your application gets binned. That’s on top of it being junked because you don’t agree to work evenings, weekends or unsociable hours. And if you disclose a mental illness or a minor offence, which some applications ask for, you might as well throw your application away yourself and cut out the middle man.
It’s a shame that Resources Plus, a private company that’s supposed to help you find work, didn’t earn the money that the government is paying and tell me about Sift sixteen months ago. If they had, I might be in a better position by now. RP did suggest I start a business, but the majority of start-up loans have to begin being paid back almost immediately. If what you’re doing doesn’t take off instantly, you’re stuck with paying the money back out of your own resources, and for me that means my JSA. God knows, I don’t want to ask my loved ones for any more financial help I can’t repay.
Back at the Job Centre, the lady I saw was rather concerned that I didn’t have the internet at home, as this means I can’t keep my job searching going during the evenings. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I can’t afford it, which is why I use the library during the day.’ She appeared not to hear my response as she regarded my cheap mobile with equal concern, recommending that I invest in a smart phone so I could act on jobs advertised on Twitter. ‘OK, but would you like to suggest how I pay for one?’ I asked. The lady was deaf again. When I inquired where the government initiatives were to help the over 50s back into work, it looked like the deafness was becoming permanent.
There aren’t any, of course. It’s part of the same problem as trying to batter your way back into a job market that doesn’t favour the middle aged. We’re all living longer and remaining productive longer, but as far as I can see society in general isn’t adapting. I nearly laughed out loud when my lady at the Job Centre said that companies like ASDA and Sainsburys like older people because they were more reliable. Fair enough, but why not the BBC, Virgin Media and many other companies where my own particular experience would be more relevant and useful?
So that’s where I am at the moment. It’s an unsettling feeling, knowing you’ve got so much life and work experience to offer, but being presented with what seems to be a diminishing set of employment options. All this is before you consider the recurrent feelings of loneliness, isolation and just plain hopelessness – the love of friends and family notwithstanding – that come with being out of work for a long time.
However, I try not to look back in anger. I go to bed, get up and, as ever, keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s all you can really do.