Wednesday, 20 April 2016


I got myself back to work without any help from the Department of Work and Pensions. Quelle surprise.

'Some people work very hard, but still they never get it right...'

I’d never have thought I’d be happy serving in a shop. Then again, where I’m working sells Doctor Who DVDs, DC and Marvel comics and Lego figures. If ever positive proof was needed that you should go for employment you have an emotional connection with, there it is.

Since my first ‘Unemployed at 50’ post on a dreary Thursday January 28, my circumstances have improved more than somewhat. Things started to take a turn for the better when the Department of Work and Pensions passed me on to SEEC, the Social Enterprise Employment Company. This very worthwhile charity was set up specifically to help people with mental health issues get back into work – a much more constructive approach than forcing them to work for free for ASDA and Sainsbury’s, which was the much bleaker alternative I was presented with. Thanks to some very constructive advice and guidance by one of their work advisors, within a week, literally, I’d been shortlisted and had an interview. I didn’t get it – it was outside my normal area of work experience and I was probably a bit rusty at interview technique, but even so…

Compare that with the deafening silence I had for nigh on two years following the advice of Resources Plus, one of the DWP’s other out-sourced employment organisations, and you come to the conclusion that as one of the UK's unemployed you really are playing Russian Roulette. The lack of communication between all the different bodies related to the DWP, and within the DWP itself, is farcical. Despite signing on every couple of weeks for over two years, not once did the nice lady at the Job Centre suggest that I contact SEEC, even though my bipolar disorder is a matter of record with the DWP. When I found out that SEEC had been running since 2012, I got rather angry: Resources Plus must have known they existed and hadn’t mentioned them because, I assume, if I’d transferred over to SEEC’s care earlier, RP would have lost the commission they’d get from the DWP if they’d eventually put me back into work.

Not only that, but I could well have ended up on a soul-destroying work placement if I hadn’t jogged the DWP’s collective memory about my mental health condition after my two years with RP was up. Some people aren’t as open about it as I am, and I can imagine them enduring one of these things and their mental health deteriorating further because they’re sensitive about disclosure. In fact, it was because of my fear of this happening that I reminded the DWP lady that I was bipolar. ‘Oh,’ she said, and you could almost see the light bulb belatedly going on over her head: ‘SEEC might be good for you.’

This has got to stop. Over two years of my life doing spirit-crushing daily job searches could have been avoided. OK, you could argue that I should have been searching for organisations like this myself – I was, and didn’t find them; don’t know why – but government services clearly need to be more proactive and responsible in the way they consider people’s welfare. I’m reasonably together most of the time and this happened to me, so just imagine what could happen if you aren't. In fact, I remember being surprised to see someone at RP who had severe schizophrenia and had been a long-term user of MIND’s services in Bexleyheath. There was clearly no way he’d ever be able to hold down a full-time job, yet there he was. It’s not an isolated case, either.

So you’ll be wondering by now how the shop work mentioned above fits into this tale. The crashing irony is it came about through a chat with someone I’ve known for a while. The interview went exactly like this:

‘Do you want the job?’
‘OK, it’s yours.’

After endless tedious form filling, cover letter writing and CV tailoring, it came down to simple trust in the capabilities of the individual. I was a key-holder from my first day in the shop and was left alone to get on with it. Unsurprisingly, that did more for my self-esteem than being made turn up at RP every two weeks, and have one of their work advisors tick off the minimum of three jobs I’d applied for.

Things started happening all at once: suddenly I was getting more writing commissions, as well as finding a responsible, well-adjusted lodger who could cover the mortgage. Wages for the week to week shop work may not be much more than I used to get on Job Seeker’s, but the compensations are peace of mind and the feeling that I have options again. Not to mention a life.

I enjoy the shop stuff and I could go for it long term: it fits in with the writing really well. Sadly, though, not everyone who’s at the mercy of the DWP is going to be offered a soul-saving way out like I was.

They bloody well should be.

SEEC can be contacted @

1 comment:

  1. That is fabulous news, Rob! Isn't it always the way? Years and years ago, I went to a couple of places supposed to help people with a mental illness find a job (in my case Tourettic OCD), but they never had any jobs on offer, because nobody seems to want to hire crazy people - who'd have thought it? They did absolutely nothing for me. Then years ago I got a part-time job in the same way you did - "Does the job pay?" "Of course." "OK, I'll do it. I have experience in cleaning jobs." "That's great. You've got the job." Then in 2013/14 I did 12 months of one day a week gardening with an organisation that hires people with a mental illness for one day a week over 12 months either in their gardening buisness or their cafe, and support was also provided. So I clean for 3 hours a week, and used to garden one day a week, but I have several uni degrees under my belt, and currently doing a Masters degree. And I'm not even all that crazy...