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Social Mobility My Arse!

May 28, 2012

The Job Centre Beckons

One of the things I promised myself I would do when I finished my exams was write some blog posts. Well, a visit to the job centre has given me some ripe material.

Firstly, a bit of background. I have just finished my degree in Spanish and Politics at a northern university, which I did as a mature student. I’m a few weeks off learning my final results but the results so far have been first class. Before that I worked consistently, was a tax payer for 10 years, and I’m an ardent supporter of the welfare state, defending it against any attack.

So today I went to the job centre to sign on. Having spent an age filling in the on-line form I went to the job centre for an appointment with their advisers. Firstly, they asked for documents that, apart from ID, they hadn’t asked for. I would have brought them had I known. After going through even more paperwork they informed me that I probably wouldn’t be eligible for contributions based JSA (Job Seekers Allowance) as I hadn’t paid any NI (National Insurance) in the last 2 tax years. It’s true, I haven’t been paying NI…

…BECAUSE I WAS A FULL TIME STUDENT!

They told me it worked like car insurance, if I hadn’t kept up my premiums then I couldn’t make a claim. Which isn’t exactly what it was set up for… do I now get to go to an opera singing DWP official to get a better deal? To top it all off, they will not tell me if my claim has been successful until I post them the documents that they hadn’t asked for in advance (documents which shouldn’t affect it if contributions in the past two years are a deciding factor).

In the meantime, even though I have no idea if I will get any JSA, I have to engage in job hunting (which I was going to anyway btw!) for 3 hours a day, 7 days a week. I have to visit the jobseekers.direct.gov.uk website, and other job sites, daily, even on weekends. Each week I have to write to at least 5 employers and phone 5 too. I have to document this in a little book they gave me.

Let me be clear, I am actively looking for work anyway. I am not looking to sit on my arse for £70 a week. I already have a part time job, but that is only 4 hours a week. It just rankles that I have to do this to such a bureaucratic degree just to access money which I happily paid into the system, safe in the knowledge that in Britain we look after each other when we fall on hard times.

There is another type of JSA which is income based, however as my partner works for more than 24 hours a week I would not be eligible for that either.

So, firstly I may not be entitled to any ‘contributions based’ JSA, despite the fact that I contributed to the pot for many years and secondly I still have to do all this bureaucratic stuff, even though I haven’t yet been accepted as a ‘legitimate claimant’.

The next piece of madness was that, as I am going on my honeymoon for two weeks in August (kindly paid for by family) if I am accepted and if I don’t have work by then, I will have to sign off and then go through the whole process to sign on again! They said this is because 1) this means ‘I’m not resident in the UK’ for those 2 weeks, which I won’t even dignify with an answer as to how bloody stupid and factually inaccurate that is, and 2) I need to be available to start work straight away. However, as I pointed out, my current employer could ask for at least 2 weeks notice, so a 2 week honeymoon shouldn’t be any different. I smell a plot to keep the jobless figures down….
Just as a note, I didn’t lose my temper with or be rude to the person at the jobcentre. They are not the ones making policy.

Social Mobility My Arse

This whole thing is even more annoying because, despite not being a government supporter, according to them I did everything right. I worked and paid my taxes. I then went to uni, despite my fear of accruing debts, in order to better my chances. I used my last student loan payment to pay off my overdraft and then rolled back my already pretty pitiful spending to stay out of the red. I should be a poster girl for the social mobility that this government says it supports, and indeed promotes as a panacea.

There are many problems with the idea of social mobility as a cure-all, too many to list here, perhaps I’ll do another post on them (when I’ve calmed down). But even if you accept that social mobility is the answer, then why is the system apparently punishing me for trying to better myself? I have been the model citizen, but it seems that it would have been better for me in the medium term to remain in my previous working class, supposedly unskilled, job.

My partner has supported me financially during my studies, which as a woman used to being independent I found hard, but that at least was in the form of paying bills etc, so was mostly hidden. Now I am near the point of having to ask my partner for money just for day to day things. This is humiliating. I feel like a 1950s housewife asking for housekeeping money on pay day.
I always paid my taxes happily, secure in the knowledge that I could call on the system to temporarily support me when I was in need but now this is denied to me. The government has broken its contract and I feel miserable about the failure of all of us to hold it to account.

I have written to my (Conservative) MP, asking for an appointment at his next constituency surgery, but despair of this changing anything. I feel betrayed and angry. Things like this are what create political disengagement and apathy.

That this is happening is wrong on principle but the main point I want to make is that I remain one of the most priviledged people on our planet. As my partner pointed out, we have the luxury of merely being outraged by the unfairness of it all but in reality I remain with a secure roof over my head, clothes on my back and food on the table. Why? Because my partner inherited enough money to put a large deposit down on a house and earns enough to cover all our expenses. I am essentially marrying into social mobility. But these facts are not what has accounted for me, in all likelihood, not receiving financial aid. Or as I like to call it, at least for today, getting my own bloody money back. Most people refused JSA do not have the luxury of the security that I enjoy, nor the resources to deal with government bureaucracies.

The British government supports social mobility? My arse.

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