Sunday, 17 May 2015

Life On The Dole

I finally got a letter recently confirming my registration as an ‘approved casual worker’ where I can work with children who have had ‘difficult’ childhoods and struggle with their behaviour.

Notwithstanding the joy at being paid to do something that I enjoy there is an even more existential reason for celebrating.

Anyone unfortunate enough to be unemployed and/or on ‘benefits’ will be able to identify; those that have no experience of being in such a degrading situation will, perhaps, have their eyes opened to how the system works.

Let me first say by paradox that it is not degrading per se to actually BE unemployed. However, the treatment meted out to me (and I can only share my experience) was, for me, both degrading and humiliating.

Some background: I have worked for (at the time) the world’s biggest corporation (American Home Products) which owned such brands as Anadin, Anne French, 3 in 1, and Preparation H (yes, that one!). I was, for want of a better expression, a salesman.

I then worked for Allied Breweries, a local catering company and then for Guinness GB (which became Diageo) for almost 10 years. Latterly I was responsible for the Guinness Irish Pub Concept in GB and represented the company in Boston, USA presenting the findings of a study we did in conjunction with the University of Geneva. 

I bought a country pub (the lease of) which was sold at the end of 2005. So far, so very whatever. I only mention this to ensure viewers of ‘Benefits Street’ or Daily Mail readers that I am no long-term ‘scrounger’. 


I returned to Scotland in 2007, after a period of unemployment, (just as my sister was emigrating) to be near my ailing mum who was displaying worrying signs of dementia. My mum died in 2010.

These are only a tiny window into my ‘life on the dole’ experiences.

-      Having separated from my wife in early 2006 (living separately in rented accommodation) I was informed by Job Centre Plus after a year of red tape that I did not qualify for any benefits as I was officially still married and my wife had a job. I also had some savings (from pub sale) and therefore did not qualify for any support. I used what I had and sold possessions to get by.

-      Moving to Scotland, I was told I did not qualify for a council home as I had ‘voluntarily’ made myself homeless – actually, I could no longer afford my rent, didn’t want to get evicted or in debt and needed to be near my mum. So, I couch surfed. After a while I got a council flat.

-      I was denied any support whilst caring for my mum who at times didn’t even know who I was. All my ‘dole’ money went on bills and petrol for taking her out and when she ended up in a secure hospital ward going to visit. Friends gave me food. Eventually, I could no longer afford a car.

-      I sold my car and self-published my book.

-      My heating system at home was ‘so old and outdated’ according to gas engineers who came to service it that out of my £72 a week around £50 went on gas and electric. I went to bed in my coat and woolly beanie. The council finally updated my heating system (which is fantastic and much cheaper now) but in the process damaged carpets. I now have no carpets as there was no budget to replace them or redecorate the plastering where the fire used to be; minor inconvenience I know but these things all affect one’s psychological wellbeing.

-      I often waited around the bin outside the local chip shop to grab any throw-away food. Eventually the bin was removed and so a source of food for me. Friends, again, gave me food, although often I would eat only once or twice a week.

-      I had to walk the (roughly) eight-mile round-trip to the Job Centre as I live in Kinghorn and it is in Kirkcaldy. I was once asked to leave and stand outside the Job Centre as I was 20 minutes early for ‘signing-on’. A month or so later I was given a verbal warning (and told my benefits would be stopped) because I was 5 minutes late.

-      The cheap boots I got once cut my heels so badly one day that I had to walk home barefoot.

-      When my mum died she was to be buried on a Tuesday whilst I was to ‘sign-on’ the next day. I asked if I could be excused from coming in the day after my mum’s funeral. The request was refused as ‘the funeral’s not on that day; it’s the day before’. With my phone on silent, but vibrating furiously in my pocket, I watched my mum’s coffin disappear through the crematorium’s stage curtain; it was Job Centre Plus reminding me I had to come in tomorrow as I had been refused leave of absence and that if I didn’t attend I would be sanctioned.

-      I was given a 13 week placement at a youth club cafĂ© as ‘work experience’ whilst I also did an HNC Counselling part-time. I argued that I should be given ‘relevant’ work experience but was told if I did not attend I would be sanctioned.

-      I contacted a local foodbank and was told I lived in the ‘wrong’ postcode.

-      Throughout this whole sorry episode and for over three years I managed to do 3 years of voluntary work one night a week although I was ever careful as to who knew because I was often told at the Job Centre that if I was doing voluntary work I was not ‘actively seeking work’ and my benefits would cease.

-      After at time, I felt suicidal, was unkempt, isolationist, and could see no future. The Doctor diagnosed me ‘unfit for work’. I was sent to ATOS who disagreed. I appealed. And after about a year on reduced benefits my appeal was seen by three independent doctors and another professional (can’t remember what her job was) and was told that I was indeed unfit for work.

My long-winded ramble is purely to show how one’s mental state is affected by being unemployed even whilst truly wanting to be in work. And the thing is, my treatment is virtually ‘nothing’ compared to the way many people are being abused (not treated, for it is indeed abuse) on a daily basis.

I also aim to demonstrate that, nowadays, egged on by a compliant Right-Wing media, parts of society see those on benefits as sub-human and undeserving of help. 

It truly feels degrading and humiliating to be in such a position.

And people wonder why I get angry at politicians; why I abhor Westminster; and why it saddens me that people will vote for a Party as evil as the Conservatives and think that Labour (who brought in ATOS, remember) bear no responsibility either.

God forbid anyone reading this ends up unemployed. 

It is the single most degrading experience I have ever had.



Friday, 8 May 2015

'I'm alright, Jack', says England

So, we have people on benefits dying due to Tory benefit cuts; we have the disabled struggling to live &, again, many dying due to Tory cuts; we have over one million people unable to afford to feed themselves & having to rely on foodbanks; 1 in 4 children born into poverty; the rich getting immeasurably richer with the poor getting poorer.

We have an establishment committed to weapons of mass destruction with the Tories looking to spend something like £120 Billion on renewing Trident.

And with the General Election we, as a 'nation' have the chance to change things. 

So what happens? England votes in the Tories. Better Together, eh? 
Better Together if you are comfortably off, can afford to live & don't have to worry about choosing whether you should have something to eat or put the heating on. 

Bollocks to the weak & vulnerable eh? 'I'm alright, Jack'.

I'm disgusted. This is not the kind of country I want to live in; I have nothing in common with people that will vote Tory with no regard for the weak and vulnerable. Human beings are dying due to Tory ‘political’ decisions. 

Scotland could've voted in all 59 MPs as Labour MPs & it wouldn't have made a jot of difference to the outcome of the election. However, we did vote in 56 MPs that will prioritise Scotland's needs & the needs of the weak & vulnerable across the UK. We voted for an anti-austerity, anti-Trident, Pro-NHS Party that believes that education should be free for all & based on individual talent & ability; not the ability to afford it.

The SNP has provided millions of Pounds to mitigate the effects of the Westminster imposed ‘Bedroom Tax’ (introduced by Labour to private landlords, extended by the Tories). The SNP have also provided free prescriptions for all.

And yet, there are parts of Glasgow where male life expectancy is lower than the Gaza Strip; parts where poverty levels are not far off 50%. Meanwhile, Westminster politicians rake in obscene amounts of money via expenses & directorships or advisor roles with big business. This, against a backdrop of many big businesses legally ‘avoiding’ paying tax as their profits soar. It is truly obscene.

Scotland needs to get out of this unholy 'Union' that champions the cause of the rich to the detriment of the poor.

Today, I am glad that Scotland has elected 56 Pro-Scotland MPs, however, a Tory majority (however feeble) means that I have lost a little faith in humanity. People have voted Tory. Think about that for a minute; a Party whose policies have resulted in the deaths of many, many vulnerable people.

I am ashamed to be part of a society that can allow or endorse this.