Since I lost my job... actually, that's not quite right. Since I mislaid my job... no, still not correct.
Since I was encouraged to put down my job (simultaneously being urged to forget where I'd put it), I've been able to coast quite nicely. Christmas / New Year broke things up but the other week I realised that I'm fast approaching my second month between jobs.
As there's very little to apply for out there - and also because I've been paying into the system for the last 20-odd years - I thought I'd see if the job centre might be able to help me out.
After starting a claim for Job Seekers Allowance, I'm currently attending a programme about looking for work at the Job Centre every day for 4 weeks.
Let's talk about accessibility!
This particular job centre is on the other side of the city. It has no parking, let alone any disabled parking spaces. It's also located on the inner ring road. And the closest parking is across the ring road - which is naturally busy and fast-flowing (with no convenient crossing nearby). This is all without mentioning the fact that the building doesn't have a public toilet.
Tuesday was wet and miserable, pathetic fallacy writ large. Our little group of jobseekers had a session about conditionality - basically all the things we have to do in order to get our money.
I get it. People can take the piss. But when the best they can offer - with a straight face! - is the sweetener that, if you work part time (up to 16 hours a week), you're allowed to keep the first £5 of your JSA if you keep claiming. So you're only £5 better off.
I understand that there're other benefits that come with working - social, intellectual, all of that. But looking round that room I could actually see the thought bubble appearing over everyone's head - "Fuck. Dat. Shit."
Call me cynical. But the reality seems to be that the system is rigged so that people get so demoralised that they give up, at which point they drop out of a system that doesn't have to pretend to care anymore. Add that to the (in)accessibility and it's hard not to feel that disabled people aren't expected to want to better themselves and contribute to society, and anyway they should stop clogging up the system to let the normals though.
(If I can draw your attention at this juncture to a semi-related story about a bus driver effectively turning his passengers against a wheelchair user for wanting to board his bus, if you think I'm being paranoid)
This opinion was also voiced by a member of our group who is a former Job Centre case worker. She even told me that I'd probably be better off having something called a Work Capability Assessment, instead of going down the JSA route. Otherwise I might be in danger of having my benefits stopped if I refused to go for jobs which I'm physically unable to do.
Yikes. I knew here was a reason I hadn't been to see I, Daniel Blake - coming hard on the heels of my application for PIP, these current adventures in benefits might have finished me off completely.
And I'm one of the lucky ones - I have a supportive network of family and friends, plus I'm relatively well educated so I can (if I squint) navigate through forms and the more labyrinthine aspects of the benefit system.
But there were some people in our group who through no fault of their own didn't have an idea about how to create a CV. How does a society or an education system fail people so completely that they can't create something like that for themselves?
The people working at the job centre have an immensely tough job, and they are doing what they can.
But as I said to one of them afterwards, "Five quid is a tough sell".