The aim of this blog is to empower people who are unemployed. Not to ‘go out and get a job’ – that’s a different topic entirely. I mean empower them to realise there is nothing wrong with being unemployed. That you are doing all you can and don’t let others pressure you into doing anything you do not want to do. Their stigma is their stigma alone – it doesn’t have to be transferred into you. Their criticism is a reflection of themselves and the way they see the world, not a reflection of you or any perceived failings you might have in their eyes.
But I’m getting ahead of myself now. Let me backtrack, rewind, and begin again.
It’s 8:45 on 15th December 2015 – ten days to go until the big day!
Today’s blog is going to be about being unemployed. A contentious topic for some, but let’s see where we go with this.
Yesterday morning I had my fortnightly job search interview which went very well. No, there’s not a hint of sarcasm there – it did go well, as it always does. When they see that you are trying your best to obtain a job, and are also striving to better yourself in other ways (my writing aspirations and my Indian head massage business) then they treat you as you deserve to be treated – with respect, courtesy and decency. My ‘coaches’ (as they like to be called – the way that job titles have changed over the years could make for a funny blog in itself) have never put any pressure on me, never criticised my efforts and never have said a negative word to me. Neither have my friends – whether they have been the vague, half-known friends on social media, or proper friends that I have either met or built up a more meaningful relationship with me. Not one criticism. Not one word of advice to do this or do that or ‘step it up a gear’. But more about that later.
That said, I think there are a small minority of people who don’t try. I believe it’s one of those strange myths of British society that there are many people who enjoy being unemployed and make no effort to find work. It’s not as simple as that. I think some people lack the confidence and self-esteem to continue trying for employment. I think there are some people whose ‘life story’, to use a common phrase found in the psychology books of Eric Berne and others, who have fallen into their own ‘internal script’ (another Eric Berne phrase) of living in a certain defined way that they find it hard to break out of. But I’m going down the route of psychoanalysis now and I don’t claim to be an expert in that whatsoever. There are some who manipulate the system of course, and do their best to benefit from benefits.The con-artists and so forth. But generally, most decent people do enjoy making some sort of valued contribution to their ‘society’ and to the world at large.
Okay, let me reminisce, as you know I am good at that.
The last time I was unemployed was around 1988, if I recall. I left school in 1987 and I think, within two or three months, I was on a YTS scheme – that’s Youth Training Scheme for those whose memory don’t go that far back! My first one was with JHP Training Ltd, situated in the middle of Cwmbran town centre. The town was unusual in that above many of the shops was office space that was not connected to any storage areas that the shops might have. Along one arcade which had a Marks & Spencer’s, Timpson’s and River Island, was a little alcove with a small unassuming door that led into Powys House. Going through those doors was a bit like entering Doctor’s Who’s Tardis. “There are shops either side of this door,” I used to think, “so how come the inside is so incredibly big!” There was a lift that went up three floors where eventually you would step out into JHP Training, a training provider specialising in Information Technology. It’s where, in 1988, I learned out to use Wordstar (which was *the* word processor of the time, long before Microsoft Word took a stranglehold of the market) and spreadsheet and database programs. I think I was paid £27 a week for joining that scheme. These days, for mature adults, I don’t think there are any such schemes that give you a bonus for attending them. Their is a company called LearnDirect which are closely affiliated with the governments ‘Job Centre’, and they provide English and Maths classes, refunding your transport costs.But back to the 1980s Youth Training Schemes – the downside to spending a month at your ‘base camp’ learning these interesting modules, was that you were then sent out on placement. That’s when the resentment would arise, as for the same money of £27 a week, you were expected to do the same work as another staff member in that job, who might be getting £100 a week (or whatever the average wage was back then), which prompted a lot of protests. Particularly from these three lovely ladies. Bless ’em.
So, let me speed up this history of mine somewhat. A year or so later I started college – taking English Literature, Music, Drama and Theatre at Pontypool college and then a year after that attended another training course, although this time it had nothing to do with going out on placements. It was an enjoyable three or four month course where I was learning more about Information Technology. I attended this one with a college friend, Lisa Osmond. Lisa, if you are reading this, I’ve thought about you a lot over the last twenty-five years and have tried to track you down but to no avail. Would love to hear from you again!
At the time I was living with my grandmother who was slowly becoming more invalid. By around 1992 it reached the stage where I officially became her sole, live-in carer. living with her and doing everything that she needed – cleaning her faeces from the landing carpet when she was incontinent, for example, during the many times she couldn’t make it to the toilet on time. That went on for years, with me having restless nights as the slightest sound from her room would make me wake up and remain on edge, thinking “Am I going to have to go and clean poo from the landing carpet?” at 2 or 3 in the morning. I was scared to leave the house in case she moved and fell. And then she passed away in 1998 and I worked in nursing homes, cleaning the faeces from elderly, dying, fellow human beings before I obtained a different job where I cared for adults with severe learning disabilities and then adults with acute mental health illnesses. So nobody can tell me that I haven’t earned a period on ‘benefits’, no matter how long it lasts for, because I’ve done a lot of good for other people and am just *needing* this little period of ‘time out’. Besides, as far as I was concerned, seven weeks ago I landed a new job and it was only because of a malicious bad reference that caused my new employer to retract the offer – but that’s for another blog post too. I am confident I will land another job early in the new year.
Okay, let’s get to the meat and two veg of this article. Some of the replies to the ‘worst things’ are going to replicate some of the points I have already raised above.
THREE OF THE WORST THINGS YOU CAN SAY TO THE UNEMPLOYED
1. “You need to get out more!” – Really? Why?Don’t you hate it when people tell you to ‘get out more’ ? And more so, to ‘meet new people’ ? Because I guess there perception is, if you are unemployed, your social circles suddenly (and inexplicably) shrinks! You are not at work and therefore you are not mixing with enough people anymore. Well firstly, I very rarely make friends at work. It often leads to trouble. Work is just work. I *have* made a few friends over the years but they are the rare ones, and I have been very selective. I have enjoyed working with many people over the years and many old colleagues I respect and hold in high regard, but being at work certainly never felt like a social event to me. Sitting in an office listening to a bunch of people criticise their partners or other staff members was always a pet hate of mine!
I like my own company, I like isolation, I like quietness and solitude. Leave me be to enjoy my cat and my writing. Each to their own. Why do some people find it hard to believe that a person can be happy spending long periods on their own at home? Is this another sad product of the current climate we live in, with these terrorist atrocities going on all over the world, and so people become more suspicious of ‘the quiet ones’? Maybe that is a factor too, though some would deny that. But as a child, although I did have a number of very close friends (Andrew, Martin, Royston, David, Paul, Wayne, Lisa, Eirwen, Janet – love you all!) I would equally love being in my room, aged ten, reading Enid Blyton, Michael Bond, E. Nesbitt and Lewis Caroll. I’ve always been comfortable with my own company. Plus, I’m sure I’ll be successful getting a job in the next few months so I’ll be meeting new people again that way anyhow.
I’ve spent fifteen years working on busy mental health wards, both acute wards and rehab wards, where day after day my mind has just been subjected to noise. Just noise from all directions and constantly being busy. I never enjoyed that side of things and I’ve loved the last five months where the majority of my time has been spent quietly, just listening to the wind through the trees, or the birdsong in the mornings. I needed that to heal anyway, and I know my mind is still a little fragile when it comes to stress and pressure.
2. “You need to step it up a gear!” – Well, personally, as I have mentioned above, my friends who know me and believe in me, know this is just ridiculous. They know I am doing everything, within my capabilities, to get a job. And most of all, those people who have the power to change my benefits and impose sanctions – my job coaches at the job centre – know I am doing everything in my power to get a job. They often commend me and are visibly impressed at the way I write and upload books to Amazon, at my Indian Head Massage business, and at my pursuit of a job in the care sector. They are lovely to me, supportive and encouraging, and not once have they put any pressure on me by saying “You need to step it up a gear.” And my friends are the same. Knowing what I have been through in life. They know we are all built differently and have different personalities. There is absolutely nothing wrong with looking for the *right* job, no matter how long it takes. There is absolutely no way I would take a job just for the sake of it as it would damage my mental health. If I was forced to work in, for example, a busy supermarket, with tons of bustling shoppers around me each day, stacking shelves and so on, I think my health, mentally and physically, would suffer a setback. As I say, we are all built differently and most of us reach an age where we are fully aware of our strengths and weaknesses.
3. “People may resent you being on benefits, while they are working hard.” – Oh hang on a minute. Hang on one cotton-picking minute. What right does someone have to make this sort of comparison? Why do people assume that because you are not employed, you are therefore not ‘working hard’? Do people equate ‘working hard’ with physical labour? Is that the only hard work around? If so, that is quite a naive criteria to base hard work on. I work damn hard – both in my writing aspirations and in my search for the right job. And again, it’s not to do with the *time* you put into it either. Whether I work two hours a day or ten hours a day on my writing, I may still only come up with one page of material, but both times I have worked equally as hard. As any creative person knows, creativity, inspiration and imagination is not something you can force and somedays I may struggle to compose a paragraph. I might spend a day on it, mostly thinking or pacing the room as I try and articulate my thoughts and transfer them to the page in the best way possible. So for that day, where I have produced one paragraph, I have worked damn fucking hard.
Now, on to the ‘resentment’ bit. In an article by Deborah Orr in The Guardian today, titled ‘The real benefit cheats are the employers who are milking the system’, she points out that ‘just £8bn on benefits goes to the unemployed, while an estimated £76bn, according to James Ferguson of Money Week, goes to people who are working.’ So you have the irony of a Labour government supporting employers with huge benefit handouts to help them pay for their employees. There is something intrinsically wrong with that. ‘Employing someone has come to be seen as such a noble pursuit that businesses are paid to do it.’ continues Deborah Orr. Yes. Well put indeed. The full link to her illuminating article is here – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/26/benefits-cheats-employers-milk-system-in-work-benefit
Resentment from anyone about anything is more a reflection of them than you. Remember that. It is more a reflection of their perception of life, their own standards and their own internal script. Their standards aren’t your standards and they have no right to try and impose them upon you. Remain courageous in the face of criticism. And the people who say these sorts of things, I am sure that they mean well in their heart. I’m sure it isn’t out of malice. It is, however, out of a lack of understanding, empathy and compassion.I was a bit cross to be on the receiving end of such a comment recently and here is my reply, drawing upon my personal experience that I mentioned previously – from 1992 to 1998 I was the sole carer for my grandmother. For those six years or so that I was looking after my Nan, all I had was Invalid Care Allowance which basically was £10 a week on top of my dole money. So I think that weekly amount came to £60. For being on call 24/7 to my beloved Nan, attending to her personal hygiene, I was paid £60 a week as far as I can remember. For cooking all her meals each day, cleaning up after her, emptying the commode every few hours that she kept right by her chair in the living room, doing the weekly shopping for us, keeping her company, holding her hand and telling her I loved her as she lay dying in a hospital bed for three weeks at the end of her life, I got £60 a week.
So how can anyone resent me enjoying a government handout now, via an unemployment benefit, when I received such little financial help for those six years I worked in the 90s? And those years took their toll. On reflection, eighteen years after she passed away, I now know that those six years did affect me mentally. They were hard. I’m not looking for sympathy or anything. Most of us, whether we deny it or not, are often trying to make sense of our past. Writing blogs like this, and even through my works of fiction, is a continual exploration of themes, ideas and problems I have personally encountered in the past.
So there it is. I hope anyone who reads this that are also unemplyed, are inspired. Inspired in the sense that you know if you draw upon your life experiences, knowing what you have done, then you can hold your head high. There is nothing wrong with being unemployed. Do things at your own pace as your health *must* come first.
And on that note, Merry Christmas!