Friday, July 25, 2014

On The Dole

The dreaded moment finally arrived. The money stopped coming. . . I was officially jobless.

Being short of money and not having received to date as much as a single penny in compensation from my former employer, I had no choice but to sign on to the dole.

It was strange.

On my first morning of joblessness, I tried to cycle to the local Job Centre on my mum's old bicycle (it has a useful front basket), and spent a good hour trying to find the place.

It turns out it is on a road which has a different name either side of the street! So, I could not see the road name that I expected when cycling from the Hove side.

When I finally arrived, bathed in sweat, the big guy on the door simply gave me a slip of paper with the address of the Government's website and told me to enrol online.

So, I went home and, after lunch, tried to sign up.

The Government's website soon told me to phone up instead. I did this and was told by numerous automated messages to sign up online!

Eventually, I talked to a human - a very pleasant chap in Derby - and begged him to fill in the form for me over the phone, which he kindly did.

He made a Job Centre Plus appointment for me and I soon received a text reminding me of the appointment, asking me to create a curriculum vitae and to sign up for a website called Universal Jobmatch. All of this I did almost immediately.

On the Monday, I felt somewhat nervous about my interview at the Job Centre.

I have not been through this process since 1980 when I signed up for the dole in the holidays as a student (which you could do in those days).

I well remember the Labour Exchange in Poole, Dorset, as being a spacious premises with a lot of boards with postcards pinned to them: Sous Chef, Poole, £18 per week; Hardware Stockman, Bournemouth, £26 pw; Shop Assistant, £21 pw.

That kind of thing. Money went a lot further in those days!

I do not recall what the amount of my weekly dole money was but I do remember I was put under no pressure to find employment.

Now signing on is a much more involved business. I was taken through at my initial interview by a charming guy called Steve, grey-bearded, coming up for retirement, he said.

He said it was mainly a matter of signing pieces of paper and looking for work.

Fair enough. I rather enjoyed chatting to him. He said most of his career had been spent working with the disabled which he preferred.

Steve got me to sign manifold documents and said my signing-on day was Tuesday - the following day - when there would also be a 20-minute induction session.

I returned the next day to be shown into a large room by a Scot. Another Scot asked me to sign my name and wait for the others to arrive. Eventually, there were 15 or 16 of us. Apart from me, they all looked miserable and disinterested. Quite a few of them were late.

The Scottish woman went through a presentation entitled "JSA Conditionality Group Information Session" at a cracking rate.

It was full of acronyms and jargon. I was the only member of the group to take notes. I suspected the others were not even trying to follow.

After around 35 minutes, it was over. I'd say the key themes were you have to turn up at the right time and on the right day to sign on, and in between you need to spend your time looking for work.

As I was leaving, the Scot gave me a leaflet about retraining as a lifeguard!

In my "Signing On" folder, I also have "My Claimant Commitment", which I have signed, and "My Work Plan", which I have aleady started filling out in green ink.

Every fortnight, I need to go to see my adviser or "Coach" to discuss how it is going. My first, 20-minute appointment with her is on Tuesday, 5 August.

I hope she is as friendly and laid-back as Steve was.

As I mentioned in my last posting, I am in a strict routine. Wake up at 7am, shower, breakfast; Walk lovely girlfriend to the bus stop at 8amish; walk along the seafront, visit Pic-nic cafe, chat to staff there, buy £1.30 cup of tea to take out; take a few photographs (some of which illustrate this posting); 9amish return to flat and look for work until lunchtime.

Sometimes, I am distracted by a bit of legal work connected with my situation or make cups of tea or play with Mr Cheeky who keeps me company, either stretched out on the guest bed (in my study) or the window sill, watching the world go past.

At 1pmish, I make a sandwich for lunch and play basketball with the youths on the seafront, then more looking for work until my girlfriend returns at around 6.15pm. We try to relax in the evenings.

I am yet to receive my first dole payment - it goes into your bank account these days. I am told it is only around £70 a week, circa £300 a month.

I have no idea how people can live from this.

Three hundred quid a month comes absolutely nowhere near covering my mortgage and bills. It might pay for my food and drink, if I am careful, which I am being.

It represents a take-home pay cut of around 90 percent, so I need to be a bit careful, while not economising on looking for work. Speculate to accumulate!

I wonder what my old mucker, Work Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who gave me the exclusive interview when he was sacked as Tory leader, would make of me signing on at one of his houses of unwork. 

Maybe, I will write to IDS asking for gainful employment!


I am afraid I owe Mr Cheeky and his friend "Miss Sleeky" a sincere apology.

The other day I got chatting with Nick, the biker across the road, who turns out to own Miss Sleeky.

It seems she is really a boy cat called Django.

"Don't worry," Nick said, "Everyone thinks he's a lady."

All the same, it is good Mr Cheeky has a playmate who keeps him out of serious trouble.

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