I have a job!
Oh, don’t go getting excited – it isn’t what I call a “proper” job. Just a spot of “temping” to keep the financial wolf from the door.
I am currently an “Office Angel” that being the name of the company purveying my talents to the business world. I don’t think of myself in that that way though as I’m sure there aren’t all that many 6 foot 4 inch, 20 stone, partially bearded angels knocking about!
I am, for now, working in Huntingdon and doing some EXTREMELY tedious data entry stuff that doesn’t occupy my mind but DOES occupy my keyboard, meaning I can’t sneak in a bit of crafty blog typing in a quiet moment!
I have been doing this for nearly three weeks now and it occurred to me towards the end of last week that the Friday would be my fortnightly signing on day at the Job Centre.
Now I realise that some of you may not be familiar with the UK unemployment benefit system so I’ll briefly digress and explain it.
Assuming that you have worked for at least a couple of years and have a record of National Insurance deductions relating to that work, anyone becoming unemployed through no fault of their own (different rules apply if you resign your job voluntarily) is entitled to something called “Contribution based Job Seekers allowance”. This, for over 25 year olds anyway, amounts to the magnificent sum of £64 and a few pence per week and is paid for up to 26 weeks.
After 26 weeks it stops, DEAD, and if you are still unemployed you have to make a new claim to something called “Income based Job Seekers allowance” which if you qualify amounts to…… exactly the same as the other one!
The relevant words there however are “if you qualify” because qualification is based on the total income of your spouse and yourself. And the “bar” has been set so low that if your wife, partner etc. earns any amount even slightly over the statutory minimum wage your income is considered too high and you get what is known as “Sod all”!
And THAT situation is the one that Faith and I have found ourselves in since my six months of unemployment was up in February! ‘Tis a good job we don’t have a mortgage or the house would have gone by now!
I should mention that when registering as unemployed at the local Job Centre one is given a day and time for a fortnightly appointment at which one justifies the payment of the beggarly allowance by proving to a Civil Service flunky what action one has taken to find a job in the last two weeks and signing to declare that no money at all has been earned in that period.
My appointment was every second Friday morning at 9.15 and I duly presented myself at Stamford Job Centre from somewhere in mid-August last year until about three weeks ago.
“Why Stamford when you live in Peterborough?” I hear you ask.
Well, if you have to ask then plainly you have never visited Peterborough Job Centre as I had the misfortune to do on a couple of, mercifully short, occasions in the past! I was about the only person there who had English as his first language (and I include the STAFF in that remark!) and the one thing apparent about these poverty stricken overseas “claimants” was that they all, without exception, possessed expensive, top of the range, mobile phones (just to call potential employers on, of course)!
Stamford, on the other hand, offered what I became, rather snobbishly, fond of referring to as “a better class of unemployed person”!
And why, you are probably thinking, didn’t I just sign off when I could no longer claim anything?
There are three reasons:
Firstly, there are various counselling services that you can avail yourself of as long as you remain signed on and I was determined to extract what I could (i.e. not much) from these.
Secondly, continuing to sign on keeps your National Insurance record credited with notional contributions. This used to be important for its effect on your eventual State Pension but the rules were changed a few years back and you are now entitled to the full pension if you have a total of thirty years contributions – which I do. So I don’t REALLY have to count that one anymore.
Finally, and most importantly to me, signing off while I still hadn’t got a job would be tantamount to letting the Government off one unemployment statistic and I didn’t see why they should get away with THAT!
You will note from the above remarks that I was really only attending to sign the card and to keep making separate appointments with an Adviser. She basically wanted me to rewrite my CV (Again! It’s only in the format it is now because her predecessor said the same thing five years ago!) and consider becoming self employed – which only the very cynical would see as another way of removing that damned statistic (ME!) from the records!
I AM very cynical, so there!
Anyway, back to last week and my impending appointment at Stamford JC.
I was still reluctant to sign off given that there is no guarantee of further jobs once the stuff I’m hired to do at present is completed so I thought I would do the intelligent thing and ring up the Job Centre.
I intended, firstly to explain out of politeness my non-attendance and secondly to enquire if it was OK to stay on their “books” in case I was back on the scrapheap in a couple of week’s time.
I tried ringing when I arrived at my office at 8.30am. The Job Centre’s telephone system does not open until 9am and when I managed to get through at 9.20 I already had a “black mark” for being late!
I explained my situation in detail and asked the question about not signing off.
As is regrettably normal in such situations the person given the task of dealing with telephone enquiries did not have the faintest idea what the answer was. He did, however, promise that someone would call me back on my mobile as soon as possible and a couple of hours later the call arrived.
I was first of all told quite bluntly that my “benefit would immediately be reduced by the amount of my earnings” and my response of “And precisely WHICH benefits are you planning on reducing?” took him a little bit by surprise! He “eerr’d” and “umm’d” for a few seconds before steadfastly setting off on a diversionary attack.
“I’ve made an appointment for you here for next Monday at 11am to discuss the money you are earning with an adviser, will that be OK?”
I was starting to quite enjoy myself now and as my new colleagues seemed intrigued as to what was going on I began to raise my voice slightly and repeat back his side of the conversation as if my phone was playing up so that they got both sides. Rotten, aren’t I?
“And why on earth would I want to do that?” I replied, “I’m hourly paid, you are 15 miles in the opposite direction from where I’m working and you seem to be seriously suggesting that I give up four or five hours pay and burn an extra thirty miles worth of petrol to talk to someone about what I might have earned but for you making it impossible for me to do so!”
There was another long pause, during which I received a reassuring number of thumbs-up signs and big grins from those around me, before he played right into my hands by wielding his big stick and dropping on me BOTH of the two threats that they have over most of their “customers”!
“Well if you DON’T come in and talk to us we will stop your Benefits and your National Insurance contributions will no longer be protected!”
The last bit of that sentence was said with what I can only describe as a “vocal sneer” as if to say “Well, what about THAT Mr Smarty?” And because you’ve very attentively read all of the above you KNOW approximately what my answer was going to be.
Every bit of my feelings of being utterly fed up with jumping through their pointless hoops and being treated exactly the same as would be some brain dead knuckle-dragger went into my reply along with my sure and certain knowledge that whatever I said they could do NOTHING to me!
“I hope that this is one of those calls that are recorded for ‘training purposes’ because you seem to have trouble remembering previous parts of our conversation” I began calmly.
“Firstly you haven’t paid me ANYTHING for nearly three months so you’d have to reinstate my benefits before you could take them away and I think someone higher up might ask questions if you did anything silly like that!
Secondly I have, at the last count, thirty eight years of full NI contributions without counting the credits for time spent unemployed and I only need thirty for a full State Pension so please feel free to un-protect my contributions whenever the mood takes you! You had better make sure you have your reasons for doing so fully documented though in case I ever decide to take this further!
Thank you for calling me back and please remember to cancel that ridiculous appointment, Goodbye!”
And I didn’t call him a pea-brained bureaucratic idiot or anything else of that sort – aren’t you proud of me?
So I still don’t know if I’m supposed to sign off temporarily or permanently but frankly I couldn’t care less!
There are some people in this world to whom the term “Civil servant” equates with “Civil master” but I will always do my utmost to disabuse them of that whenever I can!
Power to the people!