Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Have I become unemployable?

Sometimes I wonder about this. Nowadays I'm nowhere near as fussy as I used to be about the kind of work I apply for although there are areas of work I just don't consider, which must be true for us all. I cannot drive and don't consider doing anything that would be especially arduous physically. This is due to my age and the fact I'm hardly in good shape - I've never been what might be called fit.

Other than these considerations, right now I'm pretty open-minded about any options that might be open to me. I have a 20-plus year work history and although I don't have a trade, nor a degree, I do have recognisable skills. My strength, I guess, is dealing with people. The majority of my work background is in public service or the service industry.

The times I've not been working I've not sat at home watching daytime TV and I can clearly demonstrate this. I've been able to do several short courses over the past three years and have been involved in part-time voluntary work for six years and more.

I'm articulate and presentable (I can do collar and tie and I scrub up alright). I apply for all sorts of things, yet seem to get nowhere.

I've not done any paid work for over five years and it is this, I assume, that proves to be the sticking point. For 12 months of that time I did concentrate on getting myself healthy after a head injury. Otherwise, I've been reasonably active in looking for work, to no avail.

As a result of all this I guess you could say I've joined the underclass - that big swathe of the long-term unemployed who muddle by at the fringes of society. I know it's one of those tabloid phrases but it's not a figment of their fevered imaginations. There are huge numbers of people who struggle to get by who generally, through no fault of their own, have to exist on the miserly sums of money the state deems appropriate to give them in one form of state aid or another.

As a nation we seem to be in denial that these people exist. Or if, indeed, we acknowledge that these folk are out there, first we demonize them, then blithely assume that the traditional ways back into employment are enough for them to rejoin mainstream society. This is just short-sighted and downright naive.

Let's face it, any support on offer from the Jobcentre is minimal or takes the form of one-size-fits-all so-called training; courses run by agencies whose raison d'etre is to milk money from Jobcentre-Plus. Mickey-Mouse training - how to write a CV, Health and Safety, the Power of Positive Thinking, that kind of thing. Give people access to a computer and Bob's your uncle, whack in a bill to Jobcentre-Plus for a "class" of twenty and you're laughing. Sure, use of a free computer is helpful but this is by no means any kind of solution!

The alternative, getting to know the jobseeker, helping them target their jobhunting, or to access appropriate training, introducing them to possible employers, opening doors usually firmly shut to them, is costly and time-consuming and therefore a non-starter. It's there in theory, in reality it's a charade, an empty aspiration.

They say you get de-skilled if you're out of work - this is undoubtably true even if it is couched in a rather clumsy modern phrase. At the very least, one loses the discipline of maintaining attendance at the workplace.

So one is compelled to exist in a slightly otherworldly place; economically impotent, part of the society one belongs to but only on the periphery.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

How do you find yourself homeless?

How on earth did I become homeless in the first place? Even now several years after the event I look back slightly bemused that it ever happened. In retrospect it was a coming together of circumstances that led me to not having somewhere to live. I went from a settled, secure situation to a very precarious one in quite a short period of time.

The homelessness industry says you're only ever two or three pay cheques away from becoming homeless. There are different ways of getting there. The end result is the same. Its the path you take to get there that varies.

I've lived in London 25 years and in that time I have only spent 4 nights without a roof over my head. I was working and it was the middle of summer. I visited the swimming pool early in the morning and then went to work. At night I slept in a big wooden Wendy House in Highgate Wood. I stored my sleeping bag and clothes in a locker at the pool. It was a silly domestic argument that led to it. That and my pig-headedness. It was hardly destitution and I rejoined the housed population immediately afterwards.

Anyhow that was all along time ago, fast forward to a few years ago when I did become homeless in a much more real and enduring way. I had my own little flat. I lived there five years, I'd made it my own. It was the first time I'd ever lived in public sector housing and I'd anticipated being there for some time. I did all the things you do; decorated, put up shelves, furnished it, got it just so it suited me. Like I say, I made it my own little home.

Then the Housing Benefit went wrong - not unusual where I live, the money was paid direct to the landlord. So then it went to court. In fact it went to court 5 times in 9 months - I managed to get the housing benefit department to turn up on one solitary occasion. As far as I can tell I did everything I was supposed to do. The housing benefit people seemed to act in slow motion as if it wasn't going to amount to anything. Except 9 months at £65 a week mounts up and this was all on top of arrears of £500 to start with, by my reckoning that's a lot of any body's money! The magistrate ran out of patience. I remember my last visit to the HB office; "We can't guarantee we'll be able to get to court Mr..........but don't worry we'll write to you." " Write to me?" I exclaimed, "Where? I'll be sleeping in the park!" So as I said the magistrate ran out of patience and served a notice to quit.

I spent 6 months living in a squat, was assaulted, spent 10 weeks in a hospital and came out to live under the council's care in emergency accommodation, which they withdrew after 6 weeks. I wasn't "in priority need" so they said, so I moved to where I live today in a Bed and Breakfast.

It's not a bad place to live except I share my front door with 120 others. There's a roof over my head, hot water, electricity and my own room. I can touch both sides of my room if I stand next to my bed with my arms outstretched. There are 4 types of people who live here: folk like me who've been knocked back by the council, people just out of nick and people just out of the local psychiatric unit. Lastly there's a handful of transient types and the odd tourist.

Forty per cent of my benefit money is given over to the landlord as a surcharge to cover electric, hot water and heating. You also get a basic breakfast; 2 sausages, beans, toast and a fried egg.

So I have somewhere to live, I'm not sleeping in the park, or on the streets so I'm a lot better off than some. To you it might not seem too bad and I guess it's OK when you get your head round it, but it's not my home. The last thing I want to mention is that you don't need an awful lot to go wrong to find yourself without a home.