Thursday, 25 November 2010

Money, money, money

My fortnightly outgoings:

£50.00 - rent surcharge.
£22.50 - fags (3x£7.50, 2 ounce packets of rolling tobacco, duty free).
£10.00 - Money owed to my friend round the corner. (Nine times out of ten I owe my mate money).
£2.00 - Rizlas and filters.
£5.00 - phone.

Total spend - £89.50.

Given my fortnightly payment for jobseeker's allowance (JSA) comes to £130, the balance to last me two weeks is £40.50, this works out at slightly less than £3.00 per day.

I'm not angling for your sympathy here. You can call me scrounger, you can call me a lifestyle benefit claimant. You can think what you want. You can think I lie in bed til lunchtime every day and then get up and watch Neighbours. You can think I belong on the Jeremy Kyle Show. You can think I smoke too much. You can think what you want.

This is not a lifestyle choice, this is not enough.

£3 per day - how much pocket money do teenagers get?

As our cousins across the pond would say, you do the math.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Time management skills

I think most of us realise that you mess the dole office around at your peril. For instance, if you don't sign on when they've asked you to, you run a serious risk of not getting your money. This is hardly surprising and it's guaranteed to take much grovelling and a kosher excuse to ensure that you do get your money, albeit a few days late. I guess that this isn't especially onerous, after all they only ask you to turn up once every two weeks!

Photo courtesy of Basher Eyre and licensed
for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

I sign on on a Monday at three-ish, which is hardly a struggle. A couple of months back they were asking me to sign on at 9.30am and travelling at that time of day is just.....worse. It's swings and roundabouts though; now, mid-afternoon, I always catch the schoolchildren and loud teenagers, who I find a little scary. The girls strike me as louder and scarier.

The other day, six days before I was due to sign on, the dole office rang me. They said I had to come into their office at 9.30 the next morning for some reason or other - I wasn't sure why, I'd tuned out by that point to be honest, but I'd written down the time and assured the woman that I'd be there.

So, up and out the next day quite early (quite early for the unemployed - as you know we have quite leisurely mornings) to walk to the dole office. I was walking due to the fact I can no longer catch the "free bus" because London Buses have discontinued the bendy bus on that route. This has inevitably led to a fitter local populace.

At the dole office I queue up, give my name and NI number and tell them about the appointment. "No sorry, Mr. appointment for you here on my list." I knew that the woman who rang me the day before hadn't done so for her own entertainment and knew the consequences for missing an appointment meant that they would bugger up my claim and I'd not get the money due next week. "Could you please check on the system for me?" I asked. Much huffing and puffing and then the receptionist bod nipped behind the screen to ask one of her colleagues to look me up on the computer.

Then the landlord rings me up. I live in a bed and breakfast that has two managers; a kind of good cop, bad cop arrangement. This was bad cop in his usual shouty mode. Everyone who lives in the bed and breakfast pays a surcharge, if you're on jobseeker's allowance this is 40 per cent of your money. I always pay the day or the day after I get my money. I tried to assure Mr Shouty that I had done this, as usual, then explained where I was, he shouts that I must come back when I have finished at the dole.

By this time the woman who has looked me up on the computer is standing there. I explain the nature of the phone call to assure her I wasn't being rude. "Sorry Mr. ...... I can find nothing about an appointment, what was it about?" Obviously I feel a lemon because I can't tell her (I wasn't paying attention on the phone the day before). I mumble that I'm not too sure, look suitably sheepish and ask if I can have a receipt to say that I have visited the office for this appointment that now doesn't appear to exist. I am asked to wait and the woman goes back to her computer. A quarter of an hour goes by and the woman returns. "Sorry sir I can find no record of an appointment so I can't really give you a receipt, you could ask at reception."

I rejoin the queue, (at the back) it is now nearly 10.30. At 10.50 I patiently explain my situation all over again to the same woman I had spoken to at 9.25 and point out the last thing I want to do is mess up my claim and stress that this would be inconvenient for everyone as it would involve new appointments. The receptionist sighs deeply and says she'll see what she can do and disappears round the screen to speak to her colleague again. I go and sit down and wait, again. After another quarter of an hour this woman comes back with a slip of paper - my precious receipt. I tell her thanks very much and am apologetic for giving her extra work to do. I get out at 11.35. Something that should've taken maybe twenty minutes at most has taken over two hours and I have managed to piss off two of their staff.

All of this is normal for the dole office. If they were in any other line of business, they'd go bust within three months or sooner, and we'd all take our business elsewhere. Except we can't. We're a captive audience, to staggering levels of inefficiency and piss-poor organisation.

So I get back to the bed and breakfast and Mr Shouty says: "Sorry, I was reading the wrong line in the book, you're OK with your rent." I trudge upstairs and sit down, it's 12.15. What a complete waste of everybody's time. I'm worn out. Next Monday I sign on as per with my little receipt tucked inside my signing book. Nobody says a word about the appointment that never was.