I'm sort of back to work. I say sort of because I've decided to go down the self-employed route again, even though it was the self-employed route that got me into the unemployed cul-de-sac in the first place. "So why do it?" I hear you ask. And a good question, for which there is a perfectly logical answer.
I was in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance, a nominal amount of money from the government on a weekly basis, on the understanding that you are actively looking for work, and providing evidence of the same. Fair enough. For the first six months, I looked, I applied and I proved. Then at the six month point, my money suddenly stopped. I queried and it was because I was on contribution-based Job Seekers Allowance and that had run out, I now had to apply for income-based Job Seekers Allowance. As my dear other half works, I had to provide details of her income, and rightly so. The shock was that although she is on a very low income, because she works more than 30 hours a week, I lost entitlement to payments. "Oh shit" we thought. So, I applied for the income-based JSA so that my stamp would be paid and the whole "look for work, apply for work and then prove it" merry-go-round started again. We applied for and got both Housing Benefit and Tax Credits. Kind of okay, but the lack of income has had certain consequences, as it has for countless millions in this country.
So, I hit the 12 months unemployed mark, and I thought, "great, I'll be elligible for re-training!!". Marvellous, or so I thought. I had an idea of perhaps having the opportunity to learn a new trade, electrician, plumbing that sort of thing. It had been my understanding that this was what was offered to you. So, I go into the local Job Centre and sat down with the pretty girl behind the desk and started the process of "exploring my options" on the jolly old training front. It was very soon smashed to pieces with no hope of anything. The before I went to "look at my options", the government had scrapped ALL training programs for the long-term unemployed. No, let me re-phrase that: withdrawn funding. Great. So here I was, watching the chance to become a "sparky" drifting away and being told the best I could expect was to attend sessions provided by a third-party provider on how to improve my C.V. (which the Job Centre had done countless times in the last 12 months) and go to ANY work placements they were to offer. What a fantastic prospect. Not. I then get a reprimand off of a fresh-faced twat because I forgot to take in my written account of what work I had been looking for - he was threatening to stop my payments so I told him to go ahead - he looked a twat when he saw that I wasn't actually receiving any money. And then the provider got in contact. They said I had to attend a "self-employed" course and they were most surprised when I asked them why. "Because you told the Job Centre that's what you wanted to do". I told them actually, no I didn't because it was being self-employed that got me unemployed and I wanted to be permanently employed - by someone else. "Well we've were told by the Job Centre that you wanted to be self-employed". I am bald and I don't have enough hair to pull out. So, the last month of my unemployment saw me viewing the Job Centre as an institution of misplaced arrogance, incompetence and general no-use to anyone unemployed over 12 months - actually make that 6 months if you have a partner/huband/wife that works more than 30 hours a week, even if they're earnning next to nothing.
I confess that I came away from my last signing-on at the Job Centre with a heavy heart and a bit a black cloud hanging over my finely polished head. What now? What do I do? 45 years old with a skill set that is of no use to man nor beast nor Norwich employer and being a kept man by a very patient other half. Not quite how the plan was supposed to go, I can tell you.
Well, when down, I don't stay there for long - I find melancholy far too exhausting and not good for the digestion. We sat down and looked at the range of options, which soon came to realise were like, none. So it was a case of thinking laterally. What skills do I possess? Quite good at music, not too bad at photography, very good with people. And that's where the plans for the little shoppe came as well as plans to hold an exhibition of my photographic work and see about getting a book published. I then had a cal, totally out of the blue, from a good aquaintance, offering me the chance of some casual work, on a self-employed basis, here and there. We sat down and did the maths. I was getting nothing coming in cash-wise and the Job Centre had become the dictionary definition of useless - there was nothing more they could do for me now. So, we looked at how other benefits would be affected, it didn't look too bad, so the decision was taken for me to sign-off, register as self-employed and take my chances. At the end of the day, what did I have to lose?
I'm not going into the details of the casual work, it is in a worth-while industry and it doesn't seem appropriate to discuss it. All I shall say is, it will bring a little more money in than the JSA - which will always be better :-D
I'm a couple of weeks in, the work is sparse, but I knew that and essentially, it isn't that big a problem in a broader contect, but at least I am free to be able to do anything that comes along without the complications of red tape and the need to wrestle with the JSA mentality. I'm now one less government statisitc, whcih will help make them look good I suppose, but it does make me wonder what the true unemployment figure is because of this situation that the present system puts you in.
So, I'll be working harder at improving my photography, pushing to get my name "out there", pushing the music a little more, looking for new avenues of income. It may work, it may not. If it does, I'll send you a postcard from the Bahamas. If it doesn't, watch out for my name in the bankruptcy listings :-)