There was yet another chastening, if not exactly unexpected, experience today. Up at a decent time, 7.15am every weekday, then after breakfast the main focus of my day, bar stopping the demons in mind getting to me, began.
I want a job.
If there’s one thing that has affected my self esteem more than anything in the recent past, it’s the constant rejection, the drip-drip-drip confirmation day after day that I’m not smart enough, not healthy enough, not experienced enough, not good enough to be paid even a single penny for the work I want to do. It drives me to despair and often to tears.
It was a typical day today, too. An internet search yielded 18 job opportunities that I could do, or may be able to, given the chance, even if I have no experience of it, and applied for them. It was then my daily trudge out onto the streets.
I try to vary the route so that I can take in a mix of high street shops, retail outlets, and industrial units, depending on the day. It was the turn of the high street today, as well as the shops on the way to and from it.
Each inquiry was met with a “Sorry, nothing” as the drizzle turned to thundery rain. Unable to afford either the train or bus, I was drenched way before I even thought of heading for home. To say it was soul destroying was an understatement.
It’s never been a catalyst for my depression, unemployment, but it obviously does no good for my stress and anxiety levels, and as for my self esteem, every rejection means another hit. I arrived home bedraggled and bereft of any self belief.
What doesn’t help in the slightest has been the demonisation of the unemployed, which causes me no end of anger. My last regular paid employment came from a company eventually forced into liquidation, a direct consequence of the credit crunch at the time.
I, and hundreds of thousands more, were thrown onto the jobs market. In my area of expertise, companies were able to pick off the people that could work at the lowest wage. Then, after a while, employers began looking down their nose at me. The standard question at an interview is “You’ve been out of work for some time, why?”
I can’t really reply that it’s companies ignoring experience and instead choosing to pay minimum wage to teenagers. That’s the crux of it though and we both know it. Unless I time travel a decade or three and agree to work for £3.70 or £5 an hour, my £6.31 an hour minimum wage is going to be priced out of the running almost every time.
In the meantime, I’ve kept myself busy with a number of voluntary jobs (and waiting for my next placement), primarily helping youths, as their unemployment situation is far worse than mine.
On that matter, George Osborne talks glibly of aiming for full employment when nothing has been done for 18-24 year olds to get them into work. In the UK, 1 in 5 people under 25 are out of work. Over in Germany, similarly sized to Britain and just as affected by the credit crunch, their figure is 1 in 13. Empty rhetoric.
At least it is only that though. In recent years, the Chancellor went out of his way to demonise the likes of me, who through no fault of their own found themselves on the dole. He talked accusingly of “families with their curtains closed sleeping off a life on benefits.”
It’s an easy cop-out, blaming others for society’s problems rather than doing anything about it. The media, with papers to sell and air time to fill, jumped right onto this spiteful little soundbite. If it’s not the previous government, travellers, immigrants or single mothers that are the core of Britain’s problems, then it’s the unemployed.
We’ve been made out to be living the life of Reilly, stealing money from the taxpayers, while we sit at home watching Jeremy Kyle in between sessions on the Xbox. It’s worked as well. People I thought were friends have accused me of being a scrounger. Some even stopped seeing me.
It’s actually hellish. Never enough money to get anything other than economy line groceries – or a trip to the foodbank if even that is beyond me. A choice in the winter of heating or electricity but not both. And, always, that seeping feeling of worthlessness, that nobody thinks you’re any good, and that what I have to offer can be done by someone else far cheaper.
It leaves me in tears sometimes. It definitely left my savings empty, as thanks to my own pride and self respect I only threw myself on the mercy of the state when that eventually disappeared.
To little avail emotionally though. I feel shame, I feel embarrassment, I feel anger, I feel resentment, I feel inadequate. That is Benefit Street as it really is, not as that sensationalist seeking tv company the other month would have you believe.
Tomorrow, though, is another day. I will search, I will hope, I will keep going until I get that one chance, that one time someone else sees in me what I know I have. Whatever it takes.
And despite what some insultingly condescending politician, born into money and never having worked a day in his life himself, may tell you, my curtains will be open at 7.15am as usual.