My one time as “benefit scrounging scum”

17 08 2011

I’ve only ever signed on once. It was in March 2000, the new millennium and the new hope. I signed on after a short term contract had ended with no future work in sight. I was not long graduated and full of naive optimism for what the world of work could offer me.

You can imagine my surprise when I was told that instead of the expected £49 a week, my Jobseekers Allowance was only to be £14.63 a week. The reason? My then partner, a university undergraduate, had enough income from his student loan to support us both. If they topped up his loan by £14.63 a week, then we  met the minimum required to live on as a couple.

Of course that didn’t take into account the fact that our mortgage still had to be paid. It was far cheaper for us to take out a mortgage than rent from a private landlord, and the quality of the housing was going to be far better. In my final year of university, I bought a flat with no financial help from anyone else. The mortgage was only £200 a month, £150 less than the cheapest rental we looked at.

This was to be one of the biggest mistakes in my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved that flat and I loved owning my own home and I stayed there for 12 mostly happy years. The flat lasted longer than my relationship at the time but owning it meant that I was unable to claim housing benefit and being a student then contract worker, meant I could not take out mortgage insurance as I was not eligible.

So when I went to my first signing session, I asked to speak with someone in decision-making. I was terrified of losing my home, I didn’t get enough per week to pay my bills let alone food or even stamps for job applications.

This was to be a huge mistake.

Coming from a “nice middle class” background, I really didn’t expect the attitude or experience I had trying to converse with a DSS (now DWP) pen pusher. I was polite, articulate and desperate. He took all of 2 minute to put me down. I was lumped in with all the “scum of the earth” and told he had no time or inclination to help “people like” me. When I asked whether the jobcentre would be willing to post my job applications for me, I was told in no uncertain circumstances, that it was not their responsibility and I wouldn’t be eligible for job club help for another 13 or more weeks. That it was my own fault I was there and they didn’t care if I lost my house as it wasn’t their problem, that was a different department and as I wasnt eligible for help, there was no point in “harassing them”.

That is the first time since toddlerhood, I ever cried in public and what did he do? He walked away telling me if I didn’t leave immediately he’d get security to put me out.

At no point did I raise my voice, accuse them of anything or be anything other than polite and respectful. The tears were obviously a threat to him and he responded aggressively.

As I left the building one of the signing ladies, stopped me and apologised for her colleagues behaviour and suggested I contacted my local MP. She wrote down his name and number for me and apologised again. She told me I could make a complaint but as the guy I’d spoken to was also doubling up as complaints department for the area, there was little point.

I walked the 5 miles to the MP’s constituency office as I didn’t have the bus fare and sat there telling him my story.

I’ll never forget that day, it was unusually warm and sunny. When walking back into town I saw a high-speed police chase that ended up with the guy being chased dying after jumping in the Clyde to escape the police.A bus had been hit by his car as he tried to escape so he left the vehicle and decided to swim.

I already felt really depressed at my situation but watching a man trying to swim in a murky tidal river to escape the Police, only to see him go under and never surface again, just summed up my feelings on how desperate life was for those who do not have. He was more willing to die than to survive and face justice. How the hell was I supposed to be positive in the face of a country where people chose death instead of life, where the lives of those in poverty wasn’t regarded as important and how they survived was somebody else’s business.

It became a not on my doorstep society and I felt deeply ashamed to be part of it and this was under two Labour governments. Political disillusionment ensued.

For the first time in my life I knew what it was like to feel depressed and as if life was out of my control.

My “unique” situation was raised in both Westminster and Holyrood parliaments. The latter deals with student funding issues, the former as a reserved matter with Benefits. Sadly nothing positive was to come of either.

In Scotland they started to take into account non-married partners incomes when applying for student grants and loans which was even more of a step back but it fitted in line with the Westminster approach of taking student loans into account when assessing benefit entitlement. This meant that in the future, if I were still to be signing on, the JSA income could be taken into account when my partner applied for his student loan.

By turning to the system designed to help, I’d managed to shaft thousands of other mature students hoping to enter education or retrain. I still feel bad about that now, even although it was likely to happen in time anyway. I felt very responsible at the time.

The only resolution my Westminster MP had, was to offer me a job in one of his factories. He was also a local wealthy businessman. I had just graduated with an upper second class honours degree the summer before and I wanted to use the brain I’d spent so long training. It seemed working in a factory full of people who didn’t speak a word of English was to be my future and to my shame I don’t speak a word of Urdu. But I’d have done it, except he wanted me to work for less than NMW even after 1 year of legislation being in place.

I won’t name him as I have no written evidence of this and don’t want the blog deleted due to legal threats, all I will say is he was a Labour MP.

My final option was to appeal the JSA decision, which I did and 6 weeks later I got a letter telling me they had granted my appeal and the amount I was to receive was now to be £17.40 a week. Yes, I was kindly awarded an additional £2.77 a week. I often wondered how much it cost for my appeal to be considered, probably more than they had awarded me. It was a joke.

In the end I found a job. It was almost 4 months after I had signed on and I had sold many possessions to pay for my share of the mortgage. I refused handouts as that’s not what was done when you left home. I was independent and wanted to remain so.

The job paid me exactly minimum wage which just covered my costs and no more. I was treated badly, I was bullied and shat upon but I was earning and that was all that mattered.

Now when I read of people who are on Jobseekers Allowance and the likes being called all kinds of benefits scrounging scum, I get so very angry. Everyone is struggling right now but not everyone who turns to the DWP for support is workshy or lazy. I know there are always a few people who take the piss, but for every one of those there must be hundreds or thousands more, desperate and stuck in situations they see no way out of.

When I hear of sanctions being placed on people’s income, I get equally as angry. Having survived on £15 a week then £17 a week upon appeal, I have no idea how these people are going to cope. Not everyone has family in the next street to lean on and not everyone has the gumption to approach the politicians about this kind of scenario… and even if they did, it seems nowadays, they just don’t care. If jobs were so abundant that people had the choice to pick and choose, it would make more sense, but with in the region of 30+ applicants per vacancy in Glasgow, more for graduate level jobs, there’s just no hope of them all finding work.

The £60k a year salaried MP’s happily take their additional expenses, legitimately or otherwise, at the expense of the taxpayer, yet people are struggling to survive on £65 a week and they are the one’s society chooses to attack.

And with the growing culture of part-time work, which is always paid that wee bit more than claiming benefits allow, means that there is more and more poverty. If houses were selling, it would be a route out of poverty for some. I know that is the case for me

When I said buying the flat was one of the worst things I’ve ever done, it’s because now, yet again, I am in a financial predicament, all because of the flat. With the housing market as dead as a dodo (despite what the BBC news may say) I am unable to sell it. I could sell my flat for less than my mortgage and end up still in debt unable to pay, or I can hope someone will come along and buy it, at something remotely close to market value.

But its a first time buyers home and there are no first time buyers.

I am not in a financial position to set up as a landlord either, all my life savings have been spent since redundancy. Being a landlord through need rather than want is bloody expensive and everyone tries to charge you four times what they do when you’re an owner occupier. I just want my basic expenses covered and no such luxury of having the tax payer fork out for me to have a home for ducks or even help me survive this rough ride.

I just don’t want to end up bankrupt through no fault of my own.

There is something seriously wrong in this country and it’s not what the politicians and media are claiming it is.  Those being affected aren’t just lifestyle benefits claimants. They’re ordinary people trying to get by. Ordinary people suffering the injustices of a society where having money gets your more money and respect and having nothing gets your fucked up the arse with a jaggy coalition manifesto.

Shame on Britain for allowing this to happen… it’s only going to get worse and we allowed it.




5 responses

17 08 2011

I think the majority of people see JSA/etc claiments as job-shy tossers claiming for nowt because that’s all we hear about. We always see and hear of those misusing the system, or living off credit and paying the bare minimum with what they do get. We don’t hear of stories like yours in the media. Nobody gives a shit that someone else is having a rough time unless we’re able to judge them / label them as no-good-wasters.

17 08 2011

I should have told the story years ago but naively worried about future job prospects if people thought i was a trouble maker…

17 08 2011

JobCentres are not job centres… they are benefit centres…

They are establishments that pay the unemployable to stay out of the workforce… they are doing businesses a favour by keeping the woefully incompetent from doing any damage!

17 08 2011

Ah Kevin, it is kevin, isnt it? Well perhaps I am “woefully incompetent” but my CV since june 2000 would suggest otherwise. Your obvious inability to read a story where someone got out of the system or challenged it may well be beyond your comprehension. Now what would you suggest we do with these “woefully incompetent” people you talk of? do you suggest we eat them? Put them in zoo’s? Change their name to Kevin? Answers on a dirty piece of toilet paper and post in your mouth.

31 12 2011
Pats Petition

Thank you GHL – this is a really important story. This is still the reality of life on JSA/ESA, despite what the media would have us believe.

I don’t know the details of your health, but I can see you had the strength to battle on and get back to work. Others, unemployed because of sickness and disability, may need more support. I worry that our society is not supporting our vulnerable and I have set up a petition (link in my name) asking the government to stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which affect disabled people, their carers and families. I hope all your readers will sign it and share it.
Thank you

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