Things are getting better – aren’t they?

So, this jobs thing where loads of people now have jobs and the jobless total is down and we can all start cheering. Hurrah! ( posh cheer)

I offer a case study. This is Andrew’s story.

Andrew has had a tough few years. He has mainly worked in the hospitality industry and had a long term job in an Italian restaurant run by a character from Dickens who thought that good employment practice meant running your staff into the ground. Example: start for the lunch time shift at 10a.m. Clearing up, setting up and generally prepping. In theory this should finish by 2. Well, except for when clients walk in 5 minutes before close or linger over coffee for a couple of hours after close. So, finish for 3 with a 30 minute walk home and then get back again for 5 o’clock for the teatime/evening shift. Do that for 6 days a week for just above minimum wage.

A prospect presented itself in Glasgow but, in truth, there was no prospect. He returned home with empty pockets to a mum and step-dad who were willing to help. Andrew’s plan was to take copies of his CV round the town. His mum’s plan was anything but that. The humiliation was more than she could bear for him.

Over time, Andrew had some temporary work and spent time improving himself. He re-took his GCSE English and got a B grade, got level 2 numeracy – 1 mark off a C in the GCSE. He went to college part time and gained a level 3 qualification in supporting teaching and learning. He also took work as what he called a dinner Lady-man in a local school. It was only an hour and a quarter a day but it was a little bit of money earned. The school also let him work as a classroom volunteer to gain experience – he’s still doing it. He got a suit (courtesy of mum) for interviews but despite many applications, interviews were thin on the ground.

While he was at college and working as a volunteer and a dinner Lady-man he claimed Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) which, because of the deduction for his dinner time work amounted to £40 per week. Andrew is lucky because his family looks after him so the state has no other cost – like housing benefit -where Andrew is concerned. For this he suffered what can only be described as a campaign of harassment. At a moment’s notice he would be pulled away to attend something or other at the behest of the Job Centre. It mattered not that he had a commitment – albeit a small one – of an hour and a quarter a day. On occasion he was pulled away to attend a two day training – losing 2 days dinner time work and potentially aggravating the school. He turned up but the trainers didn’t because it was snowing. It would be re-arranged he was told. That was two years ago and he’s still waiting.

Then there was the matter of the missing form. One day, Andrew received a letter telling him that his JSA had been stopped four days previously. He made immediate enquiries. It seems he had not returned a form that had been sent to him. He explained he had received no form so they said they would send another but ti would be second class post and it might take ten days. He waited. No form. He discovered that you can’t get the form at the Job Centre and his mum discovered that you can’t get one online – must be the only government form you can’t get online! Eventually he phoned again – same old story. Still no form arrived. By now, three forms have, apparently, been lost in the post. Andrew’s mum is rather surprised – they’ve never lost post on such an unprecedented scale. No wonder she hasn’t heard from the lottery – the letter has obviously been lost in the post and she is, in fact, a millionaire!

Wearily, he phoned again and explained. No problem said the lady – turns out she can do the form over the phone with him. Then, it was stopped again from before the date of the letter he received. The reason this time was a misunderstanding about signing on while the JSA was stopped – and this despite him spending the best part of a day in the job centre trying to sort this out.
Andrew got a job. It was a crap job, but it was a job and he allowed himself to do a bit of planning. Unfortunately, Andrew got a very serious infection which meant he could not work temporarily as he would risk losing his leg! The job involved walking all day and he had cellulitis. He tried but his brother had to go and pick him up. The employer said he wasn’t reliable.

Andrew went back to being a Dinner Lady-man refused to sign up for JSA. He couldn’t face the perpetual bombardment. He got a couple of days a week work cash in hand and that with his dinner Lady-man work gives him just enough money to get by – because his mum is paying the bills. Neither of them like this but what can you do?

But soft! What is this? It turns out that Andrew is a success story. The unemployment figures are down because more people are getting jobs. Andrew isn’t on the jobless total. Erm…Andrew hasn’t got a proper job but he doesn’t appear on anybody’s figures. His mum’s friend has two sons in a similar position. That’s three in just one story.

So how many more are there like Andrew: living at home being supported, maybe doing a bit of work or a bit of cash in hand? How many are there on zero hours contracts and too disheartened or unable to sign on? How many are there who have just given up and live meagre lives with their families scratching a bit of cash here and there?

In fact, how many people who have disappeared off the employment figures are not, in fact, employed? And how many people who pay taxes to support those who are in need are also supporting /propping up a family member? Paying twice. It’s yet another great con trick.

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