Tuesday, 4 December 2012

A little rant about JSA

In regards to benefits I have mostly written about Employment & Support Allowance (ESA), possibly a little on Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and of course the frustrations of our government and ignorant journalists. As yet, I have not had reason to touch upon Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). It is because I reported, on Facebook, a letter for my doctor regarding ESA, that JSA came to my attention. A friend of mine voiced her frustrations over her experience of the system. Her first reaction made me think that she had fallen for all the media hype, that sick and disabled people do not deserve the benefits they struggle to receive. I was wrong. This is her story:

So, I'll take you back to September 2010. I had just finished my PhD (the end of 7 years at university) and had been looking for jobs all through the summer as the end of my funding approached. I was still with my ex at that point. I had set money aside in the event that I had difficulty finding work, and made these saving stretch far further than I had anticipated. In the September of 2012, I found a part time job in a lab and took it. This ran up until Christmas of that year when my temp contract wasn't renewed due to funding. While I was working in the lab, I took on a second part time Christmas temp shop job to top up my income, and to take me beyond the end of the lab job. When my lab job finished, I rang up the Job Centre to begin claiming Job Seekers allowance as my shop job was under 16 hours a week at that point. I gave details of all my outgoings, including my mortgage etc and I was told that as I hadn't worked continuously for the set amount of time (2 years I think it was at the time), I hadn't made enough NI contributions and so would have to apply for income based job seekers allowance.

In the November of 2012, my ex and I separated but continued to live in the same property until we sorted out where we were each going to live.When my lab job finished (mid December), I rang up the Job Centre to begin claiming Job Seekers allowance as my shop job was under 16 hours a week at that point. The following week I got 17 hours work, and was told by the Job Centre at my assessment that because I had gone over by 1 hour, my claim would have to be terminated, and I would have to reapply again when the time was appropriate and when my hours fell again.

This didn't happen until January when my temp shop contract was also terminated. At this point I rang the Job Center back up again, and had to start my application again from scratch. I had to explain that I was still living with my ex, but that we were financially independent of each other. They held back my benefit until they had sent a representative out to check our living arrangement. This was awful, and made me feel like I was cheating the system in some way when I knew I wasn't. We "passed" this assessment and I was awarded my Income Based Job Seekers Allowance at a mere 8 pounds a week due to the income from my shop job (which was low as it was). I also received council tax benefit (for my half of the council tax, not my ex's half) which was a massive relief and did take a small amount of financial pressure off my shoulders.

At my first visit to the Job Centre to sit down with someone and discuss what jobs I could apply for, I sat down at the desk and showed the man my CV and my qualifications. He looked at my CV and said he had never had to deal with anyone with a PhD before and didn't know how to help me. I had to tell HIM where scientists applied for jobs. He then MADE me apply for a job in Bridgenorth (a long way from Solihull) before my next signing on, the pay from this job was low to say the least, and would have cost me a fortune in fuel, and commuting time too. I simply would have not have been able to live off the wage after paying for fuel. But I put in my application, with the same amount of effort as any other job, and waited. I heard nothing from the company I had applied to.

I got my final pay slip from the shop job at the end of January which I had to take and show to the Job Centre. When they saw this, my massive 8 pounds a week was reduced to zero. The day I received the letter stating this, I was thankfully offered a full time job for 14 months, and had pleasure in telling the Job Centre this, and that the job was not obtained through any help from them.

Now something that I was often asked was why couldn't I claim the full amount of Job Seekers Allowance when a lot of other university leavers could? Simple: many university leavers return to live at home with their parents, or live in rented accommodation where they have no other income, and their housemates do not provide for them financially.

The difference for me? I had a mortgage and I feel I was being penalised for getting my foot on the property ladder and working hard at university to get myself somewhere.

And as for the experience of the Job Center itself? Demoralising. As I sat waiting to be seen, I overheard young mothers boasting of their life on benefits, and how they deliberately put in bad job applications where they bothered to put them in at all, so that they didn't get offered interviews and could continue to claim benefits while they "applied" for jobs. Where they openly admitted to the staff that they didn't bother applying for posts, they were simply told "oh right".

My experience with the Job Centre and the benefits system made me fear for the future. What if this happens again through no fault of my own? Will I get support again? Hopefully now that I have NI contributions, yes I "should" get help short term.

Not so different from some of the problems people on sickness benefits have, is it!?! I had a similar experience myself, in 2001. I finished university in August 2000. I went straight into a job where I was severely bullied by someone who thought she was my boss, but was not. It was a complicated situation; she was sleeping with the MD, so my actual boss could not do anything about how she behaved to me ... or all the other staff before me that she had scared away. I eventually gave up the job after nine months (there had been a book on how long I would last under he apparently - I outlasted all the bets). I tried to claim JSA, but was told that because I had a history of quitting jobs I could not claim. There was no work around at all, so I temped for a few weeks. I handed my CV out to everyone I could think of; went around the shopping centre giving it to all the stores. I eventually got a job in a computers games store. I have never loved work as much as I did there. However, my health was deteriorating with the onset of M.E.. My boss basically told me I'd be better off leaving, so I did. At the time I had never heard of sickness benefits. I went to the Job Centre. I had taken out a £4000 loan a few months previously with the aim of starting up a small business. The Job Centre told me that I had to live on this loan until it ran out, and then I could apply for benefits, BUT that I would not be entitled to JSA if I was ill. The person I spoke to didn't tell me that I'd be entitled to sickness benefits, or that they even existed. So I went straight to my letting agent; paid off the remainder of my rent for the year, all of it. I did my best with the little money I had left after that, but my house-mates ended up supporting me most of the time. Something they should never have had to do.

The system disgusts me. It does not support the people who genuinely try to get ahead in life. Those who try to build a future for themselves, like my friend above. It doesn't support people like her or myself who are simply trying to fill in gaps between jobs. No one explains to us about National Insurance Credits until after it's too late. No one tells you that you can only claim Job Seekers Allowance if you have been sacked; if you quit a job of your own volition you aren't entitled to anything.

My friend is right. There are too many people who think that it is their right to live as they please, with no responsibility to the country or society. They think that they should be entitled to have money, just for being alive. Why should they do anything to actually earn it? I am well aware that this is the view that many people hold of people on sickness and disability benefits, thanks to the media, but people with half a brain should be able to realise that people on sickness benefits are thus because they CANNOT work. The people my friend describes CAN. They choose not to.

This country is a seesaw. On one end you have the tax payers. On the other end you have people on benefits. We are very genuinely at risk of the benefits end hitting the ground. That is what those who choose to not work fail to understand.

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