So this post is about unemployment, my experience of it and my little brother’s.
There’s been plenty of talk about the unemployed in the news lately, I wanted to talk a bit about it, but I’ve found it’s really hard to organise my thoughts into anything coherent. So if this post is a little jumbled, do forgive me. I feel very strongly about the subject, and strongly about reactions to it as well!
I guess a little background is useful first of all – I have been what you would call ‘long term unemployed’ (which is a period of unemployment of 27 weeks – even if it’s broken up by short periods of employment). For a year after college I was unemployed until the summer before I left for university, and then after uni, I was unemployed from 2010 until December 2011 when I finally secured a short-term Christmas contract with Sainsbury’s. After that ended at the start of January ’12, I was unemployed for about a month – then I got a job in a call centre, but jacked it in after a month. Unemployed again from April ’12 to May ’12, when I became a ‘Room Attendant’ at a hotel (what a pretty name for a cleaner!) and my contract finished there, so I was unemployed from August ’12 until November ’12 when I finally got a job as a Customer Service Assistant which is the job I still have today.
I know, that’s a pretty boring paragraph, right? But I hope that it highlights – I obviously do know what it’s like to be unemployed, both long and short term. I also know what it’s like to work shitty jobs for even shittier pay. The Room Attendant job? I didn’t even get minimum wage, because unfortunately I was too slow (we were paid by room, not by hour) – whether that was because I actually cleaned the room, or because I’m the slowest snail in the race, I’ll leave up to you.
So I think I’m in a pretty good position when I say – anyone who calls Jobseekers skivers or whiners is a fucking liar, and maybe they should try the soul shattering existence of being a young person looking for a job. I am an incredibly lucky person – I live at home with my parents and we get along really well. I’m allowed to use the family car as suits my whim. I can depend on their support and good will whether or not I’m employed. So even though I am that lucky and I know I am that lucky, I still find searching for a job deeply depressing.
Perhaps it’s living in an area with roughly 10% unemployment – but it is not easy to find a job. Firstly, there has to be something suitable – frequently that’s only cleaning jobs. Secondly, there has to be something worth signing off for – a job that nets me over £50 a week, but without transport costs – so within walking distance. If it’s further away, it has to be a job where my transport is covered and where I can actually get to (bearing in mind the car is shared between 4 people and public transport is not always reliable). Thirdly, my CV has to somehow stand out against the hundreds of other people going for this job. Fourthly, if anyone contacts me back and if they want to interview me, I have to have suitable clothes/appearance for an interview. Finally, I have to be better than everyone else they’ve got for interview – when I don’t even know what those other people have as qualifications or experience.
I think the main problem with getting a job, right now at least, is that there are so few worthwhile ones and so many people going for very few positions. Why would you choose someone without experience when you have 20 other people with proven track records? Why would you choose a young person – someone with no guaranteed loyalty to your company when you can choose someone who’s slightly older and more likely to stick around?
For example, in my store, there is an 8-hour a week contract going, the CV’s have come in and we have around 20 people applying for one 8-hour position. These people aren’t even school-kids looking to make a bit of extra cash, they’re young adults looking for a job, not pocket money. A few are still studying – but not as many as you might assume. Many of the CV’s I’ve looked at have experience, they mostly seem pleasant enough, and there are lots that I’d be happy to have in for an interview – but how do you choose between them? Obviously the interview will help, but I’m still glad it’s not up to me to choose.
As it happens, my little brother has put his CV in for consideration. I hope he gets an interview, at least, because I doubt the contract will go to him as I’m already working in the store.
But if he does get an interview, it will be one of very few.
You see, he has slightly less education than I do, and had his first job at age 22 – a delivery job for a local Chinese restaurant (which he had to give up due to insurance issues on the car, ugh). He’s been volunteering for at least three years at a local charity shop, and has progressed within it enough to comfortably say he can act as Assistant Manager when needed. That’s impressive, right? That shows that he’s reliable, trustworthy and hardworking.
And it doesn’t seem to count for shit – no one wants to employ my brother. I cannot figure out why – he has experience, he has references, he’s polite and has a professional demeanour, he has some recent training and is now undertaking even more training. He’s applying for jobs nearly every day – much more faithfully than I did when I was unemployed – his CV is pretty good, he has access to transport, he will work any job you give him.
The only conclusion I can draw – and maybe I’m biased – is that he is incredibly unlucky. Maybe everyone else who applies for the jobs he goes for is super-duper talented, maybe they’ve all the experience in the world, maybe they’re the managers secret lover.
One of the worst things – other than depending on benefits and our parents, other than having very little money, other than being at the whim of the Jobcentre, other than thousands of hours sending out applications and hearing nothing, of hoping and trying and failing, consistently and repeatedly. One of the worst things is that everyone else seems to think someone on JSA is a skiver. Why should we receive benefits when we’re under 25? Shouldn’t we work for free? Shouldn’t we all be treated as liars, thieves, layabouts? Shouldn’t we all acknowledge just how much of a burden we are?
Yes, of course, the ultimate answer to our unemployment problem! Training! Only – 1 in 10 graduates are unemployed, so I guess that can’t be quite true, right? The Jobcentre doesn’t offer the kind of training that would be useful (what good is a Level 1 qualification in customer service to anyone???), and if your education takes up too much time, your benefits will be docked! Because you’re meant to be looking for a job! And if you can’t get a job without further training – well. Good luck trying to work out Student Finance!
I actually agree to some extent – training and experience are key to getting better jobs – but the Jobcentre doesn’t provide worthwhile training or experience! They have 3 minutes to see you every two weeks, and if you end up on the Work Programme – well, it definitely depends on which provider you end up with. I was with Ingeus, who didn’t provide me with any jobs or training that were worth my time, but they did get the call centre and cleaning job. My little brother was with Avanta – they dragged him in to Newcastle (15 miles away), didn’t give him his travel expenses (he had to go to Ashington? But why couldn’t he go there in the first place?), didn’t give him any training, didn’t even see him once a month and certainly never even managed to score him an interview.
So yeah. Being unemployed is difficult, depressing and leaves you a target for mockery and hate – from the people around you, from the papers and, happily enough, even from the government!
It was bad enough for me, it is bad enough for my brother, but I cannot imagine how hard, stressful and dispiriting it must be to be unemployed, with dependants, and without the support my parents give me.
Does anyone else have any experience with unemployment? Do you agree the unemployed get a hard time from the press and government?