Wednesday, May 23, 2007
A bit like asking an Irish person the way somewhere
I’ve been absent from my blog because recent events have left me eviscerated. I have ceased to find it interesting to be on the receiving end of the benefits’ system. Not just that, I’ve found it to be damaging. I reached a point where I thought I just couldn’t continue. This is what happened…see below…
Early in May...It’s ending as it began. In a fuddle. Today, I received recorded delivery a letter on a plain sheet of paper – no letterhead -- from the private agency to which I have been assigned for the past six months. ‘You have now come to the end of your time on Stage Two of the Employment Zone….no longer paying you your subsistence…new claims appointment has been made for you at Peckham Jobcentre Plus’ for the following day. In the meanwhile, I must complete ‘all of the JSA3 form’ (and find a dozen documents, bank statements, etc).
Another fucking form; and this one has really upped the ante on any I’ve previously tangled with. And, it’s all too much for me. My legs do their so-weak-I-can-barely-stand thing and shortly afterwards, around page three or four, I’m howling on the kitchen step. I just can’t take it any more.
Among the things I’m asked: do I have ‘money saved for something’ and ‘any other money’. If savings amount to ‘currently less than £5,500 has it been more than £5,500 during the last 6 months?’ If yes, ‘bring proof’. ‘Does anyone owe you any money? What is this money owed for?’ The form instructs: ‘Please read the notes before you fill in this form.’ I ring the Jobcentre to say I don’t have these explanatory notes. They will be posted to me. My appointment is rescheduled which gives me some thinking time. I’m told that if I don’t go on that date, my claim will be closed. I’ll be seeing a Miss X (you don’t need her real name). ‘Come up stairs, report to reception and then you need to cross the bridge to see Miss X.’ The bridge? It feels like a bridge too far.
I have to review my options. I can’t continue surviving on a ‘subsistence’ and all the word implies. I’m not a fucking serf. I’m going to have to cast off from this so-called safety net (yes it does function as a safety net, but at the cost of shredding your integrity and self-respect) and find out how I can survive. I’m about a year away from a state pension, my mortgage runs for another six years, no job in view, scribbling in my garret in the hope I’ll get a book published. Dream on! The dreams are becoming nightmares.
Some days later…
When the appointment time arrived for my interview at the Jobcentre I ignored it. I was busy doing computer-based things, and dreaming a brighter future. Then about an hour past the time I should have presented myself at the JC+, the phone rang. Miss X. Did I know I had an appointment, she asked. I said I did but that I’ve just become too depressed to cope. It’s worn me out. It’s so humiliating. She cautioned that unless I had a job to go to, it would not be wise to commit ‘financial suicide’. If I came in straight away, she would help me to fill in the form and all would be well.
Now, this was an amazing moment. Everything in the social security system is designed to trip you up and to turf you out. One false move, and you can be denied benefits. And, here was someone going out of her way to offer me her help and to save me from ‘financial suicide’. I was stunned. I grabbed my things and my wits and went there. Miss X made the procedure easy and she was respectful. I have come to think of her as an angel.
Enough of me and my angst. What about the street scene? On my way to the Jobcentre and on my way back (I popped into Lidl’s) this is what I saw.
Outside a butcher’s: chickens’ insides spilling onto the pavement…guts and blood staining the grey concrete slabs of paving, the butcher in his brown stained white overalls laughing as he scoops them in his hand and plops them into a plastic basin of chickens entrails. I don’t find this funny. I hop scotch over the brown drying splodges of evisceration and I scowl. Further on, a goat carcass is lobbed into a steely grey shopping trolley. Thump.
Earlier the sight of a young woman pushing a buggy ahead of me…a funeral cortege passes for ‘MUM’ as the flowers spell out. The young woman stops and, holding onto the buggy, she executes a counter-clockwise circle, frowns, then continues on her way…
I hit a new low or is it a high when I venture (for the first time) into Peckham’s Lidl store. I look around for a wire basket. There are none. I feel terribly middle class. How can I shop without a basket? There are trolleys for big shoppers, but I just want a few items. I gather that either you hold the goods on your person, or you grab a cardboard box from the store and use that. I end up with a big pineapple, a fat mango, a bag of organic carrots, a bottle of wine and a small rye loaf and change from a tenner. I later discover that the wine is fine, but the rye loaf is a year (yes, a year) past its eat-by date, and the mango is brown not orange inside.