Monthly Archives: May 2013

Memoirs of a benefits scrounger: Jobcentre sanctions me for getting a job

My transition from good-for-nothing benefits scrounger to upstanding citizen is only a phone call away. Yes, for the last couple of months copywriting and content writing work was harder to find and I’ve been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. Now that I’ve got a regular job again I went down to my local Jobcentre to close my claim. Turned out it wasn’t so easy.

“We can’t close your claim because you didn’t sign in on Monday so we have to take disciplinary action against you. Your benefits have been stopped and it’ll have to go to a hearing,” said Lauren, one of the Job Centre staff.

“But I was at training,” I explained. “And I sent you two messages saying I couldn’t sign in that day. I gave you a message online and got my friend to come in and give you a note.”

“That doesn’t make any difference because you didn’t physically sign in,” Lauren shrugged.

I pointed out that closing my claim would probably be easiest for them and anyway there was no point stopping my benefits because closing my claim would stop them anyway.

Lauren explained this was Jobcentre policy and said I’d have to answer questions about why I’d failed to sign in before my claim could be closed. This is how it went:

Her: Why did you fail to sign in on Monday?

Me: Because I was at training for my job.

Her: Well why didn’t you sign in on Tuesday?

Me: Because I was at work.

Her: Well why didn’t you come in sooner today?

Me: When my friend dropped off the note, one of your colleagues gave her a message for me that I just had to phone. They didn’t say I had to come in. The only reason I’m here is because I don’t have your phone number and I thought you might need to see me.

Her: Why did you fail to look for jobs in the last 2 weeks?

Me: I didn’t. I applied for around 20 jobs in the last 2 weeks.

Her: Where are they?

Me: They’re in my Activity History.

Her: OK, I see them. But why did you fail to apply for any jobs since last week?

Me: Because I got a job.

Lauren typed all that into a form and sent it off to DWP Hearings Land. “It’ll take 15 minutes to go through, so you might as well phone to close your claim from home,” she said. “You’ll receive a decision in a few months about whether your benefits will be stopped or not.”

I got up. So this was it. After months of Jobcentre harassment – including stopping my benefits for 3 months because I mixed up the address on a job I’d agreed to apply for (reduced to 2 weeks on appeal) – despite applying for 34 other jobs I hadn’t agreed to apply for. The Jobcentre had set my mandatory target at 2 jobs per week and by my advisor’s admission I was applying for over 15 jobs per week and was the person who applied fore the most jobs out of every Jobcentre “customer”. Three weeks later they stopped my benefits for 2 weeks for forgetting to go to a CV session at the Jobcentre. And a week after that they said they couldn’t reimburse bus tickets (£26) because I hadn’t told them I was going to the interview beforehand. Actually I had, but my advisor didn’t give me the form to fill in or tell me that I had to fill it in. I ended up getting the job – it was a temp job that lasted 2 weeks. The Job Centre then paid me much less than I was entitled to for months, because they thought I still had the job. It took three phone calls and two Jobcentre visits to sort it out because every time they told me the error was fixed, it turned out it wasn’t.

Well, after all that there was no “congratulations” or “well done”. They couldn’t even reimburse my travelling expenses for an interview I’d gone to a few days prior – apparently it’s up to Lifeskills to reimburse me now. (Which means I wasted a trip to the Jobcentre to fill out the necessary form. And I know Lifeskills probably won’t reimburse me because I didn’t tell them about the interview beforehand. Not that it matters because the cost of travel to Lifeskills would be almost as much as the reimbursement.)

As I left the Jobcentre for the last time, looking around and reminiscing about the indignities I’d suffered and wishing I’d blogged about them, Lauren said “See you later”. “See you, but I don’t think I will,” I said. “You might be back. I might see you again,” Lauren countered. I shrugged. “Yeah, you never know, with the economy and that.”

Then I turned and walked out of that door. It seemed an anticlimactic end to my time here. Hadn’t the Job Centre bullied me and forced me to grace their building with my presence every two weeks or oftener? Hadn’t the message that my main goal in life was to rejoin humanity by finding work been drilled into me over and over again? Yet they seemed totally unimpressed now that I actually had a job.

I’ll still be officially a benefits scrounger until I make that phone call. And somehow I don’t want to. I like being a benefits scrounger. I think it really focusses my writing.

Slutocrat (Scrounger #20616)

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Candies Foundation and #noteenpreg – sexism, moralising & shaming young mothers

The Candies Foundation uses hashtag #noteenpreg to discourage teen pregnancy for “teen pregnancy prevention month”. (Yes, you did read that right: they want to control teens’ reproductive choices and eradicate an entire family form.) I’ve previously blogged about how the concept of ‘teenage pregnancy’ is a social construction dependent upon acceptance of older pregnancy as the norm, and how it entails number-fetishization (because in English numbers below 20 end in the suffix “teen” which is an arbitrary and language-specific way to define parenthood). So I’m not going to write about that here. What I will say though is that the Candies Foundation is stigmatising and ‘othering’ young families by trying to eradicate them. There is also too much focus on the female parent and almost none on the male parent, which is misogyny.

#noteenpreg

On the Candies Foundation website they boast about the fact that #noteenpreg trended on May 1st, though actually a cursory glance at the hashtag reveals that it trended because people – especially teen parents and their relatives- were ‘sabotaging’ #noteenpreg. Columnist Prym Face who writes about teenage parents had tweeted that we should stop the shaming of teen mothers by tweeting facts into #noteenpreg. I remember seeing it trend as we all tweeted into it. This episode made me curious about who was behind #noteenpreg and I decided to find out. This blog post is the result.

The Moralising

The Candie’s Foundation hired top US Republican politician and abstinence ‘education’ supporter Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol Palin, as their ambassador. Bristol herself is a teen mother. Bristol Palin preaches abstinence on television shows, a Candies commercial and by visiting schools as part of her role as a Candies Foundation ambassador. So the Candies Foundation is promoting abstinence to impressionable young minds. This leaves no doubt about the fact that Candies is trying to repress female sexuality. It’s not pregnancy that bothers them, it’s sex. If they really wanted to prevent teen motherhood the Candies Foundation should promote abortion as much as they promote abstinence, but they don’t. No prizes for guessing why.

And Candies Foundation founder Neil Cole publically states on his blog that he and the Candies Foundation believe in abstinence: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/neil-cole/how-the-candies-foundatio_b_203701.html

The Candies Foundation website also states that teen pregnancy should be discouraged because most teen dads don’t marry the mums and teen mothers’ daughters are morely likely to become teen mothers themselves. The second argument is an obvious fallacy because it’s based on the assumption that teen pregnancy is bad so the conclusion that teen pregnancy is bad because it begets more teen pregnancy only makes sense if you believe the premise. But enough phiolosophizing; the point I’m getting at here is that for Candies:

Marriage-good. No marriage=bad. Abstinence=good, promote that shit with celebrities and pay them 266 milion to do it! Abortion=Don’t even mention that!

It’s an attitude that seems familiar. Where have I seen it before…?

This also begs the question: Is the Candies Foundation a teen pregnancy prevention foundation or is it, as numerous media outlets call it, in fact an abstinence foundation? A religiously motivated abstinence foundation masquerading under a cooler, more acceptable title?

The Corruption

Most donations you make to the Candies Foundation don’t go to charities – they go to top-level staff and celebrities, who were paid hundreds of millions (366 times the donations to charities!). Founder Neil Cole is paid millions: http://www.forbes.com/sites/elisadoucette/2011/04/06/bristol-palins-compensation-seven-times-candies-foundation-donations-to-charities/

The Sexism

The Candies Foundation focuses on girls not boys as is clear from their tweets. All their Real Stories are told by mothers, not fathers – despite the fact that some of the mothers telling the stories are married to or in contact with their child’s father. Only 2 out of 10 anti-teen pregnancy posters on the Candies Foundation’s website are aimed at boys.

The Candie’s Foundation was founded by a man, Neil Cole, in 2001.

The Candies Foundation poster children

But just like anti-abortion groups and the anti-sex work industry (or ‘rescue industry’ as it’s known), no rescue-oriented organisation would be complete without its poster children. Given the Candies Foundation’s vast resources and glitzy celeb-fuelled image, I was expecting to be wowed by carefully crafted Cautionary Tales of Woe. But the ‘Real Stories’ section of the website is a little disappointing. All the teen mothers featured got pregnant over the age of 16 (the age of consent in Britain where I live and the age at which you can marry with parental consent). The vast majority got pregnant at age 18 (the age of majority in both the USA and Britain, and in most countries.) So, can they really be called “teen mothers”? I mean yes, their ages do end with the obligatory “teen” but when I think teenage parents I’m thinking of under 16-year-olds. I mean, if you’re old enough to consent or even marry…it’s confusing, isn’t it? The teen mothers who told their stories mostly didn’t think that the media glamorized teen pregnancy (though each interview included leading questions to that effect) and cited social stigma as a main concern – the stigma that Candies is contributing to.

Candies admits on their website that they shape the way teens think about pregnancy by influencing teen culture. So at least they’re honest about teaching our children to shame young families and indoctrinating them to feel shame if they ever do have a child before 00:01am on their 20th birthday. Candies uses the word “statistic” to shame young families and created a poster featuring Bristol Palin with her son Tripp and the words “I never thought I’d be a statistic”. Which makes no sense as older parents are also statistics. Everyone’s a statistic for multiple things – your age group, gender, relationship status, health, race…

The Lies They’re Feeding Teens

One of the Candies posters (also featured on their website) is captioned “You’re supposed to be changing the world, not changing diapers”. This indoctrinates young minds with the lie that they can’t go to university or have a career if they’re a father or mother. This may create self-fulfilling prophecies of teens not going on to higher education because they believe in the lie.

The Secret of their Success

I didn’t report Candies’ shaming tweets and #noteenpreg hashtag to Twitter because I believe everyone has a right to free speech. I also believe that to challenge harmful attitudes and behaviours we must first allow those responsible to speak. But if I had, I doubt Twitter woould have suspended the account. If Candies had tweeted #noteengays or #noteenblacks everyone would have been outraged. But, like other slut shamed minorities (lone mothers, sex workers, ‘sluts’, swingers, poly people) teen mothers are still fair game.

That’s the secret of Candies Foundation’s success. Culling a class or a race or religion would be beyond shocking, but getting rid of an entire family form is acceptable. Pull the PR strings right, and it can be seen as responsible and good to prevent ‘teenage pregnancy’ in a way that preventing older pregnancy never could.

This is just moralising and control of female sexuality

The Candies Foundation isn’t doing something new by leading the fight to destroy an entire family form by brainwashing innocent young teens and dazzling them with celebrities. It’s the misogynistic legacy of controlling womens’ agency, sexuality and behaviour. Just because the Candies Foundation uses an image of care and allies itself with feminist goals of wanting young women to have careers doesn’t make it any better. Think about it: nobody trying to get taken seriously uses the N word anymore, right? They’ll go on about the negative effect of immigration. No one says “kill all the gays”, they have to use words like “traditions” and “values” if they want any support. So it’s no surprise that the Candies Foundation has dropped the Fifties-style “illegitimate mothers” in favour of a caring feminist-esque image.

The Candies Foundation’s email is info@candiesfoundation.org. (This information is publically posted on their website which is why I feel comfortable about making it available here.)

The Ingeus Diaries (part 2): Jobcentre stalking & benefits cut due to Jobcentre incompetency

DAY 2

Before I wrote my last blog, Meg told me that some people hadn’t turned up because the Jobcentre failed to tell them it was mandatory that they go to Ingeus. As a result, their benefits will be cut. These people still weren’t there today. Meg also told me she would only have to go to the Ingeus course for two days. But things quickly changed for her:

“Ingeus told us that if we take more than 2 days off from the Stairways to Work course, we’ll be chucked out of the course,” she explains. “The Jobcentre will know and I know that if I’m chucked out, my Jobcentre advisor will put me on another workfare much more quickly. So I’m going to have to attend for the whole 2 weeks. Most of the other jobseekers have realised this too, and they intend to keep going to the course.”

Interview transcript:

The other jobseekers from [Town 1] and [Town 2] were phoned by their Jobcentres. The Jobcentres asked if they had gone to the course. I feel that this is stalking. They felt annoyed and harassed. My Jobcentre didn’t phone me.

Today we were doing CVs which wasn’t helpful; I was told my CV was good and Ingeus didn’t suggest any changes to my CV.

The woman from Ingeus was talking about transferable skills and she held up her daughter as an example: her daughter graduated from University but after a year she couldn’t find a job which needed a degree so she worked in an airport and is still there now, two years later. I think it’s ridiculous that jobseekers are being told how to find work by someone whose own daughter is unable to find work suited to her qualifications. And that wasn’t an example of transferable skills, it was an example of young graduates having to settle for any work due to a lack of suitable jobs. It’s not a positive story – it’s a sad tale about the recession and our problems with unemployment and underemployment.

We had to do a test about our social skills and the French social worker scored 70, which is equivalent to 100%. I was the next highest and scored 70. We also were given a bit of paper with dots on it and told to draw lines to join all the dots. After we’d finished, the woman from Ingeus explained that she had made us do it to show us that most people don’t think of drawing lines outside the dots. This shows us that to look for jobs we sometimes have to look for jobs that are similar but not the same to the job we want to do. Like if you want to be a landscaper you could look for gardener jobs.

DAY 3

Today we sent out ‘spec letters’ – emails or letters speculating about whether there’s a vacancy. A middle-aged woman, Bethany, was copying a sample letter. She wrote “I have a lot of skills in housekeeping, cleaning and that sort of thing.” I burst out laughing. Then she’d written “Yours sincerely, Name” just like the sample. I fixed it for her because I can type fast. Mark, the social worker, also finished his letters quickly and spent the rest of the time helping others. The Ingeus woman was struggling to deal with helping everyone so me and Mark did it for the rest of the afternoon.

Bethany’s husband drives her to and from Ingeus. One of the young people, Daphne, gets driven to Ingeus by her mother. The amount they have to spend on the petrol is a lot because Ingeus pays less than 20p a mile.

We used the computers to search for jobs and just sat in a circle listening to what the Ingeus group leader said. Four others and I talked about how we weren’t learning anything useful.

The Ingeus Diaries: a jobseeker’s report of an Ingeus programme

Meg is a middle-aged migrant woman with a degree and 9 years’ experience as a legal secretary. She’s also been self employed and worked briefly as a waitress. Meg was referred to the Ingeus 2-week Stairway To Work programme by her Jobcentre two months after completing her workfare at YMCA and three months after completeing a course at JHP. All names are changed or invented.

Ingeus Stairways to Work course, Monday 6th May 2013
“Ingeus didn’t send me a letter or give me directions to get there, like the Jobcentre said they would. They missed out my name during the roll call,” Meg reports. “The woman who was leading the course went in and out to get notes for us to read because they didn’t have enough even though 5 or 6 people weren’t there. She went put to get paper, then went out again to get pens. It wasn’t organised.”

Interview transcript:

The Ingeus woman talked about goals, asked us do we have goals. She gave an example of her goal: to go to the supermarket, have coffee with a friend then do housework. She had a stack of cards. She went round the group asking each person to tell her if the card presented a good or bad goal, e.g. “I want to clear my debts by the end of the year”. I can’t see how this helps me get a job.

Then we had to ask the person next to us about themselves and tell the whole group their hobbies. I told my name and I said like dogs and driving.

There was a social worker who has been out of work for 13 years due to institutional bullying which led to him having three breakdowns. He grew up in France. I said to him “Ingeus should get employers here or tell us how to be self-employed. Getting us here won’t help us get jobs.”

We were made to go on computers and go to the Direct.gov site but nobody could get to it because [of security software installed by Ingeus] so the woman running the course had to hrelp every single person get to the site. We had to search for jobs, but there was no point to this because we all had computers at home. We had to print out our CVs and it took over an hour for all 13 people to do it.

Today was useless, just one more day for Ingeus to make money from jobseekers.

Benefits cut because of Jobcentre incompetency

“Five or six people didn’t go because they believed it wasn’t mandatory,” says Meg. “It isn’t mandatory, but once you agree to go, it becomes mandatory because it’s an ‘agreed action’. The Jobcentre didn’t explain this to these people so now their benefits will be cut for up to three months. [If they’ve forgotten to turn up to a Jobcentre interview before, it could be cut for up to three years]. It’s not mandatory that we do the whole 2 weeks, but the Jobcentre told me it was mandatory that I do 2 days.”

Who was there?

There were labourers aged 40-60 and three young people in their late teens to early twenties. One man was in his fifties. He’d worked for the same company for 10 years and was out of work only three weeks ago. Only 1 person had just graduated from college, all the others had been working.

I saw 2 people going to interviews at Ingeus [these people were not in Meg’s course]. They were in their forties and fifties and were interviewed by young women. I think it’s degrading they had to be helped by a much younger, less experienced person. One man’s partner and child were sitting on the sofa; they looked unhappy. The child looked about 10 years old.”

Ingeus reimburses travel costs at 20p per mile so they should have given me £8 but they only gave me £6.80.

How did it make you feel?

It was like a primary school lesson. I felt very degraded. Like jobseekers have no goals, no hopes, aren’t interested in looking for work. It lowers your self-esteem.

When I had a workfare at YMCA I was happy because I got on very well with the other jobseekers and people doing community serbice who were there. I was valued by the manager who viewed me as a hard worker.
Before that, the Jobcentre sent me to JHP for a Job Search programme where we used computers. Everyone there had worked before and all we did at JHP was search for jobs on the internet. We had computers, so that was pointless. One woman was always an hour late and this was tolerated.

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