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Dole scroungers

2011 December 4
by imperfectpages

We’ve been through some big changes in our house in recent weeks. My Chris got a new job. He resigned from his old job. Then his former boss gave him a reference which led his new potential employers to withdraw their job offer. We’re yet to see the reference, so haven’t yet made a decision as to how to proceed, but in the meantime his new employer confirmed that there is no appeals process and that they have to take the reference on face value – which leaves my husband unemployed. We’ve gone from delight at his new job and the positive changes it would bring for our family, to total disbelief and dismay as the opportunity slipped from our grasp.

One of the most difficult aspects for me has been the change in my self-erception. I consider myself left-wing, very liberal and open-minded. Yet now that we’re living off the state, I realise that my judgements about people on benefits are actually negative and deep-rooted. As much as you think the anti-’scrounger’ rhetoric of the Daily Mail passes you by, I find that some of these ideas have wormed their way into my consciousness. The thought of people on benefits having expensive gadgets, new clothes, holidays or indeed, enjoying themselves at all at ‘my expense’ starts me tutting and grumbling. So now that we are some of those people on benefits, I’ve started scrutinising my every spending decision.

I’m very grateful to receive state support and, for want of a better phrase, I don’t want to take the piss. So now the money that I’d already been given to buy myself a Christmas present from family has gone into the household budget, along with any money Chris would have spent on a present for me. I’d already bought some presents for the boys – there are a few more things on the list that I’d have liked to get them, but now I’ll just stop with what I’ve got already. My trusty black handbag has started to tear and I’d like to replace it, but now I’m thinking “we’re on benefits – surely I should just use the torn but functional handbag, or my perfectly good brown handbag that doesn’t match my shoes and clashes with my hat?”. The other day I found myself cooking ox-tail stew in the slow cooker, embracing the frugal lifestyle – sadly it was greasy and unpleasant and not that cheap anyway. More lentils next.

A side-effect of this spending guilt is that it’s left me at a bit of a loss about the blog. I was planning to do a post about my favourite iPhone apps (on the dole with an iPhone?! When hard-working families can’t afford one?) and about some products I’d bought and liked. Is it a total contradiction to be writing about living on benefits and about stuff I have bought, or would like to buy?

I still haven’t figured out how exactly our benefits will work. On the plus side, we’re allowed to make a joint claim whilst both remaining self-employed. This is great news as it means that I can continue to build up my Phoenix business, and Chris can maintain his skills, keep improving his design portfolio and make new contacts through more freelancing – as long as we each work under 16 hours per week. We submit our profits when he signs on every fortnight – whether the level of benefits we’ll receive is a simple ‘x – profit’ calculation or something more complex, I’m not sure. But even if being self-employed makes us worse off financially, I think it’s still very important to keep up as it means that when one of us gets a job, the other will have a part-time income that they can continue to develop as the kids get older (which was always our intention anyway as we were both looking for jobs).

I’m a positive person. There are lots of good things about our situation. We’re all together, all in good health. There are people worse off than us in every town in the UK, and families living through crises all around the world. We are very lucky. Chris is spending every day caring for the children alongside his job hunting (as am I). If we don’t find a job straight away, we can use this as an opportunity to study – Chris had signed up for a Maths GCSE course to start in September, but the long hours and travelling he was doing meant that it just wasn’t feasible. Now he’s planning to start the course in January, and it could lead to A-levels and opportunities to pursue his new-found interest in physics and astronomy. I’ve been looking at college courses myself – when I left school and did a Philosophy degree I was thinking only of my interests and not of developing skills for a sustainable, recession-proof career; here’s a chance to reevaluate, assess my strengths and find something that really suits.

I can’t lie, this is a bad time for us – probably the worst thing to happen in our relationship. But we are positive, we are happy. Life moves on, we will cope, and we will come out of this stronger and happier than ever.

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22 Responses leave one →
  1. December 4, 2011

    I fear the “anti-scrounger rhetoric” is to blame for this guilt you’re feeling over having things. What are you supposed to do? Eat gruel and rub gravel into your hair? Live your life to the best of your ability, in a way that is fit for you and yours, and don’t fall prey to the finger-pointing society.

    Start by changing the title of this blog post perhaps? Doesn’t do you any favours, in my humble opinion.

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      December 4, 2011

      Yes, exactly, I feel like we should be eating gruel. But feeding the children carrot soup instead of turkey twizzlers, obvs. It’s not really rational but it’s how I feel. Seriously, we’ve stopped buying diet coke and booze (although after some agonising I’m keeping my Christmas night out). I’m planning to grow out my crop rather than visit the hairdresser every eight weeks. Would I expect other people on benefits to do the same? Maybe.

  2. December 4, 2011

    Don’t beat yourself up. You bought your iphone during less frugal times, so it’s not like you went straight out and blew a benefits cheque on it! It’s funny how your perception of spending changes though when faced with the need to be frugal. I baulk at everyone spending £6 a day on lunch, but I used to do it myself. I just can’t justify it now though. Hope everything straights itself out soon for you. Keep that last sentence of your post in your head and you’ll get there :-)

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      December 6, 2011

      Oh, when I think of the amount I used to spend in the work canteen before I had kids… when you work these things out it’s a significant portion of your wage! You are right, of course, about our phones and things – I just need to get my head around it.

  3. December 4, 2011

    Holy moly! What an awful thing to happen. Can you see the reference? It’s virtually impossible to give a bad one so maybe you can reject further? Hope something goes right for you very soon. Big love xxx

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      December 6, 2011

      Thank you, lovely lady. We are waiting to receive the reference – so we will have to consider our options once we’ve seen it. But he has other good referees from freelance work, and I am looking too, so we may be able to move on without it being an issue. x

  4. December 5, 2011

    Goodness what an awful thing to happen. I agree with the other comments above, you should really try to push to see the reference. But good for you for seeing the positives that can come out of a bad situation. Hope you turn a corner soon x

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      December 6, 2011

      I am a positive person, I realise now! Thing is, we can’t change what’s happened, but we can decide what to do about it and take positive action now – so this is my plan. x

  5. December 5, 2011

    Oh I am so sorry to hear this – you poor things. Seems as if there’s a storm of this at the moment

    Perhaps worth considering that you have both paid into the system whilst you were earning and that benefits exist to support those when life does something like this – that in some ways you deserve help and support because of your hard work in the past

    We’re in a similar situation – whilst we’re lucky I have my job I’m analysing everything we’re spending – I feel guilty that I have ordered presents that are still to arrive and wonder if I should cancel them

    I really hope it all improves soon (have you spoken to someone about the reference, we can only give factual ones, ie worked here between x and y, because of the litigation risk if you say something that has an impact on the new employer’s decision…)

    • December 5, 2011

      Hey, so sorry to hear your woes. We went through a similar thing (minus the reference) when I was 9 months pregnant with the little man. My sympathies, it is really tough. I would battle the reference though, just to get it sorted for the next interview which he will get. And re benefits … You’ve paid your dues and that’s exactly what it is there for. Big hugs.

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      December 6, 2011

      Yes, you are right about having worked hard and paid in, thank you. We’ve had some informal advice about the reference and we have to weigh up the pros and cons of all our options.

  6. mary permalink
    December 5, 2011

    The same thing happened to my friend in regards to a reference. He struggled to get access to it. He successfully took his ‘new’ employer to tribunal and won. He used legal serices at first but eventually self represented and won. It was an awful time for him. If you have any questions I can email him.

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      December 6, 2011

      Thank you for your offer. Unfortunately the nature of the new employer means that we’d be unlikely to win a claim against them, and I wouldn’t want to really as the potential new boss was very apologetic and supportive about the situation, but his hands were tied. But thank you.

  7. December 5, 2011

    It’s not an easy situation. My husband and I were in a similar boat a couple of years ago and it’s not a comfortable place to be. There is a vast difference between being on benefits through circumstance and seeing being on benefits as an easy lifestyle choice. I was uncomfortable but at least we do have this help open to us. I hope things turn around for you all soon. Maybe seek some advice about trying to see the reference?

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      December 6, 2011

      Thank you. We have been told that we’ll be able to see the reference, just haven’t received it yet. But in a way I just want to think positive and move on from the situation.

  8. December 5, 2011

    oh my god, Kirsty, what an awful thing to happen – I always read your blog and clicked on it tonight in a momentary lesson-planning break, thinking “why not see if she’s updated it for a bit of light relief” and then when I read the first paragraph I felt like my heart stopped! job hunting stress and the stress of references and so on is a topic close to me right now since Mario moved over at Easter. He’s had to work so hard on job applications etc, started at Pret a Manger in a pretty menial position with a horrible manager, and when he couldn’t take it any more and quit in July/August he had about 7 weeks of being unemployed before he found his current job (which is a bit of a step up as it’s administration in an office, but he still has to work nights and shifts and 6 days a week). Once we started renting our own flat it suddenly all seemed so much more real and scary, as the prospect of him not finding anything could actually have resulted in us not being able to pay our rent. Having children must really emphasise that feeling of responsibility.

    You seem very positive and philosophical about it though. It’s hard about budgeting and where you draw the line – I never buy new clothes or much expensive food, shop at Lidl and in discount aisles etc, and Mario’s more careful than me – we almost never eat out – but then when it comes to wine we buy a LOT and spend over £4 a bottle: it’s our one luxury. It does add up though. I keep thinking of researching websites where we could buy in bulk and save that way but so far I haven’t found anything that’s actually cheaper.

    Sorry, this was supposed to be sympathetic and instead is just all about me. I think my point about the wine is that really, a lot of things are a waste of money but it’s about prioritising and allowing yourself some treats – don’t punish yourself too much for claiming benefits because after all, that is what they’re there for! I hope you’re at least letting your parents/friends treat you occasionally.

    Thinking of you, anyway…
    Mary xx

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      December 6, 2011

      It’s a bigger question all together really, I suppose, what’s a ‘waste’ of money and what isn’t, and what’s the point of being here if we don’t enjoy it etc etc – I guess the difference is, I feel happy spending my money how I like when it’s *my* money, but with this jobseekers allowance, I don’t feel that it is.

      Wine-wise I reckon you’re right, buying by the case tends to work out £5 a bottle when special offers are on, we used to do that before we had kids. Maybe take the ferry to France and buy a few cases?? (with someone who has a car..?)

  9. December 6, 2011

    I’m glad you are back, missed you. Sorry it’s been tough for you guys. Don’t let it enter too far into your psyche. You’ve worked hard, paid into a system that is there for all of us. It’s a doubly rubbish time for economising, December. I’m all for minimising the nonsense and consumerism of Christmas, and you’re clearly drawing out the real positives of having more family time. Having my husband on 6 months garden leave was great for us as a family even if we are now having to live on a lot less while we transition though temporary and freelance jobs. You need treats, it’s too easy to spend all on kids, but you end up chipping away at your sense of self, I’ve found. Lentils are bloomin marvellous things you know, speaking as a veggie x

  10. December 8, 2011

    My hopes, thoughts and wishes are with you during this time. I admire your truthfulness and ability to share via your blog what is going on in your life with us all…isn’t that really what a blog should be about? Best wishes to you.

  11. December 12, 2011

    What an awful thing to happen. Thinking of you being brave and staying positive. I’ve never forgotten your kindness in giving me (a complete stranger-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend) proofreading advice and directing me to Butler Hill when I was made redundant. I wish there was something I could do back for you.

  12. December 13, 2011

    Less of taking the new employer to tribunal, what about the old one?! The old employer gave the reference knowing full well it would cause the new offer to be withdrawn and it sounds like it was done out of spite to me. If it is not true, you have recourse through industrial tribunals.

    http://www.totaljobs.com/careers-advice/money-and-legal/references

    Also, check your household policy to see if you have any legal expenses cover. This sort of thing WOULD be covered by it. You’d probably need to pay about £30 and the rest is covered. I did this when I took out a statutory grievance against my employers – although the solicitor decided it wouldn’t win at a tribunal, but all his time up to that point was covered by insurance. You may want to move on from that point, but if his former employer was in the wrong, then you’ll get compensated and that will make your family’s financial position a little easier.

  13. December 24, 2011

    Hello love, Sorry not really been about so only just seen this. So sorry it has happened but glad to read that you are still being positive. Hopefully it will be a new door opening that will lead to something wonderful for you all. Mich x

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