I have now been unemployed since September. I’m still me, I still listen to Radio 4, I still take photos, I still love to read, I still want to see my friends and family.
Some things have changed, I have a nephew and and a god-daughter that I didn’t have in September, I have a much cleaner house, I have less money and more time.
My life is gradually shrinking. I can’t commit to doing things because I don’t know if I can afford them. For instance this week I can’t go and visit Jo and Tabitha (friend and god-daughter) in Putney, because I don’t have the £2.30 to get there.
You see, my rent goes out on the 20th of each month, all my other bills are set to be paid around the 26th, which is when I used to get paid. JSA goes in twice monthly and Housing Benefit…well Housing Benefit goes in whenever the hell Ealing Council fancies. The last week in Dec they paid Dec and January’s all together. This February’s they haven’t actually processed yet, so it won’t be in my bank account until 1st March. I’m lucky, my mother will lend me the money so I won’t go overdrawn and get charged fees. Ealing Council’s erratic payment schedule for Housing Benefit won’t plunge me further into debt.
What if I didn’t have a safety net?
This is the problem, the benefits I receive (and yes I am very grateful for them) don’t cover my living expenses. Not my credit card payments, not my nights out, not my mobile, not my internet. They don’t cover my rent, gas, electric, water, food. I live in London, in a one bedroom flat, it’s a lovely flat, but it’s not expensive for the area. Housing Benefit doesn’t cover the rent, bills don’t go down, even on benefit you have to pay some Council Tax, the only variable are the misc expenses, food, travel, clothes, toiletries (for which I budget £20 a week). So every month I am in debt and on a knife’s edge. (To add insult to injury the £64.50 a week, JSA is taxable!) I am constantly worried about whether the bills will get paid on time and trying to keep the bank account running. So it would be really useful if I could have a definite date that my Housing Benefit will be paid. Because that’s the way most of the world works, my landlord wants paying on the same time each month, utilities companies want paying on the same time each month (and paying bill to bill is more expensive.) Why is it different if you are unemployed?
The major problem with being unemployed isn’t the lack of money, it’s the sense of hopelessness. I spend time applying for jobs and hearing nothing back. The benefits system adds to that hopelessness. I can’t get a part time or lower paying job to tide me over because then I lose all benefits and if I can’t cover my rent, I’ll be homeless (as a single childless adult, my chances of getting social housing is mimimal and how am I going to get a job if I don’t have an address?) . When I go to sign on, I turn up on time but have to wait 30 minutes, I never know when housing benefit is going to be in my bank account, so am constantly on edge about money. I’ve worked full time since I was 19, I want to work, God knows I’ve applied for enough jobs, but I’m treated as if I’m not trying, as though I deserve nothing. I listen to the radio and hear that people on benefits don’t want to work and have unrealistic expectations (thanks Frank Field) but I don’t think that it’s unrealistic to want a job that pays enough to cover my rent and bills, is it?
I’m really trying here, but the world I used to live in is getting further and further away and I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever get back.