I feel like my unemployed status has been some how legitimised. Obviously merely the absence of paid work isn't enough, in order to get the full experience one requires government rubber stamping. Today I went on the dole.
For a lot of people signing on is a bit of a right of passage, and obviously there's nothing to be ashamed of here. Some of my best friends sign on (not true, to my knowledge none of my friends sign on at all, but they would if they had to). In my home town its probably more the norm than actually having a job, and as a child -particularly during the last recession- I have very clear memories of both of my parents happily taking cash from the council. My Dad even had this uncanny ability to sign on while still working.
And why not? I've spent the last 13 years of my working life losing part of my salary to something called 'NI'. This is my chance to take some of it back. This is, after all, what it's for. This is what William Beveridge managed to avoid fighting the war for. This is my right as a British citizen. Free money! Right on.
All this being the case, the family imperative, the genuine rights as one of her majestys subjects, the fact that i'm effectively spending money that I've put aside myself, why does signing on feel so soul-crushingly awful? Why does it feel like I'm admitting defeat? I'm a namby-pampy Guardian-reading card carrying wooley liberal wanker, of course I approve of the government supporting the unemployed. I actually believe they should get more. Especially now. It's just when the poor sod without a job is me, it still feels a little like I've failed.
Earlier today I went for my "new claims interview" at -brilliantly- Peckham Job Centre, because obviously East Dulwich doesn't have one of its own (unemployed? in Dulwich? Goodness no, how would we pay the organic butcher?) Foolishly I believed this might be a quick process. Alas no, I was in plenty of time for my 10.45am appointment -and as dole scum I resent being asked to get up before 11, ta- and didn't actually leave the sodding place until 2pm, having attended 3 seperate interviews, signed 7 different pieces of paper, and been ignored by roughly 5 members of job centre staff. Aside from a chirpy conversation with a guy on the door regarding my Watchmen badge no-one seemed especially interested in my situation, in helping me get a job that might in some way aid my career or use my experience or qualifications (okay, a 2:2 in Sociology from Loughborough isn't exactly vocational gold but they could have tried).
Why exactly did it take 3 people to sort that out? If the first fellow had dealt with the lot I'd have been out in half am hour.
Instead I sat in the waiting room tweeting ideally, reading a book of Neil Gaiman short stories and listening to the other sad stories going on at the desks around me feeling by turns
a) a complete snob.
b) guilt at feeling (a)
c) annoyance with the system
d) an utter failure.
The whole experience seemed to warp my thinking in some way. I actually found myself having this thought at my first intereview...
"Jesus, he could have at least worn a tie".
I was wearing a tie. Why was this suddenly bothering me? I wear a tie because I decided on it as a good look for me. Tie-absense in others has never even begun to bother me before. I was turning into an old lady. It was probably a good thing I couldn't go on Mark Thomas' Daily Mail protest, I'd more than likely have bolted into their offices and demanded a subscription. The dole office has turned me into someone I don't like much.
Which is quite enough information for today I think. On the thin chance of someone actually reading this far down the page, I'd prefer you to actually like me.
Anyway, my claim has been processed, I have a pile of paper work to fill in-including a sheet of A4 devided into rows which I have to fill out every time I take an active step at job hunting such as "reading the paper or searching online". Apparently if I do that less than 3 times in a forntight they'll stop my money. Surely no-one ever fails that? Even if you werent looking -and most people could fill that page in a week- faking it would be pretty easy. My application should take 7-10 days and I have to call the council about housing benefit. I now must return to the job centre every 2 weeks on a Friday afternoon.
Oh, and to top it all off the festival I was booking the comedy for in May has lost a chunk of it's funding and probably won't be happening.
It's hard not to be bitter on days like this.