I became long-term unemployed today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. No, definitely yesterday. This series is not one I’ll be posting on Facebook or LinkedIn…
the New Life
One academic unemployee, three months into the New Life, seemed most upset about lacking the validation of their identity as an academic. They found it ‘wonderful to have so much time in which to think and write’, and even found – not a verb I would use – ‘visiting’ the job centre to be (albeit ‘disheartening’) fuel for ‘sociological curiosity’.
I had a less dismissive approach to unemployment – though I had lived on a shoestring budget before, and I did not think I’d be unemployed too long, so I did think I’d fill the void of time with publishing my research, giving occasional lectures and all of the other unpaid labours that would consolidate my academic career, and I’d cope. That didn’t happen.
I was lucky that a friend was working abroad and having their flat fixed up, so when I signed on (registered) as unemployed, I was able to stay in their flat, let the workers in, etc., and thereby stay in London. But I still found it debilitating. I couldn’t afford to have a decent life. I had to choose which friends to see which week (and could not see any friends outside London); had to arrive one or two drinks late, nurse each drink for as long as possible, refuse to take part in rounds even on birthdays.
Brixton job centre was awful – lots of security, lots of trouble. When I signed on, I asked if there were any jobs at the job centre – but the officer told me that I was better off on my side of the counter.
My case worker was unhelpful and unpleasant. They constantly moved my appointment at the last minute, and notified me by post, to try to catch me out. They kept forcing me to apply for jobs from which I was explicitly disqualified, even though I was already engaging in more “job-seeking activity” than required.
I warned them that I might be late for an appointment because I was having surgery to remove (daytime language-learning, nighttime thesis-writing-induced) cysts from my eyelids then, when I stumbled in with bloodied bandages over one side of my face and an official doctor’s note on time, they harassed me and tried to suspend my welfare payments for lying.
I was sent to a supposedly intensive restart programme, the type immortalised by restart survivor Reece Shearsmith in the League of Gentlemen’s restart officer Pauline Campbell-Jones, where we spent two hours learning how to fill in our forms correctly – the forms that we had to have been filling in correctly for the previous thirteen weeks in order to remain on the dole and be eligible for the programme. When I went back the next week, I was informed that the previous week’s wasted time was the programme.
After a year spent catatonic on the couch (five-and-a-half months living on the savings from my doctoral grant, six-and-a-half months on the dole), using Diazepam to knock any moment of panic back down into one of comfortable stupor, I got an English teaching job in Turkey… But four months later, I was back on the dole.