I don’t know how many of the UK Cabinet have spent any length of time unemployed and claiming benefit. I’d guess the answer is less than 1. They seem to think those of us in that position are to be denigrated, aided and abetted by their slimehounds in the right-wing media. Unemployment to these goons is an extended holiday, a time to catch up on your box-sets and bookshelves, relaxing away at the hard-working, quiet bat people, British family’s expense.
Here’s the bit that never makes the Daily Express. Here’s what unemployment actually means. It means losing touch with your friends and social circle, as they carry on doing the things that require a working income like going to the pub, whilst you can’t. It means constantly questioning your self-worth, as you send off application after application, with only a 10% chance you’ll even get the nodding courtesy of an acknowlegment email. It means comparing yourself to those in work, and convincing yourself that they’re all better human beings than you, with their purpose and routine and income. It means doing anything to make sure you don’t let day after day drift away in a miasma of pointlessness, like walking to random places 6 miles away and browsing charity shops. At least you’re not vegetating in front of Doctors, you tell yourself as you reject yet another book in Oxfam as too expensive at two quid.
It’s kicking around in clothes that don’t fit, but you’re unable to replace. It’s the contempt you receive from the media as a burden on the hard-working, God-fearing payers of tax. It’s the times when you meet someone you’ve not seen in a while, and giving the answer, “bugger all” when you’re asked what you’ve been up to. It’s contemptousness you start developing for every little thing you do, drained of your self-belief, worrying that every dinner you cook and every dish you wash isn’t up to the standard of ‘normal’ people. It’s hearing Eton-educated twits refer to you in terms that would have PETA permaraging were they applied to dugs. It’s keeping your mouth shut when you’re in a group of folk you don’t know, because they must be better than you; better you stay schtum and not make an arse of your doley self.
It’s the walking around 5 different supermarkets of an afternoon, because you’ve got the time, and because that’s how you save 15p on a jug of milk – and remembering to time your visits with the likelihood the out of date produce gets reduced in price. It’s the times you know full well that the CV you’ve just submitted won’t get you anywhere near the job in question, but you put it in anyway because you just have to do something and if lottery winners can overcome massive odds, so can you. It’s the entirely well-meaning advice from people that you’ve heard a thousand times before, and know won’t help. It’s how your world gets reduced in size, unable to venture far from your neighbourhood for lack of the bus fare.
It’s how you start taking your frustrations with your situation out on others, getting snippy at the slightest thing, then berating yourself even more for being such a fud. It’s when you start going without showers, because frankly what difference does it make when all you’re out for is a loaf of bread. It’s the times when you go to the dole office and stare at the same loose fibre that’s been hanging off the seat for the entire 4 months you started signing on, and you wonder if there’ll ever be a fortnight you won’t have to come down here and feel pathetically grateful for the £70 a week you get. It’s seeing one or two folk roll up at the dole who are undoubtedly fiddling it, and getting unaccountably angry at them for giving the Right the ammunition to besmirch everyone claiming benefit, making your life harder.
Fundamentally, not being able to earn a living destroys souls, and those who make policy ought to make that the centre of what they agitate about, not the bogeymen of “he’s on the dole and got Sky” or the seemingly ever-and-all-present ‘scroungers’.
Not everyone in such a predicament would recognise themselves from these descriptions; and neither should they. Optimists and pessimists, introverts and extroverts, professionals and journeymen, all react differently when stuck in a horrible position. But next time you hear a ‘leader’ of the country mouth off about benefit scrounges, the idle, the lazy, the feckless, think about the human beings they denigrate, their feelings, hopes, dreams, aspirations, all slowly being strangled by a life they desperately want to change.