Chapter 4: A Futile Chore
Footnote: Barriers: The Cost of Seeking Work
The contemptuously low level of state
has left me, as an unemployed job seeker, with no resources with which to seek a job. I am like a commercial company trying to launch into a free market on a zero sales budget. Yet I am expected, nay required, to succeed.
Unable to Communicate
The contemptuously low level of state welfare renders me almost totally unable to communicate with my job market. I simply cannot afford to make the large number of telephone calls and send out the vast number of speculative letters necessary to locate and secure a job in the today's fiercely competitive job market. The facilities provided by the now defunct executive job clubs which I was required to attend for 6 months out of every year were not, and could never be, a substitute for having my own means of being able to communicate directly with my job market. They were a million miles from the expectations of the real world with which they purported to be dealing.
For example, the actual jobs which are available for people of my background and experience are never advertised. They simply do not fit the format of the advertised job. They do not lend themselves to being processed through employment agencies.
The relevant people to whom I must send
my CV and with whom I must correspond with regard to the kind of job I would be suited for nowadays expect one to contact them by electronic mail. Conventional paper mail, faxes, and even telephone calls are what the uninitiated use - people who are not up to date with the way things are now done. People who send letters and make telephone calls are people they now tend to ignore, or at lease respond to only as a last resort if they are completely desperate. You cannot expect to be taken seriously nowadays in the IT industry if you cannot respond via a web site or send your CV in by email. But how does one do this on a zero budget?
Unable to Travel
The contemptuously low level of state welfare also renders me almost completely immobile. I simply cannot afford to travel to my places of prospective employment for interview. Consequently I cannot reasonably hope to find work. The government provides what it calls "Travel to Interview" costs. It reimburses an unemployed interviewee the with cost of the rail or bus fare required to get to the place where an interview is to take place.
But this is not quite what it seems. You only get the money after you have already been to the interview. This means that you have to find the money with which to pay the fare in the first place. It is only when you have experienced living on state welfare that you realise that this is
far from trivial. In fact it can be critical.
Furthermore, you are only reimbursed if and when the government Employment Service has rung the prospective employer to verify that you have actually attended an interview. The person who answers the telephone call may not know anything about the interview. The interviewer may have since gone away on company business or on holiday. And there is no incentive for the employer or any of his staff to take any trouble to verify whether an interviewee attended an interview with them or not. They stand to gain nothing. They stand to lose nothing. But the interviewee is denied the reimbursement he has been led to expect, or at least receives it very late. Either way, as a result he has to suffer a level of deprivation far beyond that which he normally has to suffer.
Of course, to anybody who has never been unemployed for any length of time this must seem a total nonsense. How can the mere non-reimbursement of a train fair cause so much of a fuss? Perhaps it will become a little clearer when I
reveal that for me a typical train fare to interview is the same as the amount of money I have to live on for a week. And that is at the 'cheap day return' reduced rate.
The necessity for Employment Services to verify that the interviewee has in fact attended an arranged interview causes another problem. It informs the employer that the applicant is currently unemployed rather than simply seeking to change jobs. In the IT industry this renders the whole process completely and utterly pointless anyway. I have never come across an employer in the IT industry who will employ somebody who has been out of work for 10 years. At least not in a role befitting my background and experience. However, where the employer has not known of my status, my up-to-date leading edge knowledge is not exactly going to lead them in any way to suspect that I have been unemployed for 10 years. This is why, whenever possible, I have funded my own travel to interview.
Finally, travel to interview costs are only reimbursed for journeys which are longer than what Employment Services call 'normal travel to work distance'. This is the maximum distance which one's employed economic peers normally travel to work. There is absolutely no job market for me anywhere near my home. My economic peers almost without exception are commuters. Our job market is in London. London is currently approximately £18 distant from my home (£9.50 at the cheap day return rate).
If I had a job at the normal salary levels for the kind of work I would do I would have no trouble paying this amount to get to and from work each day. In fact, I would be able to make substantial savings by buying a long-term ticket covering a month or even a year. But as a person barely surviving on state welfare I simply cannot. £18 is currently more than 1¼ times what I personally have
to live on for a whole week. To pay the fare to one interview in London (which is within the travel to work distance and is therefore not reimbursed) would require me to fast for two weeks. I have done it. But not now. Not ever again. Rules or no rules, I think that under any system of human rights and morality I simply should not be required to do this. So I don't.
I think it is all a case of ignorant rule-makers having no realistic notion of the lives and circumstances of those upon whom they impose their rules. They undoubtedly have in view a stereotypical unemployed worker who does not exist and probably never has done.
Unable to Dress Appropriately
There are certain standards and expectations among employers as to how prospective employees (interviewees) should appear. For the kind of work I would do one is expected to wear a suit. I bought a new suit about 10 years ago. Ten years ago I became unemployed. The suit is worn out and no longer fits me. Now, after so long on state welfare, the very idea of buying a new suit is so ridiculous as to be laughable. Even buying a shirt is painful. I have nothing with which I could reasonably turn up to an interview. On the rare occasions when I am granted an interview I have to turn up in an old pair of grey trousers and a blazer which I happened to have. What effect this has I do not know. But there is nothing I can do about it.
Erosion of Professional Standing
Finally, the contemptuously low level of state welfare has reduced my professional standing. I was a fellow of one professional institute and a member of two others. After 5 years on state welfare I had no choice but to terminate these memberships because, try as I might, I could no longer afford the annual subscriptions. I had already squeezed to the absolute limit every other possible area of expenditure. The basic well-being of my children had to come first. I am now a member of no professional body. This reluctant and painful necessity has naturally made its own significant contribution to the creeping erosion of my chances of ever getting a job.
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©May 1998 Robert John Morton