Chapter 4: A Futile Chore

Footnote: Freedom of Travel

I live in what is understood to be a free country. Indeed the majority of its subjects are in a legal sense free. However, the degree to which one's legal freedoms can be realised is strongly tied to the extent of one's wealth. And those with the very least wealth have even their legal freedoms curtailed.

Most people in the United Kingdom take for granted the freedom to travel. They can jump in their cars and drive to Scotland, Cornwall, Wales, London, wherever. And they do not have to ask anybody's permission to do so — official or otherwise. They can even just buy an air ticket and go to France, Belgium, Spain. With a visa (which few in the U.K. are ever likely to be refused) they can even fly to the United States of Am­er­ica. Most people that is.

But not if you are unemployed. Unemployed people like me have to carry an ES40 'Job Seeker's Allowance' card as proof of our unemployed status. On page 4 of my card I am told, "You must tell us straight away if you are going away from home for any reason, even if it is only for a day." [Emphasis theirs.] In other words, I need permission to travel. Furthermore, if the reason for my wishing to travel is not appr­oved by the official at the Jobcentre, then either I could not go or my State welfare pay­ments would be reduced for the duration. So I also need official approval to travel. If, for any reason, I were to travel outside the United Kingdom I would lose all State welfare for the duration. This cuts out any interview opportunities I may get for work abroad.

Hence, strictly speaking, all unemployed people are ipso facto under house arrest. Not that this matters in the slightest. We cannot afford to travel anywhere anyway. But it does illustrate that legally speaking we do not have quite the same freedoms as others have, and indeed as others might suppose we have. The reality is that for those of us who barely exist on State welfare our condition of house arrest is more effectively enforced by economics than it is by law.

Parent Document | ©May 1998 Robert John Morton