Tag Archives: unemployment

A Voter’s Manifesto (part 2 of 5)

Link to part 1

Environment

I note that David Cameron pledged to make this government the greenest ever. I also note that he has wholly failed to keep his promises. What is needed is not empty promises, but statutes which take seriously the fact that positive action for the preservation of the environment is not a hippy ambition but is necessary for the safeguarding of all people, now and in the future, with profound impacts on a great many other areas, not least the economy.

All legislation shall be subject to environmental review. If such reviews find that proposed legislation is not environmentally sustainable or does not mitigate to the maximum extent any potential harm, then it shall be rejected.

There will be no more investment into building new power stations that rely on fossil fuels. The only expenditure on them will be on safety.

Instead, investment will be made into renewable energies including, but not limited to, wind and wave power.

Such renewables may plug a gap left by the winding down of fossil fuels, but are not an answer to all our energy needs. So there should be funding into a new nuclear fission powered station, at a location yet to be determined.

Further to this, though, there should be additional funds made available to research into nuclear fusion as this is the cleanest, most fruitful potential source of energy available, but whose long-term feasibility remains a task that engineering has not yet conquered.

Recent years have seen annual floods in many parts of the country. This has partly been brought about by environmental change, but has been exacerbated by poor flood planning. I would propose a moratorium on building on flood plains. While there is a great need for new homes, not least in the form of social housing, these need to be built in areas where risks from flooding are minimal. There should also be additional funds directed to improving the flood defences in the areas that are routinely and severely hit.

Employment

Full employment is an ideal that should be aimed for but which should be acknowledged as unrealistic. Instead, there should be a recognition that there will likely be friction in the job market, but that the more realistic aim should be to keep unemployment to under 2 months per person.

Aiming for a total unemployment rate has less meaning than actually trying to get people into employment. So any unemployment statistics should be tiered to show the number who have been unemployed for less than 2 months, between 2 and 6 months, 6-12 months and over 12 months.

I have laid out before a measure to encourage companies to take on unemployed people before, so I would reiterate that policy.

No person should work for nothing. So work experience will have to become a form of paid employment. Zero-hours contracts should be outlawed as will the current Workfare programme.

Some additional measures are outlined in the Company Law section later in this manifesto.

Inflation measures

At present, the inflation measures that we use, RPI and CPI are artificially low. The reason is that they omit the very important factor of house price inflation. The RPI contains the increase in mortgage repayments, but if the interest rates are kept low (as a result of the current flawed inflation measures) then the RPI records a low inflation rate.

Instead, we should either amend the current measures or introduce a third which incorporates the rate of house price inflation. This would ensure the issue is taken more seriously than it currently is. There are currently some who are advocates of not increasing interest rates. When such people are put in charge of interest rates, then we get the divide that results in in house price inflation being up to 10 times what the RPI is in some locations.

It is my opinion that this is not good for long term economics and that it has fuelled the current housing bubble. Once we get a more realistic figure to use for inflation, then interest rates are almost certain to rise. While this will increase the cost of borrowing, this is necessary adjustment to correct some inequalities in our economy. Any further references to inflation should be taken to mean this improved measure which takes into account house price inflation.

Transport

Public transport is currently among the most expensive in Europe.

Train fares may be increased annually at a rate no more than inflation. This will not only apply in aggregate but will also apply to any given railfare anywhere in the country. So train companies will be prevented from increasing some fares by a little and some by extortionate amounts.

Rural bus services are also in need of improvement, so I would propose additional funding after a wholesale review has taken place, which should last no more than 2 years.

One of the major issues that is discussed in the construction of HS2, the high speed railway line. As yet, I am undecided on this issue, so offer no proposal either for or against it.

To reiterate a point made earlier, all legislation should be subject to an environmental review. Transport is one area that will be highly affected by this, not least when discussing airport capacity.

For any airline that operates at any UK airport, they will be required to engage in a carbon-offsetting programme to counteract the carbon dioxide emissions they make on all flights into and out of the UK, as well as internal flights. Airlines will be prohibited from passing on the cost of such an offset onto their passenger airfairs.

Healthcare

The current coalition government has embarked upon a dangerous crusade, based on a flawed ideology that market forces are the best way to ensure effective healthcare. As such, it should be the priority of an incoming government to repeal the Health and Social Care Bill.

The highest priority in the provision of front line services must be the wellbeing of the patient. Any would-be provider of such services should not be compromised by concerns over profitability, as this detracts from the highest priority. Therefore no provider of front line services may operate on a for-profit service. Any measures taken to privatise the NHS must be repealed and any care currently in private hands must be phased back into public hands over the course of the next parliament.

For any company that provides goods or services to the NHS (i.e. not front line service), the taxation on their profits should be ringfenced and directed straight back into the NHS. The reason for this is that healthcare should be prioritised over profits. So while it may be necessary for a company to generate profits to allow future investment, they should not be excessive, at the expense of the NHS.

Let’s give an example. Let’s say a company generates revenue of £30m, of which £20m is derived from the NHS. They make sufficient profits to warrant paying £3m of tax. While this tax would normally go into a central pot from the NHS would take part, 2/3rds of it should be directed straight into the NHS, with the other £1m going to the general pot.

A year of employment

Today marks the first anniversary of my starting my current job. For those of you who were with me throughout 2012, you will know that I lost two jobs and spent 6 months unemployed. This is a brief look back at the last year and the legacy that the extended periods of unemployment have left.

Having gone to a lot of interviews and been rejected from them, I finally got a job offer just before Christmas 2012. I chose to keep this to myself until Christmas morning when I showed mum the email confirming my offer; that was my Christmas present to her – and yes, she did cry.

I knew that as I started a new job I would be going straight into a busy period as the company has a year end of the 31st of December and so the finance department would be working on the year end accounts, with an announcement due to the stock market in late February. Though not afraid of a bit of hard work, I was anticipating quite a few days when one might be working until 10pm in the office and coming in on Saturdays and Sundays, as is usual for finance staff at this time of year. So I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that the office gets locked up at 8pm and you get kicked out then. The front door is operated by a key rather than a swipe card so you can’t go in on a Saturday unless you have a key (and only a few people have these) so I ended up not working late once nor working at a weekend.

In fact, in the whole year I only worked twice on a Saturday, each time with several weeks’ notice and got a day off in lieu. One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about the job has been the discipline we have as a team in terms of getting things right. The idea of “that’ll do” simply doesn’t occur; we operate by the motif “if it’s not 100% right, it’s wrong” and that suits my personality and how I work in a professional setting. In that respect, I really do enjoy my job.

Of course, being back in a work environment means having to work with people. In the past on this blog I’ve tried to express that I have some misanthropic tendencies – this is a touch further than a general introversion. There’s one chap in the office who likes to “work people out” and he will characterise them by certain proclivities or personality traits. After having been there for about 9 months he confessed to me that I was still a closed book to him. I don’t go out to the office socials and I avoid any hint of sociability wherever I can, including not going to the office Christmas party. To some, this may be seen as being unfriendly or anti-social, but in reality these are situations that make me intensely uncomfortable and which are best avoided. Just as, given the recent poor weather, one might look outside and see it is cold, wet & windy, you wouldn’t necessarily choose to walk out of the front door in shorts & t-shirt for a casual walk round the local park. But that’s the kind of level of discomfort I’m talking about. My avoidance of this, though not unique, is not necessarily the most common and so the more outgoing characters (who are those I get on with the least) cannot understand this, even if one tries to explain. Thankfully, though, there are other introverts in the department, even if they are not as extreme as I am.

But the year has not really been a resumption of “business as usual” as I had previously felt in my other jobs. Having been made redundant from one and fired from another, I am more aware of the tenuous grasp we have on our careers. Every time my line manager and the head of department had a private conversation, I couldn’t help but be reminded that I’d seen exactly the same happen in the days leading up to my dismissal from the 2nd job I lost in 2012. It physically hurts when that panic twang hits your chest. This was made all the worse as there was a major project going on at around the time my probationary period was due to be up. So my line manager and her boss were constantly going off into private meeting rooms and having conversations which I didn’t know about. Their calendars were blank so I couldn’t see any meeting agendas, so I got paranoid that they were discussing whether or not to keep me on. My probation was never discussed in the days or weeks leading up the date when it was due to expire and I was afraid to bring up the subject in case I came across as impertinent.

As it was, I passed my probationary period and I was “let in” on the secret which they had been discussing (which was a corporate transaction which is now a matter of public record). That put me as ease for a little while, though at that time my personal life took a turn for the worse. So with the combination of a “more secure” job in London combined with a very personal reason for wanting to leave Sussex behind, I made the decision to move, cutting nearly all ties with what had been my home for over 5 years. One or two of you know more details about why this was, but I don’t think I’m ready to put that into writing on the blog yet. In spite of wanting to leave that element of my life behind, I am reminded on a nearly weekly basis of that reason, which may stay with me, even if just as a curse on my lips, for years to come. If there’s anything I’ve come to realise more viscerally than ever before is that our past is not always something that can be left behind. When that past has painful elements to it, it leaves a psychological scar, but like Pavlov’s dogs, the pain can be reawakened at the right (or wrong) signal. So with the private conversations my line manager has with the head of department setting off my alarm bells, I’m not sure I can ever witness that without feeling like my job is on the line.

This is furthered by the fact that the company has recently undergone a change in the directorate. With change comes uncertainty; that much is true in any environment. In the business world, though, that uncertainty almost always surrounds someone’s livelihood. Having been through a redundancy process before, one cannot help but recognise the winds. It’s not a science; it is more akin to a farmer reading the sky. The storm clouds seem to be gathering. I don’t know much for certain; nothing’s been announced and if there were any private memos around, this would not be the place to disclose them.

A job for life is the thing of the past. In a society where are lawmakers try to make it easier to get rid of staff, those of us who might loosely be deemed the working class are constantly looking over our shoulders. I say loosely, because the traditional box labelled “working class” isn’t one I fit into well, especially as I have what one might deem a white-collar job. In this sense of working class, I mean those of us who are hired and fired, rather than those who do the hiring and firing.

The idea of joblessness is no longer a theory for me. I know to stay away from electricity substations (who could forget that public information film we all saw in school?) but only from theory. It is something I have experienced or witnessed. But joblessness is a tangible reality and one that is every bit as unpleasant as the reason I left Sussex. The difference between them is that having a job as source of income, I had the freedom to make the decision to leave, to take my life, pick it up and move it to a different location. Being unemployed has more repercussions; choice is something removed from you. You can’t just pick up and move on. Knowing what that means in the sense of breathing it every day, living with that helplessness, reliant on the decisions of others as to whether or not you will eat or have a roof over your head is a prospect I don’t want to face again, but if the past is something we must look in the eye then I know I can’t run from it forever. The chase will tire me out eventually.

For now, though, happy anniversary.

Resisting Job

Observers to my life may think that my world has been turned upside down this year. Having been made redundant in April and then lost another job in August after making the mistake of choosing to work for ethically dubious employers, I have now spent the vast majority of the last 7 months unemployed.

My daily routine currently runs along the following lines:

7am – get up, have breakfast and start reading
9am – put reading down, get the computer out and “work”, make & receive phonecalls
1pm – stop for lunch for an hour
2pm – head over to library to jobhunt for the afternoon
4pm – head home and do a little more “work” on the computer
5:15pm – call it a day and watch “Pointless”

When I “work” on the computer, this means reviewing any job specs that I have downloaded. If I have also gathered any other information (website download, sets of accounts, news research) then I will read these too. I gather this information when I am at the library in the afternoon, but as I only have a limited time on the internet, I try not to spend my time reading what I could otherwise download and read later.

Let me say this very clearly: I would much rather be working. You may often hear conservatives and their apologists use rhetoric along the lines of “welfare dependency” or “it pays not to work” – an example I heard today (I’m writing this on Saturday the 1st of December) was from Fraser Nelson, editor of the spectator magazine. I have yet to see any evidence that supports this point of view. In my experience, such talk is utter tosh! I’ve written about this more before, so if you’re interested check out my “Unemployment” tag.

What I really wanted to talk about was the book of Job. It is often thought of as a book about suffering. While it’s not been the nicest of years, I have by no means been suffering. For both of the jobs I lost this year, I received payoffs, which have subsidised the amount by which jobseekers’ allowance falls short of the cost of living. I have friends who’ve undergone chemotherapy, some whose child died this year, one old friend lost his wife and a neighbour has had a limb amputated. Compared to that, my tribulations have been as nothing.

I considered Job to be the refuge for the desperate, the disconsolate and those in dire need. If I turned to it, I’d be being melodramatic. If felt that even daring to read it would be an insult to those who have undergone genuine suffering. I’ve also been keeping tabs on Tanya Marlow’s series on hope in suffering, which I highly recommend, where her guest writers have been through things I can barely imagine. For this reason, I avoided turning to the book of Job. Instead, I’ve buried myself in Romans of late, wrestling with the passages in debate as I learn about and mull over the New Perspectives movement. I’ve also been mulling over various bits of Proverbs, John’s gospel and have paddled in Genesis a bit. But Job, in my mind, has been like a big red panic button which I dare not press. If I use it now, where would I turn when things get really bad?

Of late, though, I’ve had a change of heart. It’s not that my situation has gotten any worse; although I will admit to a tiresome frustration. Rather, I no longer think that turning to Job is any kind of “last chance saloon” – Job is a book for everyone. While it may be a great source of inspiration and comfort for those who are going through dark places, it does no disservice to friends in genuine need for me to pick it up.

Being unemployed does create a certain amount of extra spare time in the week. For most of the last 6 years, I would estimate I may get up to 1-2 hours spare time per day during the week and 4-5 during the weekends. Of course, when it was busy these would be significantly lower. If you choose to spend your extra time doing nothing but jobhunting, you are setting yourself up for an emotional battering. You have to keep track of every job you’ve applied for, who you have spoken to about various roles and when you spoke to them. Applying to as many possible has the effect of spreading yourself thin and I’ve learned that it doesn’t really increase your probability of getting an interview or of succeeding in any interviews you do get.

The challenge I then face is trying to maintain some kind “work-like” routine to the day whilst I’m not actually working. This is so that it won’t be too much of a shock to the system when I do eventually restart work. This is why I try to keep to an approximate 9-5 routine, complete with at least an hour’s reading (as I would do on a train) beforehand.

But when I want to break, I can. And in those breaks, you can guess what I’m now starting to study…

Some potential measures to improve welfare & unemployment

As you are probably aware, I have been unemployed for the majority the last 6 months. This has given me, amongst other things, some time to watch the goings on at the party conferences in late September through to early October. As a left-wing christian, I fully support the idea that society should look after it’s more vulnerable members, whether they be children, the elderly, the jobless or the disabled. When I post views such as these on Twitter, I often get responses from trolls (or maybe genuine conservative apologists) who sometimes suggest I ought to come up with a perfect welfare system, fully costed, in 140 characters. So in this post, I plan to explore some ideas of how improvements could be made. I am not, by myself, a full government department which ought to be looking at these things, so any figures I use are reasoned estimates.

My first point to note is that job seekers’ allowance (JSA) is not enough to live on. It covers food costs and, when considered on a daily cost basis, utility bills. But it doesn’t cover all the cost of rent or travel to and from interviews. Also, costs of living vary around the country. So it is nonsensical to even ask for ‘a number’ that would suffice for JSA. I have seen no evidence of any costing behind the £71 per week that it currently is.

Instead, I would propose a reimbursement of living costs. That is, make claiming JSA more akin to claiming expenses from an employer. Lay down rules about what can and can’t be reasonably claimed and reimburse when evidence is presented for those claims. For example, for my rent I could present my lease contract, for my travel I could present train tickets and emails confirming dates and locations of interviews, for food I could present a till receipt from Asda.

The second point is about reducing unemployment. I have been to interviews and lost out to people who are moving from one job to another. All this time they are working, gaining experience and making themselves more attractive to potential employers. So it’s a virtuous circle for some, but a vicious circle for others. The longer I spend unemployed, the worse it looks on my CV and the less attractive I am to employers.

So I would I would propose an incentive to companies to encourage them to employ those who are currently unemployed. How would I do this? A tax break. At present, the expense of hiring someone and paying their salary reduces a company’s profits which lowers their tax bill a bit. i.e. if you hire someone on a salary of £30k and have a £5k recruitment fee, in that year you will get a tax benefit of £35k multiplied by the rate at which that company pays corporation tax (which depends on how big their profits are). I would propose that the amount that is tax deductible by increased if that person has been unemployed, the evidence for which would be a P45 from the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP). So as an example, let’s say the multiplication factor is ‘W’. This would be effective for any recruitment costs and the first year’s salary. After that, no additional tax break could be claimed.

At present, for employing someone at a total cost of £35k, the company has a tax deductible amount of £35k. But if they employ someone who has been unemployed for a month, then their tax deductible amount would be W x £35k. The difference is of course, £(W-1) x 35k. If the company pays corporation tax at 24%, then they get an additional tax benefit of £(W-1) x35k x 24% = £(W-1) x 8.4k.

How would this be funded? It would be self-funding as the newly employed person would no longer be claiming JSA and would be paying income tax and national insurance. Assuming there are no complications in their tax affairs, a person on a salary of £30k would pay roughly £4,379 in income tax and £2,689 in national insurance. There would also be a contribution for the employer’s NIC of £3,107. This make a total contribution back to the treasury of £10,175. So by employing someone, even if they were unproductive, that’s what they would contribute. But if they’re no longer unemployed, they wouldn’t need to claim JSA. A year’s worth of that costs 52 x £71 = £3,692.

So let’s work out what W would be to break even.

(W-1) x 8,400 = 10,175 + 3,692
W – 1 = (13,867/8,400)
W = 2.651

So we could in fact give a tax break to companies by allowing a tax deductible amount that is exactly double the actual cost and the net cost to the treasury would be less than the revenues raised.

Of course, this is one example, with many other variations possible, such is the complexity of life. I’ve done some testing for other W figures based on other salaries and they tend to be about 2.3-2.8.

This is not an incentive to create employment, merely a way to encourage companies to take on those who are currently unemployed. It’s not a panacea, but I think it’s a small improvement on what we have now.

I hope I’ve shown that this is an idea worth pursuing. So those are some of my ideas. What measures do you think would help improve the benefits system and reduce unemployment? Please be constructive.

The Clothes Maketh The Man

empty suits

During my recent time of unemployment, it really came home to me how important clothes are to our self-perception. For my job, I nearly always wear a suit and tie. So initially, it was something of a relief to be able to wear casual clothes for the majority of the time, only donning the suit for interviews. Yet sometimes, I allowed myself to become too casual. Since a lot of my jobhunting was done by phone, there were some days when I didn’t get properly dressed until after 10am. Until then, I would remain in the old jogging bottoms and t-shirt that I normally slept in.

But doing this had an unexpected effect on my psyche. On such days, it really made me feel unemployed. Years of suit-wearing have ingrained in me a sharp distinction: suit = work; casual = non-work. I like relaxing and time off as much as the next person, but prolonged periods of not working make me feel non-productive.

In the past, I have had very rare occasions when I’ve worked from home. But this is my relaxing environment; work doesn’t belong here. On those occasions, I’ve found it very difficult to get going as there are just too many other possibilities. So what I found helpful was to get everything ready as though I was going to work. I would set my alarm for 6am, have a shave and a quick breakfast, put my suit on and even go so far as to make a packed lunch. I’d then sit at my dining room table and try to get on with work. Without this routine (you could almost call it a ritual, I suppose) I just find it far too easy to get distracted from work.

More recently, when I was on a business trip my luggage was lost in transit. Having travelled in my casual clothes, I found myself in a sudden quandary. Having arrived on the Sunday night, I had business meetings fixed up for Monday morning. But the people I was due to meet were people I had never met before, so I had to make a professional first impression.  Having been put up in a very posh hotel – far posher than befits me – the hotel had a concierge service and I was able to request the loan of a suit.

However, it soon transpired that I do not share the bodily proportions of the average Indonesian. I find it hard enough to find a suit in this country for anyone as short as me (about 5ft 7 or 5ft 8) but in Indonesia the problem was trying to find anything big enough for me. The first suit jacket I tried on was a disaster: the arm ended just below my elbow. It took 3 pairs of trousers before we found a pair I could get over my 34 inch waist; all the others were for those who are slimmer than I.

Eventually, we made do with something that was passable, though the shoes gave me blisters and the shirt sleeves still didn’t quite make it as far as my wrists. I had to make do with this setup for 2 days. I was able to present myself at business meetings and to attempt to come across as a professional, even though in the more casual moments I did explain about the lost luggage.

What we wear influences how others think of us. I think this is true in the vast majority of cases. Some may claim to be able to rise above such superficial prejudices, though I think this is more the result of reasoned thought overriding first impressions. Even if this is less than I think it is, how I am dressed certainly affects how I think others perceive me.

An open letter to my MP

After my recent time unemployed, I have finally been able to have the time to write to my MP about the failures in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Below is the body of the email which I sent to him. Any links are inserted into this blog post, but were not included in the letter, though URLs which have been typed, were.

I am writing to you with reference to the failures of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which I experienced recently. At the end of January, I was informed that I would be made redundant from my role as an accountant in a recruitment company in London. This redundancy became effective near the end of April. I am happy to report that I have now found work, being employed by a different company in London, from the start of July.

In the meantime, however, I had to claim job seekers’ allowance (JSA). However, my experience of dealing with DWP has shown some significant failures which I think ought to be brought to your attention. If it possible, I would ask that you raise these concerns directly with a minister responsible for the DWP, or even with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan-Smith.

My experience was that of a department is in disarray, had terrible communication and very few internal checks. As part of my claim, I was asked to provide some documentation on my savings. These are, as are many people’s, held in ‘e-savings’ accounts that do not provide monthly statements. I stated to the job centre that I was perfectly willing to provide proof of my savings, by logging on to the online bank and showing them. They were, however, unwilling to accept this as evidence. Even though I explained that these bank accounts didn’t provide statements, I was asked for statements nonetheless. This demonstrates an inflexible approach that has not yet caught up with modern technology and ways of personal banking, which the DWP ought to be attuned to.

It took an extra couple of days for my building society to provide printouts that they were willing to stamp. I duly took these into the Crawley Job Centre Plus as requested. Interestingly, when I asked for a receipt, I was denied. This seemed extremely odd, as it would have been no significant effort on their part, but it denied me written evidence that I had the provided the documents on a timely basis. As it turns out, this was very important.

I continued to apply for jobs, attend interviews and sign on every fortnight as required. However, I did not receive my JSA promptly. Three weeks after my handing over of the relevant documents, I received a letter from the Worthing Benefit Office stating that my claim would be closed because they had not received my bank statements. Upon enquiry, it emerged that the Worthing Benefit Office did receive my bank statements, but it happened to be exactly one day after they closed my claim. This was two weeks after I had submitted the documents. Whether the fault lay with the Crawley Job Centre Plus or with the Worthing Benefit office, I cannot say. But between them, there was an evident lack of communication. I saw computer records at the Crawley Job Centre Plus where they recorded receipt of the statements, yet the Worthing Benefit Office was unaware of this. Either an integrated computer system or even something as simple as a single phonecall could have prevented this, yet this didn’t seem to occur to the staff.

Having discovered this, common sense would dictate that the claim could simply be reopened at the touch of a button. Common sense, though, is a quality severely lacking in the DWP.

The upshot was that I was asked to make a brand new claim. I was also asked to do a “rapid reclaim” to backdate to when I was first made redundant. I carried on applying for jobs, attending interviews and signing on. When I was eventually offered a job and accepted the role, I still had not received any payment at all. The first payment was not received until after I ended my claim and asked for a P45 from the DWP. This payment was allegedly at the full rate of £71 per week, but was only backdated as far as the second claim. Consequently, for the 10 weeks I was unemployed, I only received an equivalent of £41.59 per week. Given that my monthly rent (on a 1 bed, unfurnished flat, property band B) is £750 per month, I question whether the coalition government consider this enough to live on. I would have to receive 19 weeks’ worth of JSA in order to afford 1 month’s rent. That is, of course, before council tax, food and utilities.

I know that I am much more fortunate than the vast majority of JSA claimants, as my previous job paid more than the average salary and I was subsequently able to build up savings. It was these savings that I lived off during my unemployment, with effectively no help whatsoever from the DWP. Instances of those less fortunate than me are well known, and I’m sure you are aware of http://calumslist.org which documents the deaths in which DWP decisions have played a crucial role.

Being unemployed is a very stressful time in one’s life. The DWP should be providing services that help to minimise this and to ensure a decent standard of living for those who are seeking work and those who are unable to work. But this ideal is far from reality. Consequently, I would like to propose some recommendations, based on my experience, that could be easily implemented to make others’ experience less stressful and would help to DWP staff to demonstrate a greater level of professionalism:

1) The Job Centre Plus should be permitted to provide receipts to benefits claimants, detailing what documents have been provided and when;

2) The Job Centre plus and the Benefits Office need to talk to one another. If a claim is being considered for closure due to a lack of documentation, it is plain common sense for the benefit Office to phone the Job Centre and ask them if they had received anything;

3) Payments need to be speeded up. Waiting more than 10 weeks for the first payment is not sufficient;

4) Payments need to be increased to reflect the cost of living. As it presently stands, they are not sufficient to provide even the most meagre of livings. This results in considerable financial and emotional stress which is not conducive to either good health or to employment prospects.

5) When a claim has been closed erroneously, and it can be easily demonstrated that the DWP were at fault, as in my case, then the bureaucratic form-filling that currently exists should be lifted, with an authorised manager given the ability to reopen the claim immediately, with no need for additional claims to be made.

So that you aware, a copy of this letter will shortly be published on my blog, which is publically available at https://sipech.wordpress.com where I have further documented my experience of being unemployed.

I’d be interested to know what you think of my letter…

A Big Personal Announcement

I’ve got a job!

Having been searching for 4 months and having been unemployed for over 2 months, I’ve finally been able to bring the days of jobhunting to a close. I am writing this in the period between when I accepted the offer and when I started, as I didn’t want to jump the gun and announce things before I had a signed contract.

Of course, as this blog is personal, I will not be revealing the name or precise location of my new employer, though I will say that it entails me working again in London. I had hoped for something more local, but every major decision in life requires some level of compromise.

The interesting thing is that job offers came like buses. I had worked and waited for many weeks and then 2 came along at once. I received the first offer on a Monday (what I shall call ‘job A’), just after I had left an interview for another job (‘job B’). The people offering ‘job A’ asked for a quick reply: they gave me 24 hours. However, the interview for ‘job B’ had gone well and I thought there was a reasonable chance that I might receive an offer for that role. So I was able to persuade the recruitment consultant for ‘job A’ to give me an extra half a day to think about things. Meantime, I let the other recruitment consultant know that I had received an offer and that I had a short deadline.

I’m not a fan of the “hard sell” as I’ve learned from this through painful experience. However, I didn’t think a day and a half was too short a time to consider it, though I was aware that I was putting pressure on another potential employer, effectively saying “offer me this within 24 hours or you’ve lost me.” That made me feel a little uneasy, as I try to be empathetic.

My plan had been to keep it all under wraps and not tell anyone, but as I was now presented with a choice, I felt I had to consult others in such a big decision, as I was looking to ensure that my next move would last at least 5-10 years. I was aware that my CV didn’t have a job on it that I had kept for more than 4 years. Also, I value some stability as this allows for better long term planning. So I asked a few people to grill me and get me thinking about questions that I hadn’t thought about, to ensure I looked at it from several angles. I spoke to my dad and to the pastor of my church. I had hoped to get the view of my former finance director, but he was off sick at the time.

I also wanted to make sure that I could be totally honest about my reasons for picking one over the other, so I paced up and down my flat a lot rehearsing what I would say to each recruitment consultant and trying to determine which sat most easily with me; to make sure I wasn’t trying to kid myself as much as anything.

As mentioned in some of my earlier posts (scan through my history to see which ones) I’ve made much of the fact that I would be needing to live off unemployment benefit. Though the truth is I didn’t. In all the time I was unemployed, signing on at the job centre once a fortnight, I never received a penny of jobseekers’ allowance (JSA) from the Department For Work And Pensions. I don’t honestly know if I will receive any. Instead, I was eking out an existence on what remained of my redundancy package. But JSA certainly isn’t enough to live on. I would have needed 11 weeks’ worth of claims before I would be able to afford 1 months’ rent on my 1 bed, unfurnished flat, such is the cost of living where I presently reside. That’s without considering council tax, utilities or food.  I do intend to write a full account of this and send it to my local MP, with a request for him to forward it onto a minister in the relevant department. When I do so, I will be copying my correspondence on this blog for all to see; I shall also inform him of my intention to do so.

At the time of writing this, I am in an interregnum between accepting the offer and signing the contract. There is some hold-up in obtaining references from one of my former employers, though as I will not post this until after I have started, by virtue of the fact that you are reading this, I can assure you that such references have been received.

Onward ho! Onto a new chapter of my life….

The reasons for rejections

I’m writing this at the start of my 6th week of unemployment. I had a few setbacks last week, which I want to document here.

The previous week had ended well with me passing a second round interview for a company whose UK base is just about 25 minutes’ walk from my flat. The third stage was an online personality test and as such, I was given assurance that there were no right or wrong answers.

I didn’t get a chance to take this straight away, as I had an interview booked in at a “Mary-like” airline which is only a few hundred yards further, so I wanted to do all the necessary preparation in order to give myself the best opportunity to pass the interview.

I had a bit of a ‘mare on the Monday night. Having cleared out of the bathroom in order to clean it, I brought most stuff back in. But only when I was getting out of the bath did I realise that a towel wasn’t one of them. Hurrying to get one, I slipped on a tile and fell backwards. I know I banged my elbow and I thought that was it.

On Tuesday, the day of the airline interview, the temperature suddenly soared. But I still had to wear a suit and a shirt & tie for the interview. So I was sweltering in the heat and my back had started to ache too, presumably as a result of the slip the day before. As with pretty much every interview I’ve had, we started late, but not on my account. I was met by someone from HR and escorted through the building to the HR dept and then asked to wait. I waited for about 15 minutes while being subjected to the same advert on the screen nearby over and over.

This interview turned out not to go so well, as I was rejected from it the day after. The reason given was quite bizarre. In their minds, they have a setup which requires lots of people to do very little work. For example, in my last job I would spend half a day per month doing the bank reconciliations (for about 10 different accounts), whereas they employed someone to do the bank reconciliations as their full time job. We ended up talking at cross purposes, and the senior guy there was obsessed with making an artificial distinction between financial accounting and management accounting (for those of you who aren’t accountants, the difference is that financial accounting is reporting done externally for regulatory purposes and management accounting is done for internal purposes, but for 99% of the time you do exactly the same thing for both). But this guy treated them as though they were as different as football and ballet. The fact that I wouldn’t be drawn to a preference for one over the other was interpreted as meaning I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I was rejected on that basis.

Straight after this interview, I had to go the library to do this online personality test. The format gave you three statements for each question, and you had to say which statement you agreed with the most and with you disagreed with the most. Examples included:

  • I like to get things done on time
  • I enjoy negotiating with people
  • I am tidy
  • I make decisions quickly
  • I do not show my emotions easily

I’ve done plenty of personality tests before and they all come out fairly similar: I’m a details man, able to spot mistakes at a very close level, but also able to see the whole picture. In terms of Myers-Briggs, I am an INTJ personality type (Introvert-iNtuitive-Thinking-Judging), which puts me in the good company of Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking, though also in the exceedingly bad company of Ayn Rand!

The important thing here is the introversion. The job required building working relationships with people and I demonstrated a past ability to do this in my previous jobs during the course of my 2 interviews. But according to the company, introverts can’t do this and I was rejected on the basis of the personality test.

But in all this, the back ache didn’t go away and I could not stop sweating. Even at night, after pouring cold water over my face, I was just radiating heat and I quickly concluded that it was more than just accident + weather making me feel unwell, I had a virus of some sort. It felt rather like flu, only I had no symptoms of a cold. So on the phone I sounded absolutely fine, you couldn’t tell anything from my voice. But if you looked at me, you’d have seen a constant sheen of sweat dripping from my face and I couldn’t walk far or fast. If I wanted to see something behind me, I couldn’t turn my neck, I’d have to shuffle my feet around to look. That knocked me out for most of the week. However, I still had another interview to attend on Thursday. What was I to do?

Well, I did what any self-respecting man would do. I got up off my sick-sofa (I’m not good at spending all day in bed) and dosed myself up on painkillers. I made it onto a train into London and was able to scout out the office where my interview would be. This was a slightly tricky task as there were 4 roads in the same area with the exact same name, all centring on a single point. It was on the 3rd of the 4 that I found it! Having done so well ahead of time, I found a seat at Victoria station and gave myself more painkillers and fever suppressants, watching the clock tick round. I’m still waiting to hear back from that interview, but considering how many drugs I’d taken; it could be a novel rejection!

I’ve been rejected from other jobs for being over-qualified, which is quite bizarre. There is still a culture in finance that people have to be ambitious and so while there was nothing in the job they felt I couldn’t do, I was told I was “unlikely to progress as quick as I might want” without actually asking me about my views on “career progression.” Everything seems geared against someone with a christian mindset like mine, where ambition, career progression and other associated connotations of materialism are shunned in favour of finding contentment and fulfilment in God.

So what other reasons/excuses are there for rejecting someone? Have you had any bad or otherwise memorable ones you’d like to share?

The 3rd week of unemployment

So I come to the end of a 3rd week of unemployment and still the horizon is as far away as it ever was.

The week didn’t get off to a good start. As stated earlier, the 2nd week had ended with the possibility of an interview. However, the recruitment consultant I was dealing with was very poor at his job and so had not confirmed a time. So I started the week with great uncertainty and nothing ever emerged of it.

Given that Monday was a bank holiday, this only left 4 days to do any good amount of job hunting. As great as bank holidays are for the millions who work, they pass by with something slightly less than indifference for those of us out of work.

Tuesday was a fairly good day, just not in terms of jobhunting. My sister and her family had decided had decided a while back that they were going to go on holiday. Now, I live very close to one of the busiest airports in the country and my flat has a car parking space. Being a non-driver, I’m perfectly happy for friends and family to use this space if they are flying out from this particular airport. It saves them car parking fees, and it’s a lot more secure as well. Anyway, my sister wanted to take me up on this offer and so she arrived with my brother-in-law and my eldest nephew.

We had half a day together and got to take the little boy off the park so he could play on the swings. My nephew was also quite keen on this. However, just as we were leaving the park, I received a phonecall from one of the recruitment agents I’d been dealing with to inform me that I’d been rejected from one of the interviews had the previous week.

The reason was the usual one. My experience was good enough to get myself an interview, but because my remit in my last job was dealing primarily with other finance staff and with the executive board, it wasn’t part of my job to be a commercial director and be involved in pricing or detailed discussions with sales staff. That was the role of the commercial directors to whom I sent reports and commentary, as well as answering ad hoc queries from them. So all this is interpreted as meaning that I am incapable of dealing with non-finance staff and therefore unsuited to any job that might have the slightest whiff of non-finance in it.

Wednesday and Thursday were still pretty full-on in terms of jobhunting. I had, on the bank holiday, updated my CV on Monster. The way recruitment consultants work, they only look at recently updated profiles. So by making a few small changes I instantly put myself back on the radar for consultants who I hadn’t previously spoken to. At a rough estimate, I think my phone would go about twice an hour and these would often be followed up with an email, or in a few cases preceded by one.

In order to be able to claim job seekers’ allowance (JSA) I need to keep a record of everything that I am doing in order to look for work. So for every phonecall I have, I need to keep a log of who I spoke to, what firm they are from, what we discussed, what I will do next and when I will do it. So by the time I’ve had the phonecall, read the email, replied to the email and documented the whole interaction, the phone will usually have gone again.

It really is a full time job in and of itself. I had hoped that if I wasn’t going to be in employment I would at least be able to accelerate my reading and blogging to stop me going from insane, but I don’t get much of a break for this. The one benefit is that I have been able to sleep more. Normally, I tend to go to bed sometime between 10:30pm and 11:30pm, only to get up sometime between 4:30am and 6:00am (depending on how busy I was at work). Now, though, I am able to have a lie-in until about 8am, and I’m not usually going to bed until well after 11pm. Though I do find, in order to not screw up my circadian rhythm, that I am at my best when I am awake during the sunlit hours and am either winding down or asleep during the night. Also, I don’t want to get into such an “off work” rhythm that by the time I do eventually get a job that it’ll be hard to readjust to early morning starts.

Friday was quite a reasonable day. I had an interview lined up that was actually in the town I live, which was nice. It was only a 25 minute walk up the road from my flat. Since I was sure it was an 11am interview, I was having quite a leisurely morning, having already done the research on the role and the company. At about 8:30am I double checked my email to make sure of the time. When I then saw it was 10am rather than 11am, I suddenly had to get my skates on, as I hadn’t even ironed my shirt yet.

As it turns out, I ended up leaving ridiculously early and still arrived a long time before my interview was due. So I took a little walk around the industrial state, which was round the corner from where my office was for my first graduate job. When I made it back on time for the interview, I thought there were a few guys loitering outside the front of the building, having a smoke. But as I got closer, a minivan pulled up and I realised that this was a welcoming committee for the occupants of the minivan.

It quickly dawned on me that these were very important people visiting (the board from the overseas parent company), and that everything but the red carpet was being readied for their arrival. However, they were taking their time in getting out of the van, and I still had to get through the front door too! So I had a bit of dilemma on my hands: do I wait for them to go in, which could be several minutes, or do I scoot around in front of them and head straight to the reception desk, at the risk of having my back turned on my potential future employers.

I opted for the latter. Having clearly introduced myself to the receptionist, I was then asked very slowly to repeat myself because apparently giving my name first and who I was here to see second was the wrong way round.

As is usual with my interviews, I turned up about 4-6 minutes early, to give my interviewers adequate time to come and meet me, so we could start on time. However, when one chap came down the stairs, he was dressed very casually in jeans a light top. No sign of a suit or a tie anywhere. Then, when I caught from his brief discussion with the receptionist that he was one of the people I was having the interview with, he then proceeded to meet the other person in reception who was sat behind me, and they went off to a room together.

This prompted me to double-check my email in case the interview was at 11 and not at 10, in which case I might be off to a very bad start, though early is always better than late. This other meeting didn’t last long, and I think we started ours about 10 minutes late, which is about standard for the interviews I’ve been having.

I still couldn’t work out, though, why he was in casual clothes. It turns out that Friday is a dress down day every week, so apart from the exec board who arrived at the same time as me and the receptionists, I was the only person wearing a suit! Anyway, the interview went fairly well, though I know that’s not a guarantee of anything.

So as I write this on the weekend, I am still no closer to being employed. I’m also not further away, which is a good thing.

The second week of unemployment

I do apologise that my posts are constantly out of date. The internet café I now rely on for my web usage costs £1.50 an hour and isn’t exactly up to date in terms of its hardware or software. The seats are falling to pieces and there is no software there more up to date than 2003. So when I wrote my blog posts in Microsoft office 2010, I didn’t realise I’d have to change the file type back to an earlier version.

Rather than try a Windows specific format I went back to the good old .rtf file format which has served me so well in the past. If it’s text you’re interested in, with formatting preserved, it’s the simple things that are the most reliable.

Anyway, as much as to preserve my own sanity as anything else, I wanted to write a brief account of my travels and travails as a jobhunter. I’ve written a couple of posts already, just search for anything with the ‘unemployment’ tag. Rather than give a day to day journal which may be extremely boring to you, I thought it more prudent to give a short summary.

The short story of this week is that I have had 2 interviews this week and might have another 2 next week. The first one was on Tuesday at a technology company about 15-20 miles down the road. It was tucked at the back of an industrial estate and seemed to take quite a long time to walk there, though I did arrive at the train station very early, was in my posh shoes (which aren’t the most comfortable) and was taking in my surroundings as I went. It was actually quite a hot day.

I arrived my customary 6 minutes early for the interview, though the office didn’t seem to have a receptionist. I was buzzed in by an anonymous voice at the other end of the intercom but then I just sat in reception. The clock ticked past the interview time and still no one appeared.

Eventually someone saw me and asked who I was waiting to see. It turned out that both the people who would be conducting the interview were still in a meeting. Once we did get started, the interview lasted an hour (which they were keen to stick to). I thought we got on OK, though I did stumble over a couple of questions. At the time of writing (Sat the 5th) I am waiting to hear back to find out if I’ve made it to the 2nd round.

The other interview was in London on Thursday. I made it up there in good time and had a little wander down the Thames path, as the office overlooked the river. This was a very different role to the others that I had interviewed for (this is now my 7th interview in total) as the role in a very small company replacing a retiring finance director who had been in his role for longer than I’ve been alive! So although the role wasn’t that of a director, some elements had de facto directorial elements to it, such as becoming company secretary. The main downside was that they wanted the role to start on the 1st of July. So even if I got it, I would still be unemployed for a further 2 months.

The interview was quite close to Pimlico so I headed down to the Tate Britain which is a gallery I’ve been to once before and enjoyed immensely. However, it just seemed to lack something this time and I didn’t really have fun there. Even my favourite painting, The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, had been moved so it was now well above eye-level and the reflection on the glass covering the painting meant you had to stand to one side to view it without reflection from the gallery lights.

So I curtailed my visit and went home, to get ready for our church’s monthly prayer meeting. Whilst changing and having an exceptionally early dinner, I received a text message telling me to check my emails, as someone had sent me another job spec. I nearly jumped out of my chair when I read it, as the company’s office was but a few minutes’ walk from my flat. I checked the job spec to make sure there was nothing on there that would likely hinder me from being able to do the job but, finding nothing, I was in the middle of emailing back to say ‘yes’ when the agent phoned me. We had a brief discussion covering the salient points and agreed my CV was to be put forward for the role.

Anyway, I got the train down to church and made it to the prayer meeting. It’s quite rare that I can make them, as they are always scheduled for the 1st Thursday in the month (the first week of the month is usually the busiest for accountants) and it’s at 8pm which is generally far too early for the average working professional. But as these usual hindrances were now removed, I saw no reason not to go.

Apparently, it was quite a high turnout, though I couldn’t really determine that having very few meetings to compare it to. Amongst the many to things to pray about, my unemployment inevitably came up. Everyone is now expecting a great testimony in a short space of time though I really don’t know when that’ll be. I won’t consider prayers to be answered until I have an employment contract in front of me. Also, unless I have a fully scripted speech in front of me, I’m not great at public speaking. And the size of my church (Sunday mornings have around 120 people plus or minus 20) it’s quite awkward. It would be much better if the audience were top side of 1,000 where it all becomes rather more anonymous.

So then we come to Friday. I had to go to the job centre to sign on. I had prepared my booklet which recorded everything I did to look for work. They used a temporary agreement that I used 6 years ago which said I had to do 3 things per week. My general idea is that I try to do 3 things per day, and that afternoon I certainly did.

On my way to the job centre I got a call from a consultant and he said he had some good news for me, but I had to cut it off short and call him back after my appointment. When I did, it turned out that I had been invited to interview at the place that was very close by. I made another couple of calls later that day with nothing forthcoming, but then the phone rang at about 5:20pm from a consultant in London saying I had an interview on Tuesday! The trouble was he was asking me about when would be a good time to go, suggesting 9:30am. As that would mean travelling to London at peak time, it would be a very expensive train ticket, so I suggested we put it back until at least 11am. He said he’d get back to me and confirm. As I finish writing this post on the afternoon of Monday the 7th, he still hasn’t done so. I did try to phone him back on Friday afternoon about 6:15pm but got no answer. So when he arrives back at his desk on Tuesday, he’ll find in his inbox an email from me telling him that the interview has to be rescheduled. Even if it is booked for 11am, there’s no way it is professional for a recruitment consultant to confirm an interview 2 hours before it takes place. I need to be mentally prepared and I’m not going to get myself psyched up on a purely speculative basis.

So coming into the third week, I have 2 interviews that I’m waiting to hear back on with a potential 2 further 1st round interviews in store. None of these are guarantees and I don’t really foresee this being the last week of unemployment. Even if these are successful, there are still further hurdles to jump. It’s a dark tunnel and if I think I can see a light at the end of it, it often turns out just to be an electric light shining round the corner. But there’s no telling how many corners there are to go and I won’t consider the task done until I can see the sky and the trees, with the tunnel exit fading quickly in the rear view mirror.