Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Dark Fantasia on a Theme of the Labour Camp

Yes, I will sit down, thank you so much. I was sitting down before; waiting. Have you noticed how in this Jobcentre, where you have power to take the means of life away from people for being late, your lot are never actually on time? In fact I mentioned it to my last minder - "how can you have a 9 a.m. appointment" when the doors don't open until then, and there's a queue? She said it was none of her business. No, I don't suppose it's yours either. I was just commenting.

How am I? Oh dear, I wish you hadn't asked. My late Nan used to answer that question as if people meant it. It got so bad that some of us only asked it if we really did mean it (and in my case, that was only if I knew she was making me lunch, and would have to break off at some point to sort lovely things out in the kitchen). How am I? Unemployed at nearly 49, out of work for most of the last decade, cut off from the only work I ever did for love. How am I? Well, my arthritis is, the doctor says, improved by the 4 mile walk to sign on with you. And my depression needs walking to keep me off the antidepressants, because the side-effects were vile. So, I should be full of beans, really, coming to see you, Mr Moustache. But the truth is, if I had the freedom, I'd flick the switch. Oh, didn't you read about the man who went to Switzerland to end his life before it became pointless? Of course not. It was in the news, that other reality. The real one. Well, I'm unemployed, I have all day to think of ways not to be.

Work paid or unpaid? Well, not yet. But I'm certainly not going to tell you about it. I may not get it, and the scene you made about my applying for voluntary work makes me chary of saying I do anything useful at all. But what's "work" anyway? I wash up, cook, shop, do the laundry, feed and care for the cats, handle the post, of all different kinds, deal with citizenship questions, and all manner of officialdom. Is that not work? No, best not mention that I keep a household of two adult men and two adult cats on the shoestring of one man's benefits. No, that's not work. It's probably not even "transferable skills". So, no, I don't work. I just sit at home, waiting for your thirty-minute slot to patronise me.

I've got work tomorrow - helping a lady write a letter to a school on behalf of her son. Voluntary, of course. I'm not mentioning it because you'll get the forms out again, and I shall want to kill you more than I do already, which I know is unfair, as you're just obeying orders. And despite what they say, for a lot of the junior people, that really did get them off the hook at Nuremberg.

What have I done to look for work? Well, there's the local papers and stuff like that. Your own website which is considerably worse than useless. No, I don't come to it with any great enthusiasm - after eight years, only a complete retard would. But I do wonder a little what YOU are doing for ME, Mr Moustache. I've been signed off with madness for seven years, and rendered sane by a commercial French company for one, and in the time of my madness I had two sessions with someone about my CV - she said to make it less interesting - and since I became sane, had two jobs suggested by my former minders here. I applied for both, of course, post haste. Nothing. And now each week - as well as seeing your moustache every fortnight - I see my new minders at the American company which also does nothing at all. I'm quite conscious of how big your offices are. This is the busiest by far, but no one would say you're run off your feet. And then there's the other office down the road, converted at great expense for purpose, and now almost derelict. You use it for people to get their dole scroungers' bus passes. I tried it for a while. I couldn't cope with the sneers. From the bus drivers. That's why I walk. But that other office isn't open plan, it's equipped for violence. Yet you keep the two. And then there's my American minders. Their office is HUGE and no one is in it. And this, and your space, and the empty space for the violent people, all in prime central Oxford locations, are being paid for by my tax money.

You think I don't pay tax because I have to come and grovel before you each fortnight for less than enough to live on? Do you know anything at all? There is not a person who lives and breathes in this country who doesn't pay tax. People like me, the lowest 5%, pay more tax at the marginal rate, than the Duke of Westminster. Oh really? Yes, really. Sorry, I forgot, you aren't interested in politics.

What have I done to look for work? Well, I really only do it when I have to go to the Americans. Any job worth having will be advertised for a week. I've also spent a lot of time on Facebook and my blog being wildly funny and clever. Why? Because if I didn't I'd be fairly sure I was already dead. See it as training. Keeping the brain in training. Oh, you'd rather I kept applying for jobs I won't get? Have you any idea how destructive that is to all parties? It's not your job? No, I don't suppose it is your job to think about the consequences of your actions.

Well, be assured, Mr Moustache, if I had that switch, and if I knew that my partner and cats and plants would be taken care of, I'd be off your books. This life, the life you're forcing me to live, isn't worth having. It would be win-win for the Department of Work & Pensions - no benefits now, no pension later. Thinking about it, what does it cost to get to Switzerland? I'm costing you £73.10 a week just to live, and housing benefit on top.

Mr Moustache, you should encourage me to flick that switch. It's your patriotic duty.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
May 2015


  1. Thirty years ago there was a little-known book in jobcentres in which anybody, including the currently unemployed, could write his or her name and address to register as willing to work there. A close friend of mine got work that way when she was expecting and her husband lost his job for alleged misconduct and was too proud to claim Social Security when the Jobcentre invoked the legal penalty period. No matter what Agencies or Government Departments personify the public face of The Labour nowadays, vacancies in their camp are bound to arise. There will probably be the 21st Century equivalent of the book around somewhere. It used to be not just the bluff-calling answer to 'Any jobs going in your office ?' but also a time-saving additional means of recruitment for local 'temporary' civil servant posts since they already knew everything necessary about the applicants
    You could surely do the job of Mr Moustache or Mrs American Maxi Minder.
    The Prudence public-sector purges of the late noughties must have settled down by now and the redundant civil servants suitably redeployed.. Your beautiful speech would add class to the whole thing, whether talking to the public or to employers.
    Have you expressed your willingness to obey their orders if they'd give you a job ?

  2. This is quite a dark post, and the humour is ironic in a heavy hearted, tired way. Something that I fail to understand is why they insist on pitching up every two weeks to sign on, when they have absolutely nothing to offer.
    I assume that the agent you see has a check list of yes/no questions and anything outside that fixed list is of no interest or is actually out of bounds.

    Surely, they should allow you to contribute via real voluntary work, on benefits, after all, we're all part of the big society, where the charity sector is taking over the role of social services and welfare, as it's increasingly abandoned by National Government, whose fund of compassion is devoted entirely to those of the rich elite, who need to pay less tax and be given a leg up the ladder of the top 100 rich list - that's the governments perception of their responsibility to the (rich) working man.

    In the mean time the side show of more cuts, more austerity, more punishing the poor is hidden among a camouflage of other proposed acts of parliament which have no bearing at all on how well the country is doing, just more ways to bash and oppress the poor, vulnerable, disabled, migrants or any other group of scapegoats that they have yet still to target.

    I can see your despair and disillusion, but you post is written from the dark place of depression - perhaps, time to return to the doctor and be signed off again, so that you can once again face the successors to the french company to be signed back on again - but at least you will have something to do, something to fight against and perhaps this time around, you will win the fight.