You must Think Positively about work! Even if work is likely to kill you, etc.

Wonder if/when this will end in a sanction.

Let’s start at the beginning:

On Monday, I headed to over the river for a trip to a North London jobcentre with a guy I call Eddie in these stories. I’ve known Eddie for about a year now, I think. Eddie’s a 51-year-old man with learning difficulties who has been out of work for more than five years. He worked as a kitchen assistant for most of his life, but his last job ended in about 2010. He’s signed on for JSA since. He talks a lot about wanting another job – “I should be going to work now, not going to this stupid place [the jobcentre]” – but it is pretty obvious he’s struggling on that front.

I suppose there are explanations for this, although I get tired of having to cast about for explanations for unemployment. I get sick of having to somehow justify people’s situations when they are out of work. I don’t know people’s entire back stories and I generally don’t want to know. I only know that people are where they are and that most people have been many things by the time they’re 50.

Eddie is getting older and his health isn’t great. He’s diabetic and injects insulin three times a day. He spends a lot of time at his GPs’ surgery, or getting bloods done, or seeing consultants at the hospital. He doesn’t always present well these days: more often than not, he’ll have food down his front of his clothes and tiny sores on his face and he’ll wear the clothes with the foodstains more than once.

He’s become more defensive and cantankerous in the year that I’ve known him. He speaks a non-stop, belligerent stream: he says that his neighbours are noisy drug addicts “up banging on the walls and shouting all night”, jobcentre staff are useless, that the landlord who owns Eddie’s tiny studio flat is hopeless and won’t fix things when they break, and that England was fine until it was ruined by immigrants (Eddie’s parents moved here from Jamaica before he was born. He describes himself, often, as “British born and bred”). He isn’t tragic, or pitiable, or pathetic, or vulnerable. He’s opinionated. He’s tough. He’s been around. He’s older and he’s probably not first choice for hard, low-paid manual work anymore. I’m not entirely sure that he wants to be. He speaks fondly of his working days, but seems to fear a return to the sort of work that he did. Perhaps he feels that he is out of that race now. I would say that he is stressed. He seems to hate change and he fights it. He’s ageing and knows how that is likely to roll. Don’t we all. Getting older probably isn’t so terrible if you’ve got golf and good health. It’s another story when you’re at the GP a lot, but still expected to grind your last working years out in a kitchen for £7 an hour (if you’re lucky), or for your JSA (if you’re not). I know we’re all supposed to be grateful for the chance to slog at hard manual jobs for stuff-all money until we drop dead, but I can see why someone would rather not. I would rather not myself. The older you get, the less you’d rather. “I could do that work in the big kitchens when I was younger,” Eddie said to me last Thursday when we went to have a coffee after his JSA signon appointment. “I couldn’t do that now.”

People are where they are, as I say. Pity there’s no room for that. At least one of Eddie’s jobcentre advisers seems sold on the idea of Eddie throwing himself into kitchen work to get back on track. He’s just started signing on at a new jobcentre – and is already up against an adviser who is evangelical about the restorative wonders of work (that includes unpaid work, of course). Just two visits in and Eddie’s already been bombarded with voluntary sector application forms, Work Choice training bumpf, instructions to get on a bus and check out work programme training sites, and veiled threats about pulling finger.

“You have been unemployed for six years, you know,” the adviser said snarkily when Eddie asked if he must attend these programmes. It was pretty clear that he was overwhelmed by the options and the pressure to make a choice then and there. It was also clear this adviser had decided that he was resisting the thought of work – when it was endlessly possible that he was resisting the thought of change.

I don’t suppose it’ll matter much. Resistance to work is futile, now. It really doesn’t matter if you’re older and unwell, or whether or not you’ve done your bit, or whether you’ve reached a point where you should just be left to it. If you’re unemployed, you must be Fixed. You’re expected to leap at the chance of work. You’re certainly expected to leap at the chance to get into voluntary work – the logic being that voluntary work is your stepping-stone back to the low-paid, hard manual work that you were made redundant from because you were older and unwell. You’re expected to Think Positive! about this equation, even when you’re pretty sure that it doesn’t add. Anyway – I’ve been thinking a lot about the endgame here. Eddie has already cut one appointment with this adviser short and cancelled another (we went straight round to the GPs’ after the first one. Eddie’s blood sugar levels were high that day). I’d bet they’re already talking about Eddie’s Attitude Problem. These people really don’t like to hear guys in Eddie’s situation say No, even when No is the logical thing to say.

14 thoughts on “You must Think Positively about work! Even if work is likely to kill you, etc.

  1. All so familiar i suffer with chronic back/leg pain and had to look 4 work lying on my front + now suffer with RSI for that reason. Always having to explain that if i dont pace my day i have major flair ups yet expected to hold down work. Finding using computer with RSI really hard so gives negative thoughts when looking for work. Fit for work but not told what i’m fit to do.

  2. I empathise with Eddie from my decades longer as a disabled jobseeker with a learning difficulty. As I have recorded time and time again, those who push the “you are better off working” bullshit have subjected disabled and non-disabled jobseekers to ever-diminishing support.

    Adding insult and actual abuse — “disposing the person to financial, physical, and/or emotional harm” — the state-sponsored smear stories and sanctions now actually criminalise vulnerable people and exonerate the ‘key decision-makers’.

    Neo-liberal or corporatist or Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) policies will only make the mental and emotional impacts on vulnerable people and their tendencies to scapegoat other minorities even worse.

    A major difference between Eddie and me has been in both the levels of our capacity for basic literacy and the support we have received. I was allowed extra tuition and a ‘catch-up year’ in my early 1960’s Church of England school education. That and parental support — Encyclopaedia Britannica etc to answer questions my parents could not answer — stimulated me to lifelong learning.

    Further, after being scapegoated for my disability at school and in the early paid work environments, lack of ability and/or space for TV from 1976 to 1994 led me to self-directed learning and reading and listening — own lp record collection — on the home front. Socially I also grew more tolerant through the contacts I made via community education and working-life volunteering that gave me a different picture of myself and my place in the world around me with greater awareness of a richness in diversity.

    I regard the likes of Osborne, Cameron and IDS etc as dangerously deluded through mis-education even while I despise what they stand for. And I reckon that those like the recent South Carolina church mass-murderer has been perverted by hatred, I realise that on some levels “that could have been me.”

    (A lot can be learned from studying Alice Miller’s classic book The Untouched Key: Tracing Childhood Trauma in Creativity and Destructiveness — or even just reviews of the same.)

    My own immune system has been deeply compromised by the threat of a further £12bn ‘welfare cuts’ and housing vulnerability, but the supportive feedback I’ve received from people I’ve associated with voluntarily. However, if I had £1,000 for every time a friend has said to me, “But there must be something you could do with your wonderful intelligence…” ….

    In conclusion I would say for now if it was me having to reply directly to “You must think positively about work” statements from officialdom, I would argue that the carrot of greater and more compassionate support is mightier than the stick of sanctions, smear stories, etc. And I would ask officialdom what they were going to do to provide me with those when my experience has been ever-diminishing support for me, ever-more favouring of abusers.

    We may feel ineffectual in the grand scale of things in what we do to remedy things, Kate. But as one of my closest friends said to me recently when I queried the validity of my continued existence and caring commitment amid all the oppression I’ve experienced, what we do one-to-one does make an enormous difference in individual lives. And thanks for being one of my ‘co-conspirators’, Kate.

    • PS: To
      “My own immune system has been deeply compromised by the threat of a further £12bn ‘welfare cuts’ and housing vulnerability, but the supportive feedback I’ve received from people I’ve associated with voluntarily”
      add “has helped me on the road to recovery and a commitment to ‘keep on keeping on’.”

      • And most of the volunteering I’ve done is stuff that Jcp would not approve of! Anyhow, it really was voluntary and not coerced and under-supported. In my latter years of funded volunteering even before 2010, the host organisations became increasingly starved of funds and so the volunteering opportunities were increasing short-term.

        That does not inspire confidence for future financial and vocational security when the upsurge of ‘work for your benefits’ schemes creates sanctions and CV clutter.

    • Being a co-conspirator is the way to go! I personally think that it’s the day to day supporting of people that makes the difference. I like going on marches like yesterday’s, but that is mainly for the pissups. If everyone who marched yesterday spent two or three days a week accompanying people to jobcentres, challenging government and officials with direct action and always getting in faces – things would soon change. I don’t think that being shoved off to some shit job “found” by work programme providers who’ve been paid god knows what to force people to attend is the pinnacle of anyone’s achievement. It just shows that government will pay these fuckers anything.

      • Kate, you`re not kidding about WP providers – 1 member of FB group Stand Up! To Seetec has been put forward (& mandated) to attend for 2 cr*ppy jobs at incredibly short notice (1 days` worth the 2nd time), but it was so rushed that himself & others weren`t even on the interviewees` list , & in the latter case he & 10 other people sat around for an hour & then were instructed to leave without having the interview!

      • Hi, Kate

        You wrote: “If everyone who marched yesterday spent two or three days a week accompanying people to jobcentres, challenging government and officials with direct action and always getting in faces – things would soon change.”

        I’d say that accompanying people is something that requires sensitivity and preparation, and have had quite a few messages requesting advice and guidance on setting up a self-help group such as Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group.

        Perhaps you could do a blog piece of strategies and tips for accompaniers, so that the accompanier does not bring in too much of their own agenda and rage against officialdom?

  3. Seems to be a renewed effort on jobseekers of late (in my 40s myself) – possibly coming up to Performance Review time for JCP staff…?
    Either way, 16 months after finishing Post-Work Programme Service (after completing 2 yr WP in late 2013), I`ll be attending my 3rd appointment with my JCP work coach tomorrow (oh joy).
    Ironically, it took from Feb 2014 until March 2015 before I even knew who my work coach was, as I`d had no contact (not even a name on any correspondence/documentation, inc. my Claimant Commitment which I transitioned to in Oct 2014 at my request…so I could negotiate it`s contents/criteria); this has changed abruptly, though – an appointment (85+ mins long) last Monday & another 1 tomorrow…must remember a flask & sandwiches this time.

    • Barney T. I am one of the few who seems to have been ‘lost’ in the system. I’ve had no contact with a ‘work coach’ since about last October/November I don’t have a clue who they are, despite the person I saw last year assuring me that he would keep in regular touch with me as I have a long term health problem which limits the types of work I can do. I spent two years doing the Wast Of Time Programme, well almost two years as my WP job coach finished me 5 weeks early as she ‘couldn’t help me any further’! She hadn’t been any help at all during the Work Programme, and lied on my exit review I had, stating I’d done a couple of ‘training’ courses that I know for a fact I didn’t do.
      I know that most people would say to me that I’m lucky not being hasseled by the JC, but I was hoping that the JC would help me find some voluntary work because I’ve applied to various voluntary organizations, but I seem to be ignored by them. Maybe these organizations only now accept ‘volunteers’ forced to go to them by the JC or poverty pimps!

  4. There is a mandatory work experience programme as i start today ask your work coach about that. 4 weeks it lasts. I’m doing 16hrs a week in a charity shop. Wish me luck as really not my bag having previously been a farmer + working on building sites. Still it will give me a idea of what i can and cant do these days.

  5. This new psychological approach to the unemployed, is just the logical conclusion to the propaganda campaign waged against benefit claimants and the disabled.
    Now the DWP will be able to ‘prove’ that unemployment is all the fault of the claimants, due to them having the wrong attitude.
    Ignore the fact that there are not enough jobs available that pay a decent living wage. Or the reality that they are now forcing seriously sick and disabled people to work against their will, under threat of absolute destitution. That Universal Credit will operate as a giant workfare scheme, compelling people to take any scraps of work available, under any hours or conditions.

    We do not merely destroy our enemies; we change them.”
    ― George Orwell, 1984

    • Agreed am on day 2 of my work experience in a charity shop. So far i’m learning that i’m right not a hope of me holding down a full time job and being able to travel 30 mins each way. Finding the charity work quite differcult and it’s only 16hrs a week but must admit i’m lucky as so far the supervisor has been very good and understanding.

      • The irony i never got a letter that i was meant to recieve regarding my work placement but today i recieved a letter saying ive not turned up to my work placement. Incompetent as always. Hopefully be able to sort out b4 i get sanctioned 🙁

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