I've been unemployed for six months now. In fact, I've been unemployed so long that my contribution-based JSA will run out in a week and I have to switch to income-based JSA. I've taken out what I put in to the system and am now officially A Burden. That's a crappy feeling in and of itself, and it's not helped by the 'scrounging youth' rhetoric so beloved by the Tories. I mean, I worked in a pub to support myself for five years - through college, university and after, while I tried (and failed) to get a proper job. I'd often find myself with only one full day off every three weeks. I'm not a shirker.
So, what are benefits like? Well, each week I get around £62 in Housing Benefits and £53 in JSA. Of my JSA, £13 immediately goes towards topping up my rent (£75p/w) - luckily, my rent includes utility bills and council tax. That leaves me with £40 a week left, or £160 a month (quick note - two thirds of all my benefits go to my landlord).
How do I spend this throbbing great amount? Well, it goes a bit like this:
- I spend about £30 a month to travel to see either my partner or my family (I live around 300 miles away from each).
- I spend £40 on food. I have the luxury of having the time and ability to cook all my meals from scratch, and being vegan means I can ease by reasonably cheaply.
- £30 goes on tobacco. I'm not going to defend this, it's probably a bad choice. But a saving of £7 a week and nothing to really do with it leaves me with little incentive to quit.
- I also have to pay £10 for my mobile (my only means of communication with most people) and £5 for internet access in my house.
- I pay my bank £10 a month because, being so utterly bloody skint, I'm at the bottom of an overdraft and have to pay interest on it.
That's £125 gone, like that. Which means that each month, I have the grand sum of £35 to spend on myself. There's always a niggly something, like a birthday or having to replace essentials like toiletries which takes £5 of that, so at the end of the month, I get £30. £7.50 a week to spend on anything else I might want. Which leads me to the isolation.
You can't do anything. You can't make friends, and you lose the ones you had because you can't see them. If I want to go to a gig (£4 entry, 3 pints at £3 each), that's two weeks of disposable income gone. I literally can't do anything else that whole time. I mean, I'm lucky because when I'm with my partner he'll pay for me to go out and do things. But I hate that. I feel like a leech. When I'm away from him, I only leave the house to go to the supermarket and the job centre. This year, my little sister had to give me money so I could go for a few pints with her on her birthday.
Sure, there are things you can do for free, but it's still incredibly isolating. I've stopped getting involved in activist stuff down here because I don't know anyone, and when you're at the meetings you're focussed on the issue at hand. I tried, but if you can't socialise with people outside of meetings, they don't know who you are when you're there. Hard to believe, but I'm just the quiet girl in the corner. When I leave, no one will notice I'm gone, because no one noticed I even arrived.
So what do you do instead? Well, if you're me you buy a few bottles of the cheapest cider the supermarket sell (£1.50) to entertain you in the evenings, and you don't leave the house, and you let the depression and anxiety kick in. As much as right-wingers would like me to, I don't search for jobs all day, every day. I spend a fair bit of time looking, but the more applications I send to jobs which I could do but I don't have the necessary (unpaid) experience for without hearing anything in return, the harder it gets. I don't feel like I'm good enough for any job. I'm so used to not leaving the house or speaking to people or having to live up to anyone's standards, the thought of being made to do it five days a week terrifies me to the point of tears. I desperately search for jobs I can do though, fearing that the DWP will arbitrarily decide to stop my JSA or put me on Workfare.
The rest of the time I spend just occupying myself. I educate myself about issues I'm passionate about. I'm planning a conference. I read books, I play games, I watch DVDs. I do anything to keep myself from going into a pit of despair. I count the hours I have to kill until I get to go to my partner's next (133 hours, or 78 if I don't count when I'm asleep). I write, long rambly things like this and usually delete them before anyone else can see.
It always comes back to me though. I'm not good enough. No one wants me. I'll never be a proper person. Scrounger.
Things are changing though. I'm moving in with my partner next month, which means moving cities. That brings new challenges though. When I move in with him, I'll stop being 'a jobseeker'. This is good as it means I don't have to spend half an hour a week convincing some drone at the Jobcentre that I'm not tabloid-worthy workshy dolescum and instead need the benefits that I'm supposedly 'showered' in. However, it will mean that my partner will receive Working Tax Credits (of around the same amount as JSA) to support me. As in, I will have no independent income, and instead have to ask him for money whenever I need to buy anything. So now on top of everything else (I'm a horrid, pathetic waste of space who hasn't done anything in the two years since I left university and will spend the rest of my life being useless), I now feel like a failure to feminism too! I worry about this. I worry he'll get sick of paying for everything for me. I worry he'll get sick of working to pay the bills while I'm a useless shit. I'm worried about being a burden.
I also worry about the other people in the same financial situation as me. Comparatively, I'm lucky. I don't have kids to support, or have to worry about a massive unexpected bill coming from somewhere. If I were in the situation where I wanted (or needed) to leave my partner, I have family and friends who would help me do it. How are you supposed to get money to enable you to move away from an unhappy relationship if your partner controls all the money?
I don't really know what I've been trying to say in this post, but it's basically that being on the dole is shit. It makes you alone, friendless and feeling like crap. It makes you so wary of your precarious financial situation that even something awesome like moving in with the man you love just makes you worry about how you would cope if that wasn't the case. And then it makes you feel like a total shit for moaning when other people have it even worse. Asylum seekers, for example, get £35 a week, if that.
Actually, I think I can put it even more succinctly than that: Fuck anyone who thinks a person would voluntarily put themselves through this shit and is living the high life. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy*.
UPDATE: Please go read this wonderful and moving post by commenter Evsie on being a single father on JSA.
(*I would wish it on Tories and other people who think that benefits is easy and everyone's a scrounger, but only for a month to show them how hard it really is.)