Good Morrow, friends, flaneurs and fellow idle wasters. It has been some time since your humble servant’s sermons graced these hallowed pages; moreover much has happened since I last put quill to parchment. With a general election imminent, unemployment is the subject of these weeks’ sermon. One is reminded of the slogan the Tories opted for when they last lost, “Labour isn’t working”. Last time around much political candor came from the nation’s unemployment figures, the hardship of many reduced to no more than a catchphrase for the few. But what slogan is apt now - “Work makes you free”?
In contemporary times being on the dole has more to do with the failure of capitalism than wanting to sponge off the state, smoking fags and drinking (not cheap any longer) cider. Perhaps that’s why unemployment has such a low profile in party politics. The person next to you in the dole queue is more likely to be a recently redundant middle manager from the service industry than some feckless chav out of a sink estate. The rules seemed to have changed, as have traditional excuses or blame.
Even your humble pastor has found his ecumenical direction falter. Through these dark times I turn to the scriptures for guidance and support. One is reminded, “Blessed is the man who walketh not on the path of the ungodly”. How many times has one heard that verse, not knowing where a future path may lead? When all about is plentiful and deserved, one does not expect the good times to fade away like an MPs’ expenses claims. With the credit crunch no more than a slight inconvenience to many but the country still up shit creek, who feels this spiteful pinch? Well, your humble Pastor has had recompense to join the ranks of the dole scroungers. Not unfrocked for unsavory acts with minors or Nuns I hasten to add, this cleric was just unfortunate enough to be surplus to requirements. The greed of the few being paid for by
But what can a fallen man of the cloth do to secure a future, avoid an enhanced CRB and find gainful employment with so many other clerics out there looking for work? What happens to those who are cast out? Can an ex-man of God, or anyone come to that, earn a crust thus and avoid a life of abject poverty? Or is existence on the dole, loss of self-esteem and financial penury all we have?
According to our peers, many of whom have been caught with grubby fingers in the Nation’s
collection plate themselves, no one need be out of work. All you have to do is look. Seek
and ye shall find, that sort of thing. Apparently, the first step on the road from perdition is
via the Job Centre, a place where one can seek advice, succor and comfort. To be honest,
I‘ve not set foot in one of these bastions of the feckless and maladjusted for years, and
only then because I mistook the building for a library. Back then they were called Labor
Exchanges and I can recall the sullen faces of staff who cared not for the thankless
repetition of scribbling one’s name on a fortnightly basis. Nobody smiled, nobody spoke,
and there was certainly no one dancing to Donna Summer. Ones future and prospects
were not unlike the location; as grey as an elephant’s arse. Has anything changed?
These days Job Centres boast the poncey Llewellen-Bowen makeover and appear to be heavily influenced by DFS sofa catalogues. Gone are the drab magnolia walls, etched with the ramblings of the bored and insane. These days a Job Centre has become the Travelodge of the unemployed. Tart orange hues melt into Prussian Blues mixed with photomontage imagery of those lucky enough to escape and actually find work. The staff grudgingly smile, as if their Prozac has kicked in a tad too late to stop them realising where they are. Supporting these shell-shocked employment advisors are overweight and aggressive security personnel, directing you from the entrance to your appointed advisor like a Chuckle brother’s concierge on Miaow Miaow. As an additional benefit, they move behind you menacingly to prevent any complaints regarding the service or the asking of anything pertinent. “Do you actually have any jobs?” for example. That kind of query upsets both them and the system, provoking results as lame as Paul and Barry’s attempts to move heavy objects, only a lot less funny.
How did we get here, to this Auschwitz for the dispossessed? This sombre, dehumanizing conveyer system where your rights are suspended once across the multi-coloured threshold? All that’s missing is a classical quartet playing Brahms to numb you through the hellish experience. “Arbeit macht frei” indeed. Don’t ask questions they say, as you wait your turn for further interrogation. Even waterboarding would provide light relief from such a bleak experience. The welfare system was put in place to help those less fortunate who had fallen on hard times, but these days it’s more a Faustian pact where your soul is exchanged in a one-way bargain for daily payment of a silver coin. Apart from actually looking for a job, your part of the bargain consists of completing a detailed record of exactly what you’ve done to find work. Their part is to coerce you to apply for jobs you’re not qualified for or experienced enough to do, just to prop up pointless targets. Woe betide the man or woman who questions their ability to actually take a stab at the work suggested. “Can’t do it” becomes “won’t do it”, refusal to work metering out a heavy sentence and instant loss of your meager income. If they had work camps we would be swiftly transported there for the cheek of asking something intelligent.
To add insult to injury, re-training isn’t an option above a level two NVQ (which involves counting without using your fingers). And even then you have to suffer months of benefit despair; torn by depression, all self-esteem ebbing away on a daily basis before you’re even eligible for a food hygiene certificate. All of which is at odds with the published argument that those first three months are critical for getting back to work before the rot sets in and one loses all faith. This whole state-run fiasco seems set to humiliate rather than supporting the quest to get back to work, even if there were jobs available. One could indeed be forgiven for blaming the children of the original Polish sign manufacturers for stealing the nation’s jobs, but that would be unfair to say the least. They came here looking for jobs and have now found the situation wanting, just like the rest of us.
After two months of this the Faustian pact is reviewed and new one-way caveats introduced, such as increasing
the travel time one is prepared to endure while ‘jobseeking’ to ninety minutes or widening the range of jobs
one is unqualified to apply for. This opens up even more pointless applications to places you wouldn’t be able
to commute to for jobs you will never be considered for. But you must comply; there is no choice or reason.
The blame for this sad, stupid situation may well lay at the feet of greedy benefit cheats. No, not sink estate chavs caught window cleaning on the dole, but those who keep their affluent, appalling kids in a mortgaged student flat or duck house at our expense. There is an election underway, between haggard one-eye, the smooth faced-toff, and the other one. These three will curry, tempt and beg prospective voters, bring us promises of comfort and joy. Education, welfare, public services; these will be safe in their hands, until the promises are breached once in office. My advice to those wanting power but not wanting to see the nation’s wealth wasted on a half-arsed final solution? Shut the Job Centres, let us sign on by email, save millions on piss-poor redecorations and staff imprisoned by targets. Work may make you free, but unemployment doesn’t make those left out dishonest, or provide an explanation why the last lot failed. Forced labour isn’t working. Haven’t we heard that before?
The Reverend Harry Figgis is now on Twitter and you can follow his daily, pointless profanities if you want. Just find Harry Figgis, add him and prepare to be amused, abused and, most probably, confused. It fits in nicely with all Twitter’s other pointless, self-absorbed shit.