Yikes! The unthinkable happened: the merciless axe of redundancy came crashing down on my neck, and I found myself back on the dole queue last month.
The unexpected loss of a job, as opposed to when I had willingly left the job in the past, had the effect of a knockdown punch. I was so numb for days, I couldn’t even understand why my best friend was frantically calling Unite to ask about emergency membership for me while accusing me of being “too Japanese” in not fighting back and standing up for my rights.
I wasn’t being deliberately passive. I needed time to process what had just happened and what that meant in terms of my future. Ranting, swearing, crying, none of these emotive behaviours would help bring what I most needed – clarity. In crisis situations I tend to switch to a zen mode where I say little, remain impassive and allow the turmoil to settle.
Most importantly, I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I’m old enough to know in this life shit happens. A lot. These are the so-called “little deaths”: the end of a relationship, the termination of a job, a financial loss. Most humans don’t cope well with endings of any kind, but we are more resilient than we think, and life has an uncanny way of always working out in the end…if only we can bring ourselves to trust its natural process.
Signing on for Jobseeker’s Allowance is a drag, of course, but it’s the price you pay for the privilege of receiving £73.10/week (if you are age 25 or older; otherwise £57.90/week) in unemployment benefits. Unlike in 2009-2010, when I was last unemployed, all new claim registrations can now be done online, except when the site tells you it can’t be completed online, and you need to call the JobCentre anyway.
Whereas previously you had to handwrite the action points you took to look for work in a paper booklet, you now set up an online account on Universal Jobmatch, where you can upload your CV, look for and apply for jobs and type in your jobseeking activities daily, which your advisor then checks to authorise payment of your JSA every fortnight.
Upon losing your job the best favour you can do to yourself is to stay pragmatic. You may be upset or angry but ranting about it to all your friends, getting smashed, or kicking your dog (no animal cruelty please!) are not going to bring your job back. Think survival of the most practical and promptly take the necessary steps to claim what is yours by right if you’ve been contributing National Insurance for the past two tax years.
- Sign on for Jobseeker’s Allowance as soon as possible. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) rarely accepts backdating your claim
I made that mistake. I waited for the outcome of an interview I had in the early days after I stopped working, hoping I might get the job and not even need to claim JSA. I subsequently signed on and asked for the claim to be backdated to the day after my last pay as an employee, but the request was bluntly declined. The letter from the DWP simply said: “…the law contains a list of specific reasons that allow claims to be backdated. We can only backdate your claim if the reason you did not claim earlier is on the list.”
What law? What list? I searched online and on http://www.gov.uk for the aforementioned list, but could find no list nor an explanation on the law governing this arbitration. The letter invited me to call or write if I disagreed or wanted further explanation on the decision, so I phoned. “Being available for work and actively looking for work is not one of the reasons we can accept for backdating,” they said. I asked them for an example of an acceptable reason, and where was the “list” mentioned in the letter? “We don’t have to give you any reasons, only tell you that we can’t accept your reason.”
This sounded too arbitrary for such an important decision that can affect the livelihood of an incomeless person. On visiting the JobCentre this week, I asked my advisor if a backdating request was ever accepted. “It happens very seldom”, she said, “and only if the jobseeker refrained from making an earlier claim because they already had a job offer, which was then retracted for some reason”. I can only conclude it is a lame way of saying, we never let you backdate, but we need to be seen as offering you the opportunity to ask. Red tape. Conclusion: don’t bank on backdated claims; they are fiction. Instead, sign on fast. (How to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance)
2. The “waiting days” have been increased in October 2014 from three to seven days. This means you’ll not be paid for the first seven days of your claim.
For instance, if your claim started on 21/11/2016, you would not be paid for the period between 21st and 27th November. I also asked my advisor why the DWP withholds payment on those days. “It’s the law” she said. “Waiting days” is then a misnomer. They might as well re-name it “waiting for Godot” since nothing ever arrives.
As the festive season approaches and job ads start drying up, I notice the not-coming-out-from-under-the-duvet days start to outnumber the I’m-going-to-kick-ass days. Emails from friends go unresponded for weeks, as my brain is at overcapacity and can’t digest what they’re saying. My social life has disappeared because eating out is out of the question and “drinks before Christmas” is a cruel joke. In a couple of weeks I’ll also be turning off Facebook, closing my curtains, and stocking up on St. John’s Wort. Needless to say, no Christmas cards this year.
Trying to keep upbeat when your future is so uncertain burns up far more energy than going to work everyday knowing exactly when your next payday is. I’m constantly fatigued and overwhelmed these days.
When what we perceive as “bad fortune” descends, perspective is the key to survival. You can either be a sorry victim of your circumstances or the creator of a brilliant reality by staying focussed on the things that matter. But what are they?
In the next few posts I’ll be sharing tips that have kept me from losing my marbles.