Ballasalla man John Callister is aiming to explode the myth of ‘benefit scroungers’ having an easy time at taxpayers’ expense. In the final part of his hard-hitting personal account, he calls on the Isle of Man Government to understand the realities of long-term unemployment.
You’re summoned to court where your old landlord and the utilities companies are trying to recover the debts you still have from your previous home.
The court orders you to pay a few quid a week to each of them, which you really can’t afford, and may also fine you or make you pay all the claimant’s legal costs.
But you can’t always afford to pay so you start to fall behind with the payments, and soon you’re facing the prospect of being sent to prison for defaulting on a court order. With that threat hanging over you, you realise that you are now on the very bottom rung of society.
You have to attend the dole office ‘Job Club’ now and again so you can use their computers and email facilities. This is okay if you live in Douglas, but at £6 return on the bus from Port Erin or Ramsey and £5.50 from Peel, it’s not possible to do that more than once a week.
Until recently, jobseekers’ allowance claimants were provided with a half-price concession. When it was withdrawn it didn’t force claimants to pay full fare, what it really did was to force them to not use buses at all and become even more isolated.
That’s how these things really work: making a service more expensive simply removes that service from the life of a poor person.
Most firms want a CV with your full working history on it, so the longer you are on the dole the more difficult it becomes to find a job. When they see that you have been unemployed for a substantial length of time, their own prejudices take over and they bin your application. I know this as I have spoken to people who work in HR departments – a long time out of work indicates either a lazy person or someone who finds it difficult to fit in. Your address is also against you, as apparently where you live tells them what sort of person you are.
Your age goes against you too, even if the law says that companies are not allowed to discriminate on grounds of age. Once you turn 45 it becomes increasingly difficult to find a job as companies want younger people who will work for them for a long time. Companies are also wary of anyone who has been self-employed as they want people who will simply do what they are told and not have the capacity to think for themselves.
But why is it that you so rarely receive any replies? If a company responds with a ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ letter or email, you are legally entitled to ask them why you have been rejected, and they must reply with a real reason. But if they don’t reply they can claim that your letter never reached them, or that your email was lost, and they are sorry but the post has now been filled, so, goodbye.
And so it goes on, a downward spiral of depression and despair. You have nothing to look forward to except more rejections from job applications and more interviews with officers who threaten to stop your allowance if you don’t try harder. But you’re trying as hard as you know how to – you cannot force someone to employ you.
And then you hear someone on TV describe you as a benefit scrounger, living off the state because you are too lazy to get a job. You read in a discarded newspaper that you have been given a free four bedroomed house, a new car, the ubiquitous flat-screen TV, a free holiday every year, a winter heating bonus, Christmas and Easter bonuses and a birthday card from the president of Tynwald.
You’re told that you claim for children that don’t exist, that you spend your time in the pub and the bookies, that you are drinking, taking or dealing drugs and playing Xbox all day. You’re having a great time at the expense of the hard-working taxpayers who want your dole stopped so you will have to get a job, even if there are none.
This is truly exasperating. You are accused of living in luxury while you’ve actually watched your whole life slide out of view. You feel powerless to argue that it’s not true, that you don’t receive all those benefits, and that you paid in before you lost your job. That your life now has almost disappeared and you hardly recognise yourself.
It is so long since you worked that you become entrenched in the culture of the dole queue, not wanting to change anything for fear of having your meagre payments stopped. You are actually scared to get a job as you may find yourself worse off with a part-time, minimum wage job. And if it doesn’t work out and you get laid off, you will have to go through the whole process again. It really is scary.
All you want is a job that pays enough to live on and give you your self-esteem back. A job that will allow you to rejoin the society which has left you for dead in the doldrums of the dole system. But there are no jobs like that any more, and you have been scrapped.
To be constantly under threat of losing what little you have to live on, to be constantly accused of scrounging and having your government penalise you for being poor, at the same time as they make huge concessions to extremely wealthy people can only make the poor feel very left out. It all makes you realise just how poorly valued you are in the eyes of Government.
This is the caring society that you have willingly contributed to all your working life. And yes, all of this is happening on the wonderful Isle of Man, the eighth wealthiest place on the planet.
Now imagine that you are a vulnerable single mum with two or three kids to look after and you find yourself in the same position. What if you had a disability, or something like asthma, where the social conditions you’ll find yourself in like the cold, damp and mould are going to make life a whole lot worse?
Our MHKs should all be ashamed of themselves for allowing this state of affairs to have developed and to continue. They should be ashamed that some people in society, including some politicians, blame the unemployed as a whole for the economic woes that they themselves have created. Shame on them for redirecting that blame onto the poorest members of our society.
I want everyone to read this. If you have never been on benefits, then think yourself very, very lucky. But if you have, you will know that all of this is true. It won’t all happen to everyone who loses their job, but all of it happens to some, and some of it happens to all.
And if you think any of this is an exaggeration, wait until your own job vanishes overnight.