Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Getting Paid (Late)

Originally, the payment was due on the first day of September. It didn’t come through. All the documents were already handed in. All ‘the evidence’ was in Scottish hands. So, I was perplexed to find myself slipping into my overdraft. When I went to see my work coach — that’s Dick, to you — he told me to call up Scotland, again. A few minutes of Vivaldi followed.
This time the phone was answered by a chirpy Scotswoman. A welcome change from the dour voices of past calls. She couldn’t find a reason why the payment hadn’t been made, but she reassured me that I would get my money that very day. I would get a text message, apparently. This was surprising good news from Scotland.
On my way out, I passed Dick at his desk and explained. Dick surmised that “they probably forgot to push the button”. For a moment, I imagined the dour office types being thrown out of a plane and skydiving towards a huge red button with PAYMENT across it in black letters. Sadly, the parachutes never work, but the splatter does send the money.
Just over an hour later, I got the text: “Mr White We will make a Universal Credit payment of approx £XXX.XX to your usual account. It should arrive by the end of today. DWP Universal Credit”.
Bear in mind, I was made redundant on July 15 and I went into the job centre four days later. The first week was taken out of the assessment, you don’t get anything for that time. Overall, my first round of Universal Credit was almost two months late. That’s how it goes, I suppose.
This was originally written for Notes from the Underclass.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

It's very expensive being poor!

I was meant to get my first payment of Universal Credit today. I checked my account online with some anticipation (though not much) only to find nothing there. I’ll be calling Scotland soon, listen to canned Vivaldi once again. Eventually I’ll get a dour voice telling me something. But even if I got the money, it wouldn’t be the answer.
Some have no idea what it’s like. Try paying your rent without a job. Try covering your travel costs. Try paying your Council Tax too. Try eating healthily. Try saving up for anything without disposable income. Try paying your bills. Try all of this on just £57 a week. That plus housing benefit, if you get it in time. Try it. Go on.
All of these things are hard enough when you’re working a minimum wage job. You will be lucky if you’re getting by with £100 leftover in your bank account. If you’re a recent graduate, you might be lucky enough to still have an overdraft without the charges. Feel free to dip in and go for a swim. You can sink in for days, before resurfacing at the end of the month.
That’s if you have a pay day, a monthly wage, an annual salary, with the taxes taken out by your employer. An existence as an intern or free-lancer can be highly stressful. In any case, life on what used to be called ‘the dole’ is much less simple. You can find yourself trapped financially. It’s supposed to make you “get off your arse, get on a bike and get a job”. It is true, after all the system is so shit it does give you an incentive to work.
Nevertheless, if you live on benefits — you can barely travel and eat properly. The propensity to depression is natural. You’ll soon find yourself waist-deep in despair, and sinking fast. Once you’re there, you’ll find it hard to motivate yourself to apply for jobs. Fortunately, the job centre may sanctionyou for this, so you have fear to motivate you and, I’m sure, you will apply to the best of your abilities under such intolerable conditions.
Wages have been stagnant since the 1970s. That’s why we’ve had a huge explosion of private debt — the only way to raise demand without high wages — as people relied more and more on credit cards, mortgages and loans, to stay afloat. The credit crunch and the subsequent financial crisis did not end this trend, but rather entrenched it further. We can thank ourpolitical leaders for a low-wage, low-growth economy with huge amounts of debt and unaffordable, lousy housing.
Since the credit crunch in 2007 the UK has seen wages continue to fall, in real times, putting us next to Greece. Real earnings have fallen by over 10% between 2007 and 2015 in Britain. According to the OECD, the average wage rate has risen by 6.7% in Europe — but not in Great Britain — as we find in France (11%), Germany (14%) and Poland (23%). This is what the Conservatives mean when they say they are “making work pay”.
Meanwhile the UK’s top bosses have taken home a 10% raise — on an average salary of £5.5 million a year. Wages for the average worker rose by just 2% in 2015. That’s after years of falling wages. The highest paid CEO isSir Martin Sorrell at WPP, taking home over £70 million quid last year. It may sound good for aspirational types, who stupidly imagine they could earn that much one day. The brutal truth is the poor works so these people don’t have to.
Profits are what you make when you don’t work. Except, if you’re in a dole queue — that’s scrounging! If you can digest this thought, ask yourself: How did that taste? Was it disgusting? It should be.
This article was originally written for Notes from the Underclass.

'The Evidence', Part II: Still Unproven! Or, am I?

Opening a new letter from the Mail Handling Site B in Wolverhampton is always a special moment. First, I received a letter demanding ‘the evidence’, which was perplexing because it did not explain what exactly I needed to send to them. The robots at Site B assumed I would already know.
So I went into my job centre, saw my work coach and called the number on the letter. Just so you know, that’s 03456000723. It doesn’t work (at least not in the job centre) unless you throw a 9 in first. If not, you’ll get the automated voice telling you: “The call cannot be completed as dialed…” Once you get past this, you get to listen to Vivaldi’s Spring for several minutes more than you’d like.
Finally, someone in Scotland picks up. Except this time, there is no voice. Instead, you get the white noise of office life. The sound of a fan in the distance, of photo-copying, of muffled chit-chat. Suddenly, you get a dour voice asking for proof of your identity, then they can help you. Or, not. He did confirm that my first payment is due on September 1st (having first applied on July 19th) and it should be backdated.
I managed to confirm they had received the signed copy of my tenancy agreement. That’s the only thing I can think they may have missed. I’m told they will write to me if they find anything is missing. In short, I still don’t know what ‘the evidence’ is meant to be.
Meanwhile the soulless factory floor in Wolverhampton, with its dead-eyed staff and a conveyor belt, is still hard at work feeding countless letters to waiting vans. A new letter is already on its way. Could it contain precise details of ‘the evidence’? Sadly not.
“You must provide evidence to support your claim to Universal Credit,” the letter reads. “We asked you to provide some evidence to support your Universal Credit claim but we have not received it… It is important that you provide this evidence as your payments may be delayed or your Universal Credit claim closed.”
This was August 20th. The exact same letter was first sent on July 30th. Is there is a code in the letter I’m meant to decipher? Then I received a second letter from the wholesome, hard-working robots of Mail Handling Site B. It read as follows: “You told us about a change to your Universal Credit”. That’s in bold, for good measure.
It goes on: “You recently told us about a change in your circumstances. If this change affects your Universal Credit we will write to you and let you know before your next payment.” This was sent out on August 24th.
Let’s revisit the process behind these letters:
Clear sheets of paper are passed through row after row of printing machines, the same words pressed onto them in unison, to be sorted into envelopes and neatly stacked. Every letter requires a different address, so the paper is filtered by a set of robots armed with ink and the right details, before heading facing human eyes.
I like to think the main task for the human staff is to check for typos and provide the necessary saliva to seal each envelope. I feel for them. At least the machines can’t get sad. It’s an assembly-line of bad news just for the people trying to claim benefits, but especially for the people who forgot to include a bank statement. It is meant to be efficient, but it’s just not.
Perhaps there is a special conveyor belt to carry all the angry tirades directly into the mouth of a blazing furnace.
This would surely keep Site B going all night long. Imagine it: A public building powered entirely by despair. It would befit the benefits system devised by sadistic politicians and their half-witted and cretinous bureaucrats.
Maybe this is the answer to climate change.
I should get my first payment on Thursday.
To be continued…
This was originally written for Notes from the Underclass.