• Charlie King

Charlie vs. Dignity: 10 months of unemployment.

So, as I mentioned today, I'm pleased to say that my run of unemployment should be coming to an end next month having been unemployed since August. It has been the most 'nothing' period of my life being out of education for the first time and I intend to summarise some of the struggles of it.

I went into a Journalism and English Language degree because I enjoyed writing which has been prevalent throughout my whole education. By the end of the three years, I still enjoyed writing but not necessarily on the Journalism side. I liked writing up stories given a number of quotes and facts but creating the stories to write about from scratch is where I struggled This was a problem because there are not too many options other than Journalism where you can write about topics for a career. So, I came out of university being back to square one. I didn't have a solid idea of what I wanted to do with my life before I started my degree and I still didn't afterwards. The saving grace of university was that I did have three great years there, I enjoyed the balance between socialising and learning and I made a lot of good friends who I regularly keep in touch with.

Despite coming out of university with no clear vision, I still felt reasonably optimistic about getting a job quite quickly. This optimism almost made me not go into the Job Centre to start claiming unemployment benefits while I looked, it's a good job I didn't. So, I went into the Job Centre where they asked me about my circumstances and what jobs I'd consider doing and this seemed like they were going to be helpful. This talk then seemed like a complete waste of time when I would spend the rest of my time in the Job Centre never mentioning it or having relevant jobs recommended to me. I did get an admin work experience position through them within a month which gave me hope but there was not much help thereafter. I'd spend the next eight months visiting the Job Centre to show them a list of emails of jobs I had applied for. They didn't care about what jobs I had applied for, whether I was qualified enough or not, they just wanted to see a list which seems like a good way for people to manipulate the benefits system. Besides a couple of helpful CV workshops, there was no other help provided by the Job Centre and yet you still feel like you were being judged. In the end, it was a case of me sucking up my pride to go to the soul destroying Job Centre in order to continue getting payments.

I had a few interviews over this whole period where I felt I did well on most and there was only one where I knew I had definitely messed up. In terms of the job search, they were plenty of occasions that were frustrating, mainly because of recruitment agencies. I'd apply for a number of jobs through a number of different websites and recruiters and would barely get any responses. Then, when I did get a response, things weren't much better. I would get a call from a recruitment agency once I applied for a job but they would rarely acknowledge the job I had applied for. Instead, they would ask it as if I had sent a speculative CV and I'd explain my situation and never hear from them again. Then, there were a couple of recruitment agencies who told me that I could get interviews for specific roles I applied for if I came in to register. On both occasions, I came into their offices to be told that the employer had already made their shortlist but I should register anyway. I don't know whether those were genuine or if it was used as a ploy to get me in but either way I never heard from them again either.

I had left my console at home with my brother while I was away at university which meant I had a backlog of games to get through when I got back to give me something to do during the week but it got to a stage where I'd been unemployed for so long, I had completed all the games I had to catch up on. The games helped to kill the time during the day and I'd often settled into a night time TV routine. Even though I enjoyed playing these games, it was clear to me that I was in a rut especially when you realise you're completing lengthy games with relative quickness.This rut of games and being stuck indoors was a tough spell to endure.

It was tough to endure the perceived thoughts I had regarding myself, of the stigma that came with long term unemployment. Firstly, I knew the longer I was unemployed, the harder it would be to get a job with the interviewer wanting to know what I'd been doing with myself. It would make me seem work shy even though I have always had a strong work ethic throughout my education. When I told my parents I had interviews and then tell them I didn't get the job following the interview was tough. By the third interview rejection, I was convinced in my mind that my parents thought that maybe I wasn't very good at interviews. Then, to see all your university friends getting jobs is also disparaging and visiting them only to tell them that nothing new was happening wasn't a great feeling. In the first couple of months, it was good to hear friends and family tell me that you'll find something soon but when you hear it after six months, it starts to grate on you.

Recently, I had to go for A4e which is on The Work Programme having been on Job Seeker's Allowance for nine months. A4e claims to help get people back into work which was what I thought the Job Centre was for but apparently not. It was only three weeks ago that I first went into A4e to talk through the same things I did with the Job Centre to help me find a job. So I told them what jobs I'd like and what work I have experience in, mainly retail. So, I thought they would then work hard to find me retail roles as they had identified that it was best I looked for jobs in that sector having had a year's experience. A4e did too much to try and get me into employment though whereas the Job Centre did too little. I told them to look mainly for retail work since we agreed to it so imagine my surprise when I got calls every day telling me about an interview the next day. One was for McDonald's and one was a kitchen assistant role. They must have really got the impression I was workshy because they seemed to want to push me into anything. I felt that they could have at least given some time and effort to actually look for relevant work for me. If I had gone a couple of months without getting a relevant job, I would have accepted the fact that I might have to accept a job I didn't want but the fact they turned to these options straight away annoyed me. I got my interview at the Post Office without their help and although I wouldn't say it was my best interview, it was definitely a job I was suited for. The job doesn't start for another month but while I still claimed benefits, I was still required to job search and attend A4e for them to set up irrelevant interviews for me. Overall, I felt this wasn't worth the hassle so I cancelled my benefit early.

It's been a long road and I can say that my reunions with my Portsmouth friends have been the highlights of the last ten months and they've often put me in good spirits. Also, with an impending holiday with friends, this gave me something to look forward for months whereas before there was nothingness. Portsmouth reunions were the main occasions that allowed me to relax and push issues to the back of my mind and it made me realise that there are other important things as well as work and that there were plenty of occasions in the future to look forward to.

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