On the day the Mother turned 18, while she was still at college, something extraordinary happened, something that would change her life, albeit in a fairly mediocre way. On that fateful day she took her first step into a new and exciting world, the world of the Dole. On the 17th of March she officially became an adult, which meant she could finally claim Unemployment Benefit. That small amount of money in the form of a giro got her through college and a fair amount of Diamond White and Special Brew to
The whole process was pretty simple back then; you turned up, signed on and two days later you got your giro. Happy days! Thinking about it all now made her feel quite melancholy. Christ, she could almost hear The Smiths playing as she reminisced about her youth. Although back then she was living on a pittance and for most of that time was penniless, she was also responsibility-less and bill-less too.
Things were very different in her world now, as well as in the magical world of the Job Centre. What was then called Unemployment Benefit had metamorphosed into Job Seekers Allowance. Later still it changed into Universal Credit. This new name bordered on fictitious really as it implied that it was paid universally. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it was given to every unemployed soul that applied for it and yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. The bottom line was that hardly anyone seemed to qualify for it. It would be far more accurate to call it restricted credit or elusive credit. With the summer holidays fast approaching, and no income for six weeks, she had little choice but to apply for benefits. All she had to do was fill out a couple of simple forms online; how long could that possibly take? The answer turned out to be somewhere between six hours and 1000 years.
The first few questions were easy to answer: no, she wasn’t blind and she hadn’t recently left the armed forces. She didn’t own several properties in Marbella or anywhere else for that matter. She typed in her name, address, her qualifications, her work history, her medical history and her date of birth. Then there were codes and passwords to be inputted and then some more questions. This was followed by a phone call to the jobcentre, a quick cup of tea and then even more questions.
She put down as much as she could including her name, passport number, where she lived, how long she’d lived there, who she lived with, who she cared for, who she didn’t care for, what kind of job she wanted, what kind of job she didn’t want, her ethnicity, sexual preference, her social standing, political persuasion, and her favourite David Bowie track.
After the intrusive questions came more money questions. Did she have any stocks and shares? Was she getting a widow’s pension? Did she have several million pounds resting in an offshore account in the Cayman Islands? She almost ticked yes for this one just for a laugh!
The questions were often complicated and confusing but they were nothing compared to one of the new features of the benefits system: now, to support your claim, you had to scan in all of your personal documents. This sounded simple, it should have been simple; it wasn’t. The task turned out to be so complex it could have been a challenge on the Krypton Factor. First of all, she had to locate her passport. Luckily, she knew precisely where it would be; it would be somewhere safe. She checked the kitchen drawer. Then she checked the box of ‘important stuff’ in her bedroom. After that, she checked everywhere else.