For the next 45 minutes the Mother went through every drawer, box and file looking for it. She found the kids’ birth certificates, a letter from an ex-boyfriend, even an unspent Homebase voucher, but no passport. Another half an hour rummaging through the house and she finally found it, on the bloody bookshelf. It was tucked between the ominously named ‘Corpse Bridge’ and a Cultural Theory book she’d never read. It turned out that her prediction was correct; it WAS somewhere safe it was just somewhere stupid as well.
After three and a half hours, several cups of tea, and a fag which she’d unearthed in the drawer, she was done. It wasn’t finished by any stretch but she’d dredged up and typed out all she could without losing her sanity, plus she’d run out of teabags. She’d have to ask the Dole about the other questions at next week’s interview but for now she had done quite enough. She turned her computer off, closed her eyes and gradually slipped into a self-induced coma.
One thing that hadn’t changed at the Job Centre was the initial interview. You always had to turn up early for your appointment but they always saw you late. By the time she was called, she was bursting for the toilet and starting to get twitchy. The lady at the new claims desk took the Mother through another online form. Next, she outlined her responsibilities as a job seeker. After that came a very serious talk about sanctions. This was a bit weird as the Mother had always associated sanctions with South Africa and Apartheid. In a nutshell, a sanction was a kind of punishment. It meant a member of staff dipping into the Universal Credit guide book and finding some spurious reason to deduct money from your benefit. This enabled the state to pay you less than the minimum you needed to live on. In some cases, and one of those cases was sitting in the booth next to the Mother, that meant losing an entire week’s money. Jesus Christ thought the Mother, Willian Beveridge must be turning in his grave.
After all of the forms were finished, the lady explained to the Mother that she would need to sign on every Monday to prove she was looking for work. “Every week!” exclaimed the Mother, in an octave slightly higher than she’d intended.
The prospect of having to go through this charade so frequently made the blood drain from her face. It was beyond inconvenient. She began to explain that on the following Monday she would be at her mum’s house in Stevenage. The reason for this temporary relocation was straight forward enough. If she found any temporary work, her mum could look after her children while she was busy earning some much-needed cash. For the first time since she sat down opposite this lady, her eyes left the screen and she gave The Mother a hard stare.
“Do you mean you are unable to sign on, and therefore you are not available for work? Is that what you are saying?”
“No, the Mother retorted, “No, that’s the exact opposite of what I am saying. Are we speaking different languages here?”
There was a brief but noisy discussion about the weekly signing on arrangement and another member of staff appeared. Unlike her colleague she preferred to stand rather than sitting down, looming over the Mother.