Of course, I still have certain limitations. The obvious physical symptoms of my illness rule out quite a lot of things, especially in terms of the usual easy-to-get minimum-wage flexible-hours jobs. I don't think I'm in any way 'above' cleaning toilets or serving fast-food or collecting trolleys from a supermarket carpark, but I would do such an ineffective job of those tasks that really, another person would have to be employed just to pick up my slack.
The other big barriers are transport and hours, which sort of link together. I certainly won't be able to manage a full-time job. I think I can probably work 10 hours a week, but it will have to be spread over several days rather than one ten-hour day once a week. I just don't have that much uptime all at once.
There's the field narrowed quite a bit already. But then there's the transport issue.
I can't walk or cycle to work, or even to the nearest bus stop. The mobility scooter provides a lot of freedom but is somewhat weather-dependent - it's in no one's interests for me to short-out in the rain halfway between work and home and need rescuing. I can't drive, and it would be unsafe for me to learn - it's one thing to get woozy as a pedestrian, even on the scooter, and stop and move to the side of the pavement until it passes, but quite another to get suddenly woozy at the wheel and semi-consciously pilot a ton and a half of metal automobile up the pavement into a wandering mums and toddlers group. It wouldn't be good. The remaining option is taxis. The taxi fare from my house to the town centre is about £6 or £7 each way. So if I'm working three hours at a time, at £5 an hour... then after transport costs I will have about £2.50 left to show for each day I knacker myself out. If I have to buy work clothes too - which I probably will - then we're looking at months of work before I so much as break even on this deal.
So really, I need some kind of scheme, some kind of assistance, to help me access work. Luckily, there is such a scheme, run by Jobcentre Plus, called Access to Work. How handy.
With this in mind, I traipsed into the local Jobcentre Plus, and after some considerable effort and negotiation (see last post) I was offered a seat and told that the Incapacity Benefit advisor, C, would be with me shortly...
As several readers know, my job used to be helping disabled people into work (although not for JC+), and I really wanted C to help me, so I figured I would try to come across as the sort of client that would have made me do the "getting this person a job will be a piece of cake" grin. As C walked into the waiting area I put my walking stick in my left hand, and when she called my name, I stood up, made eye contact, smiled, stepped towards her, confidently introduced myself as "hi, I'm Mary, you must be C, nice to meet you" and held out my right hand.
Oh dear. I've had better handshakes from half-used balls of yarn. I'd thrown her completely off balance with my impression of an incredibly confident and totally employable person and now she didn't know what to do. (A cruel person might suggest she didn't know what to do in the first place, but I am lovely and suggesting no such thing.)
Our encounter went from bad to worse when she asked what sort of work I used to do. I put it as gently and nicely as I could, cushioned with lots of "obviously I'm not up to date like you are with the current rules and legislation," and "I only know what was available two years ago in Lowestoft, I have no idea what's available locally here in 2007 except what I've gleaned off the web," but it didn't help. The terror shining in her eyes was somewhere between wondering if she was being tested, and wondering how she'd feel if it was her who had suddenly landed on the other side of the desk.
Anyway. The upshot is, she has referred me to the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA). I got the standard patronising letter from the DEA today. An appointment has been arranged for me at the end of the month.
"The main purpose will be to find out more about your current situation, your job goals and to see if I can give any additional advice that may help you to move into employment. Please bring with you a current CV or details of past employment..." I have done my best with my CV. Unfortunately it still effectively reads "I used to do what you're doing now," which will make it even more obvious that I am less interested in her advice and more interested in accessing the practical help that I know is available. I am hoping against hope that she will be able to deal with that.
My back-up plan, if the Jobcentre continue making me despair, is to get in touch with volunteer groups in the area. OK, so financial gain is nil, but expenses are generally paid, work hours are flexible, and I will get a reference and the gap on my CV covered over, so I can apply for jobs that pay *more* than minimum wage and thus the transport costs won't be such a scary percentage of my earnings.
The temptation to be "just" a housewife is quite strong at the moment, I'm not so scared of working but I really, really HATE dealing with the bloody Jobcentre.