Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"Access" to work

I had my appointment with the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at the Jobcentre yesterday. We spent about an hour talking about what I would like to do, what my limitations are, what help I want, and the various rules about work and Incapacity Benefit. So that's pretty much the same conversation I had with the IB adviser last week, except the DEA seemed to know a bit more about the IB/work rules, or maybe she just felt more inclined to show off her knowledge.

The upshot is that I've been referred (surprise!) to Remploy, who hopefully will get in contact soon. I remain unsure about exactly who they will refer me to what they will do for me.

Remploy or otherwise, the DEA thinks I should be eligible for an Access to Work grant for my transport, assuming I can get my doctor to confirm, in writing, that I do need the exact physical help that I am requesting.

I have registered at the local surgery, and I've had a kind of introductory appointment with the nurse, so that if I turn up because I'm oozing disturbingly, the system won't just throw up a blank - they have my height, weight, blood pressure, brief family history, that sort of thing. But I can't have a routine appointment with a doctor until my notes arrive from Lowestoft. This could take some weeks. When they arrive, the surgery will contact me and then I can make a routine appointment to see my named GP.

Then I get a ten-minute appointment slot to try and persuade said GP - who may or may not pay attention to my previous GP's notes, and whose standpoint on the veracity of my symptoms may well be unsympathetic - to write a letter saying "Mary can't actually walk very far at all and is unfit to drive". I'm trying not to think about that bit. Let's assume I'm successful.

This letter combined with the geographical fact of the house being some distance from the nearest bus route, should persuade the AtW gatekeepers that I am eligible for their scheme. After that I'm on my own until I have obtained a secure job offer to show them, and then the DEA will do the paperwork to apply for the grant for...

*curls up and sobs* Can someone tell me again why it is that I am doing this instead of simply being Steve's housewife?

Anyway. Once I have a GP's letter, I will finally be able to apply for jobs while feeling about 80% certain that when I begin a job I will be able to get to and from the workplace while remaining in profit.

Here's the rules:

1. If I do voluntary work for less than 16 hours a week, I must tell the Jobcentre, but it doesn't affect anything much - mostly it just covers my back if someone tries to report me for fraud saying "she works at [charity]!" I can get my expenses reimbursed by the voluntary-employer, but must not be paid for my work.

2. If I do paid work earning up to £20 a week, I must tell the Jobcentre, but I can keep the money and keep my benefit.

3. If I do paid work for less than 16 hours a week, earning up to about £80 a week, I must tell the Jobcentre, but I can keep the money and my benefit, for either 6 months or 12 months** depending on what my support status is deemed to be. After that time I must choose to (a) give up my benefit or (b) give up the job and not work again for a year.*

4. If I do paid work for more than 16 hours a week... well, that's all irrelevant really, there is not a snowball's chance in hell of me being able to do that any time in the forseeable future.

5. If I earn more than the aforementioned £80 a week... this is probably irrelevant too although I suppose it could happen. If it does, I'm simply telling the Jobcentre to stick it where the sun doesn't shine, as I wouldn't have a problem with taxi fares.

*Incapacity Benefit is about £80 a week. Wages for ten hours work at £5 an hour is £50 a week. So basically, I would have to decide whether to work my backside off for £50 a week plus my personal pride, or sacrifice my pride and sit on aforementioned backside for £80 a week**. What would you do?

**The idea of the time limit is that it forces encourages claimants to increase their hours to more than they can handle, sending them crashing back onto full-time benefit again more than 16 hours per week, and claim Working Tax Credits instead. Believe me when I say that the Tax Credits system is even more of a nightmare than the Jobcentre system, and that I would sooner work in the sex industry and live on the streets, than attempt to deal with Tax Credits again.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Seeking gainful employment

The time has come to search for a job. I am settled in one place, with a partner who earns, so I don't have to deal with the &%#£ing Tax Credits level of Dante's Inferno department to make sure I can still afford to pay my bills. And, the new living conditions mean that I am no longer using most of my precious "up-time" just on essential things like keeping my housework done and my fridge stocked.

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.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Yet more moving faff

...but first, a knitting update. I have embarked on my first adult-sized jumper. The yarn (Colinette "Cadenza" 100% merino wool in "slate") is gorgeous, the colours are beautiful. It's mostly blue tones, but with patches of rainbows. Meanwhile, Left Mitt v1.0 has been tried on, the only adjustment needed is for the fingers-bit to be a little longer. So I've done that, and have nearly completed the matching Right Mitt too. After that, will be another identical pair for when this pair are in the wash (or lost), and a similar but smaller pair for my mum. Basically I'm reckoning that at any given time for the rest of the year I will have one project on regular needles (the jumper) and one on DPNs (the mitts).

Now. Today being the first working day after my Official Move Date, a certain number of things had to be done. I had to go to my bank and my building society to update my details (understandably enough, these institutions won't let you do that over the phone), and I wanted to go to the Jobcentre in order to check that everything was as it should be with my benefit (I still get the same amount of Incapacity Benefit but it has to come from a different regional pot) and find out about help available for disabled jobseekers in the area.

The mission started off quite well, really. Steve drove us into town, and then, fortified with tea/coffee and scones, we went to my Building Society, which I would be naming here to praise their good customer service to all and sundry, except I'm not sure how sensible it would be to put any of my financial details on the internet, so let's just call them my Building Society and I promise to email them direct.

Stepped up to the reception desk, queued for about a minute while the person ahead of us was dealt with, then was greeted by a friendly, smiling member of staff, the conversation went thus:

HER: Can I help you?
ME: Yes, I've just moved house and I'd like to update my address details for my account.
HER: (fishing sheet of paper on a clipboard out of a drawer) No problem, have you filled in one of these change of address forms yet?
ME: Um, no.
HER: Is the account a joint one, or just yours?
ME: Just me.
HER: Then you only need this one form. Would you like to fill it in now, or take it away and come back another time?
ME: (taking form and noting it is a single side of A4) Um, now is fine, we're not in a rush.
HER: Okay, here's a pen, there's seats round here, oh, or there's a desk over there if you'd like to use it, just bring me the form once you're done, and I'll be here if you need anything.
ME: Marvellous, thank you.

Sat at the desk, filled out the not-too-complicated form, queued again for a minute or so, gave form and pen back to smiling lady who thanked me, assured me it would get sorted out today, and we left.

At that point I felt wonderfully positive. So I kissed Steve and sent him off to the local park to take photos of ducks while I attended to my Bank and dropped in at the Jobcentre.


At my Bank, I was waiting for what seemed like ages (by the clock, probably not much over five minutes, but when standing is agony, your sense of time gets skewed) while a woman about my age grumpily dealt with the two or three customers ahead of me in the queue for reception, including going and having a rather unprofessional argument with one of the tellers behind the cashier windows. Eventually it was my turn, and she glanced up at me and opened proceedings with an abrupt "Yes?"

ME: Um, hi, yes, I've just moved house and I need to update my address details.
HER: Have you got ID?
ME: Yes, (opens foolscap folder) I wasn't sure what you'd need so I've brought all the ID I've got.
HER: Driver's licence or passport.
ME: I don't have either of those. (leafing through folder) I've got a full birth certificate, and my marriage and divorce certificates, several recent utility bills in my name, a bank statement, National Insurance card, P60...
HER: We only take driver's licence or passport.
ME: I can't drive and I haven't travelled abroad in years. To the best of my knowledge, neither of these things preclude me from having a bank account, or an address.

At this point she made a noise I'm more accustomed to hearing from Sister Dearest when she's in a moodypants. However, she finally deigned to poke my assorted paperwork and put my details into her computer.

Don't get me wrong, I'm hardly sweetness and light 24/7, but then, I don't work in customer service.

Onwards to the Jobcentre, where no less than three advisors were standing about by reception - fair enough as there was no queue. I started with "I've just moved to the area and I want to double-check my incapacity benefit has moved with me," but before I'd finished, one of the advisors had moved to a phone kiosk on the wall, picked up the phone, and was impatiently holding it out to me. Confused, I took it. It was the all too familiar sound of the standard Jobcentre helpline, inviting me to press 1 for income support, or 2 for Jobseekers Allowance... I pressed 3 for Incapacity Benefit and a couple of minutes later, a friendly voice at the end of the phone was making sure that the "push", as they term it, was happening. I checked and re-checked that this meant there is nothing else I need to do and the friendly voice confirmed that yes, everything is fine, there is nothing else I need to do. Grand. I thanked her and hung up.

Back to the Three Stooges Advisors, interrupting their chat to ask about local provision for helping disabled people to access work, training, services, etc. The person who wordlessly shoved the phone at me before, stomped to the wall of leaflets and wordlessly shoved the generic national leaflet for Access To Work at me. By now I was quite cheesed off, so I flipped open the leaflet and said "you see here where it suggests that I contact my nearest Jobcentre? That is what I am doing. I have come here, to my nearest Jobcentre, to ask about what specific help there is available in this specific town, yes? I've already read this leaflet, it's in every other Jobcentre in the country and online too."

I immediately felt bad about being so snappy, but Wordless Guy didn't seem to give a monkeys and one of his colleagues had decided to join us. As Wordless Guy wandered off, Colleague asked if I'd like to speak to the Incapacity Benefit advisor, C, who might know more about the sort of services I was after. He ushered me to a seat and said he'd find out if C was available now or if I needed an appointment. A moment later he was back to tell me that C would be with me shortly, but that's another blogpost.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


This is a long post. Waffle about home, waffle about nice people, and a waffle about knitting. Feel free to skip to whatever bit you want.


I'm definitely much more settled in now than I was last time I posted. Steve and a friend went to Lowestoft to pile the rest of my stuff into a van, so now it's all here. Mum and Sister Dearest have done the finishing up at the flat - disposing of the last bits of rubbish, giving the empty flat a final once-over with the vacuum cleaner, that sort of thing - so now all that remains to be done, is for Mum to call the leccy people with the final meter reading, and then hand the keys back to the landlord's agents.

A three-bedroom house containing my boyfriend is obviously going to be a very different home to a small one-bedroom flat that was just mine. Nevertheless, a home it is. It's amazing how much difference small things can make. For instance, the bedroom here, now contains the small bin and a few framed photographs that were in my bedroom back there. My poor abused houseplant is in the lounge. My trusty kettle is in the kitchen. And because of this, it doesn't seem to matter so much that 90% of my books are still inaccessible due to being boxed up, because there's a significant amount of familiar things that are definitely mine, but have their place here. It's very reassuring. Yes, I realise this makes me horribly materialistic. I don't care.

Nice People

More proof has been asserted for my "People Are Basically Nice" theory. This time, it was in the form of our next-door neighbours and an end to the Saga Of The Sink which I think several real-life people have heard about but I don't seem to have blogged.

Precis: There was a drip under Steve's kitchen sink (it started several months ago before I lived here, so definitely HIS sink). While it was creating half a small bucketful of water every fortnight or so, it was a bit of a non-issue. When I moved in here and discovered that it had deteriorated to a point where the brimful bucket needed emptying three times a day, I started being a pain in the arse at him to either fix it or call a plumber to fix it. I also dug out a Bigger Bucket. On Saturday morning, we found that the Bigger Bucket had filled to the top during the few hours while we slept, and Steve said I could call a plumber if I wanted.

Finding a plumber in Lowestoft would have been easy. Verily we could sayeth unto Pip, or other person involved in the building trade, "what plumbers do you know who could come and fix this for me?" and yea, he declareth "Bob's a decent plumber and a nice bloke, good mate, he won't overcharge you" and lo, for Bob the Plumber doth cease the flow of water and only charge for parts, and all is good with the world.

Here, however, I have yet to develop a personal and prioritised hotline to the world of tradesmen. Nor do I have the other common plan of having used a particular firm's services once, and on the basis that they didn't steal or break anything, hanging onto the number to call them next time there's an issue. So, I decided the sensible thing to do would be to pop next door to have a word with the lovely couple who have lived there many many years, and see if they had either of these resources.

All I asked for was a phone number of a plumber they could recommend. Of course, they asked what the matter was. In an effort to reassure them that they wouldn't be affected, I told them. "But why do you need a plumber for that?" they asked. "Because we don't know how to fix it ourselves," I answered. Next thing I knew, our friendly neighbour was coming round to have a look at it. He told Steve where to find the thingy to turn the water off, and undid the bit that was broken, and sent Steve off in the car to get a new one. Steve returned with the new bit, our friendly neighbour fitted it, and ever since, no drip.

I have no idea how we can thank the man. All I'm sure of is that giving him money would mortally offend him.

(At this point I also need to say that, on his plumbing expedition, Steve got new taps, the lever type ones, which are SO much easier for me (well, for anyone really) to use. Well done Steve.)


I finished the jumper for Littlun, just on time for Steve to take it with him to Lowestoft when he went to pick up my stuff. I finished it perfectly, but then, I panicked. I had somehow convinced myself that there was no way the bound-off edge of the collar would be big enough to go over Littlun's head. Steve tried to persuade me it would be fine, but he didn't want to be too insistent because he was more concerned about making me calm down.

So rather than taking photos of the perfect finished item, I frantically unpicked the collar seam and knitted up a triangle shape to shove in, effectively increasing the neck by one inch. It didn't exactly look right but, he's three, he's not going to be wearing it perfectly straight at the best of times, and no other knitters are likely to inspect it. I didn't have time to re-do the bodge, but at least now I knew he would be able to at least put the jumper ON.

Steve took lots of pictures for me, but here is just one of the Littlun in his new jumper.

Since then, I have been working on my adapted version of these mitts for my stepdad. Today I finished Left Mitt v1.0 which I am sending to my parents for approval. If they tell me it fits, I can get on with knitting an identical Right Mitt. If it doesn't fit, I shall make a start on v2.0, with whatever adjustments they tell me are required.

Of course the big problem with this is the postal system or more to the point, the postal strikes. If I post v1.0 tomorrow (Monday), it may well not reach them until the following week or longer. I would also guess there's a higher chance than usual of it going missing altogether.

This means I have no current projects on the needles. Which feels weird. And I don't want to start the right mitt with the v1.0 pattern only to find it won't fit. And I don't have a clue what to knit next. Ideas?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Settling In

So, I've been here at Steve's house for about a week now. Technically it is also my home too now, but I'm still having trouble getting my head around that. My clothes are all hung and folded in my designated wardrobe, my makeup and toiletries are on the dressing table, a couple of my family photos are stuck to the fridge, my shoes are lined up by the door, I've even had one or two bits of post arrive addressed to me here. But it still feels very much like Steve's House. If all of my stuff was removed from it, the difference would not be noticeable.

Next week, Steve and his friend should be going in a van to get the rest of my stuff from the flat, like my bed, my sofa, my boxes of books and so on. I'm hoping that having my things here might make Steve's House feel more like My Home too, but at the moment there's nowhere to put any of it. Hopefully by next week we'll have cleared enough space at one end of the lounge so that we can stack up my stuff indoors where at least it won't get rained on... but to me there doesn't seem much difference between having my bits and pieces packed up in a load of boxes at one end of one room in the same house I sleep in, and having my bits and pieces packed up in a load of boxes a couple of hundred miles away. I want books on shelves and ornaments on windowsills, you know?

Sorry this post sounds so negative. I am happy, I am glad I've moved, and I am sure everything will get sorted out. I'm just also intensely tired and sore, which in turn is making me irritable. I'm at that point that most readers will probably identify with from their own long or short-term spells of illness: the bit where there's SO much that needs to be done, but you have to push and push and push yourself just to cover the minimum activities, and pushing yourself becomes an exhausting activity in itself. But there's so much that's important so you keep pushing just as long as you can stand on two legs and when you fall, you rest on the floor, as you are, trying to figure out what things you can usefully do while crawling... On top of which, the "minimum" here and now is very different to the minimum, say, a month ago at the flat. There are a number of things that have to be sorted out ASAP, some mountainous things which need to be chipped away at steadily if any sort of dent is to be made, and other things which aren't that urgent or daunting but are accumulating at an alarming rate.

Happily, one of the things which I have classified as "important" is an attempt at a social life. I went to see my friend Carie on Sunday, and I went to the knitting group at Web of Wool on Tuesday. I had a great time on both these occasions. I have finally finished giving myself blue fingers with Littlun's Jumper (just waiting for that to dry so that I can finish sewing it together) and I've made a start on my next project, which is this lovely pair of mitts, slightly modified for my stepdad. Everyone was very helpful as usual - especially Carie, for suggesting and discussing how to modify the particular pattern, and the ever-patient Anna (who owns Web of Wool) who rescued me when I had a brain-blank and gazed at my cast-on stitches for the mitt for several minutes before saying in a small voice "I've forgotten how to knit in the round." Not a laugh, not a snigger, just a gentle reminder and then my brain clicked in again and everything was fine.

Okay. Not a dazzling social calendar there. But it's still Getting Out and Seeing People and Doing Things, and in my own right rather than as Steve's hanger-on.

Also on the plus side, I am enjoying Cuddles On Tap, as well as copious provision of tea and chocolate. It's also really nice having all of my clothes in one place, rather than opening the wardrobe and realising that the top I want to wear is in a different county.

I'm sure things will get a lot more normal soon enough.