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.


Anonymous said...

Wow, good luck. I would be too daunted to even start looking in your position (by which I really don't mean to discourage you). I'd love to have some kind of useful suggestion, but I know nothing at all about getting work with a disability. So I'll just leave it at good luck, and I hope you find something that you enjoy and that's worth the effort of fighting the jobcentres.

Pandora Caitiff said...

Good luck with it all. Seems like a plan is coming together.

If it's any consolation, dealing with the JC+ from *within* the DWP is just as much of an uphill struggle as it is being a "customer".

The Goldfish said...

Good luck Mary; excellent news that you're doing so well.

One thing I would suggest is that, if you can afford it, I'd spend a month doing voluntary work in any case, just so you know exactly what you're up to doing. If you need to cut back, or indeed if you start doing 10 hours and think you've got energy to spare, then you can adjust it accordingly. This knowledge would be really useful when looking for paid work, whereas if you learn it literally on the job, it may be more awkward to shift things about.

Some towns have community bus thingimes especially for disabled and elderly people, where you book it up and it does the rounds pretty much door to door. Right now I can't think for the life of me what this arrangement might be called.

Mandy said...

Best of luck gal, I'm sure you will find something that is suitable for you. It does take time in a new area to find your way around.

Catch you next week.

Mary said...

Thanks all :)

Jo - now I'm worried that I've given a skewed picture of my 'position' on this blog. I'm not in bed 24/7 or anything. I do have days when being vertical simply isn't on the cards... but then, I usually know *why*, it's because I've done some dumbass thing like moving house or whatnot.

How to explain... well, when I first got sick, I felt like I'd fallen down from the top of the wonderful mountain of being 23 with the world spread out before me... and I was lying at the bottom of the valley groaning and wondering if I would ever get back up the mountain even as far as base camp. These days, I've turned away from the mountain - I still see it, but it's not the major feature any more - and taken on board that the scenery here is quite nice, I'm safe for the time being, and there are much deeper valleys I could have hit. With pointy rocks and all sorts.

Pandora - the trouble is that with such a large organisation, the dedicated staff member to f**kwit proportion goes all skewey. So if a transaction needs five people to push it through, at least one of them will be a f**kwit and mess it up.

Goldfish - as far as I know the community transport schemes vary from place to place. In London I would be laughing, in Lowestoft I would get by, here..? I don't know yet. I'm hoping there is some sort of dial-a-ride thing and that being in receipt of Incap will make me "disabled enough" to use it. It's on the list to mention to the nurse at the GPs surgery next week.

The 10 hours over 3 or 4 days is based on my current ability to Do Useful Things in my own home environment. But the way things are at the moment, I think I would rather try and fail at paid employment than do volunteering and have it derided as a "pretend job" or similar. The earning part is important, although not for the money *spills issues all over the place*

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I think perhaps I came across as more patronising than I meant to (in fact, reading my previous comment I know I did - sorry!) But when I was in my first year at uni, my parents decreed that I May Not Have A Job; after much nagging they relented to You May Not Work More Than Four Hours A Week. After the first couple of times of being more or less laughed at, I gave up looking for a job. Add in to that having no practical form of transport (yet - hopefully the Dial-A-Ride thing will work out), and, I think I'd just throw my hands up in the air.

That said, I do now have a 9-10 hour a week job (cashiering in a bookmakers). Unfortunately I work all my hours on one day, so I guess it wouldn't suit you, though you might be able to get six hour shifts.

Mary said...

Working in a bookies is out. Right out. That's what Sister Dearest does (again, after her short stint in retail that made her realise how good she had it at the bookies) and there is no power on this earth that would stop her making direct comparisons to put me down.

If it wasn't for that, it would be a pretty good option - sitting down, indoors, not overly mentally taxing but also not mind-numbingly repetitive, and if Sister Dearest's experiences are anything to go by, regular customers who offer to go get you a portion of chips at lunchtime, which always seemed like a helluva perk to me. :)

Anonymous said...

I'd say go for the bookies.

Different area, different job-market, and you *might* end up being better than her at it ;)

Plus it'll now be a no-smoking area, which should help no end...

Pandora Caitiff said...

You could always consider a bookies job and *lie* to sister dearest (or better, just not mention it).

Good luck with whatever you try your hand at

(and now for a little bit of politics - feel free to skip)

Sadly the fuckwit ratio will get worse in DWP. Management has realised it takes less time to teach 5 people to do different parts of a job, than 5 people to do the whole job. Of course, you only get one fifth of the output (or less when you factor in all the possible problems this causes) but its quicker *in the short term*. Its called de-skilling.