Sunday, November 11, 2007

One hassle after another

The world and his dog is conspiring against me and my hopes for a smooth transition from benefit sponge to Usefully Employed Member Of Society.

You've already heard about the woe of the Interview Trousers, and how by the time they are the right length for me, I will already have been working for two days.

Steve isn't feeling well, so I'm worrying about him on top of everything else.

I'm less than optimistic about my ability to do effective grocery shopping in my first week of work, and have similar reservations about my ability to cook. So, I wanted to get a decent amount of shopping dealt with and out of the way, including a load of easy meals in that if necessary Steve can cook (if it was up to Steve he would live off chilli, pot noodle and biscuits, which on the one hand he enjoys, but on the other hand is not a balanced diet or one that I want to live on). Couldn't go shopping on Friday because Steve wasn't feeling well. Which meant dealing with a Saturday Supermarket Shop.

It would not be outrageous of me to suggest that most people find supermarkets on a Saturday at least a little bit stressful. Imagine, then, that you walk into the supermarket clutching your trolley and realise that the shelves are looking a bit... sparse. In some cases, one might even go so far as to say, "empty".

It seems that the local Sainsburys depot has unexpectedly closed, and that therefore the usual stock replenishment has not been able to take place. So there was precious little food to be had, particularly the fresh stuff. What there was, was hovering on the sell-by date, and not even priced down because it was that or nothing.

It wasn't quite a case of fighting scrums of desperate shoppers for the last pack of bacon, but there was a definite air of frazzlement as people tried to re-plan their week's meals, hunted for alternatives, put the goods they had gathered back on the shelves so that they could go try tescos instead... I confess to feeling a little burst of joy as I picked up the last steak pie, in contrast with the realisation that ALL the pre-prepared potato products were gone and that I would have to do my potatoes the old-fashioned, time and energy-consuming way, starting with peeling the damn things.

Still, got a £5 voucher by way of "sorry we didn't have everything you wanted".

And finally... the Muppet Show that is Jobcentre Plus. Ever since I found out I have a job on Friday, I have been trying to sort things out with them.

First, I contacted the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) to tell her that I had a job. Her response was:
1) To give me the phone number for Access to Work - along with a warning that AtW's phone lines were down and that I would get a "this number doesn't exist" type message but that it definitely was the right number.
2) To give me an 0845 number for the Incapacity Benefit section so that I could call them and let them know about my job. When I told her that I only have a mobile phone and that as such, 0845 numbers are very expensive for me to call (they're only local rate from regular landlines), her response was "well, that's their number, you'll just have to phone them."
3) To make unsolicited excuses about Remploy and how busy they are and how that is why I got a job before they got back to me, then telling me that I should get in touch with them, and to give me their phone number as well. My experience in the field tells me that this is less for MY benefit and more for THEIR Key Performance Indicators. I suspect reporting a positive number of disabled people getting jobs is central to certain bits of funding for them.

By this point I was wondering if I'd called a DEA or if I'd got confused and dialled some sort of spontaneously number-spewing Directory Enquiries. I have no interest in spending my time and money on phone-chases in order to make other people who I've never met look good on their KPIs.

Which is probably why I came out with something along the lines of "I'm quite impressed that I managed to get myself a suitable job so quickly. It's reassuring to know that I've still got the skills to negotiate disability issues with an employer properly."

To which she responded with something along the lines of "You're nowhere near as disabled as my other clients. It was hardly difficult for you to get a job."

If it had been "you have a better set of skills and experience", or "you're a very motivated person" or even "you have a lot more confidence" I wouldn't have minded so much, but this woman knows absolute jack about 'how disabled' I may or may not be, apart from that I have a diagnosis of ME/CFS and an IB award until 2010 - which you don't exactly get for no reason. That's leaving aside the whole discussion about how disability isn't on a sliding scale anyway. Gaa.

The woman on the other end of the IB helpline told me that I would have to write a letter with the details of my job and send it to them. Well, eventually she said that. First, she said that my details were still being held by the Bury office and that she would have to pull them across to Cannock. I wouldn't mind if I hadn't already asked for that to happen no less than four times in the last two months and each time been told "yep, no problem".

Access to Work's phone lines are indeed down and were still down on Saturday. It's a good thing I told my new boss I needed Monday to deal with the benefits people. It's also a good thing that Steve isn't at work again yet and can give me lifts to and from work. Hopefully I will be able to get hold of them on Monday, and then make a doctor's appointment if necessary and prepare for whatever other hoops they tell me to jump through.

The actual job is rather secondary in all this faff and stress.


Mandy said...

Good luck, hope you manage to get to Tuesday night knitting once in a while. Might be best not to take your knitting in with you for the first week though... you might have to break them in gently..

Mary said...

My knitting is featured on my CV. It won't be a surprise to them. But I don't think I'll be whipping it out to do a few rows while I'm actually working.

I am hoping that since it's only down the road and I finish at 5.30, I might be able to turn up on Tuesday night, but I suspect I will be leaving before most people arrive.

Anonymous said... - a *very* useful website into which you can put stupidly expensive numbers (i.e. ones which start with 0870, 0845 etcetera) into a search and get a geographical number which you can then ring without spending a fortune (or less of a fortune anyway!)

varske said...

How about doing your shopping online? I prefer Tescos to Sainsbury's, although I prefer going to Sainsbury's. You can get all the heavy stuff delivered and just do the interesting bits yourself.

Mary said...

Jo - thanks, although they don't seem to have a number for Incapacity Benefit.

Helene - usually we do get the shopping online. The main reason for not doing it online this time was that we weren't sure of our schedule for the week, and therefore when we would be able to wait in. We had also nearly run out of food on Friday - pizza for dinner Friday night - so we would need several meals to eat before the next available delivery slots. Just one of those bursts of bad timing, I guess.

Although, on balance, I would rather be IN the half-empty store going "oh noes! I must re-think my plans!" than at home looking at a list of substitutions/out of stock items as long as my arm and thinking "oh noes! I must re-think my plans AND find another hour or so to go physically shopping!"