Today I ‘signed on’ as a unemployed person. This entitles me to a small Jobseekers allowance, because of my contributions paid as contributions from my wages over the last twenty odd years.

I feel a song coming on;

I grew up in a Britain in which employment was a huge blight on society. This song became a kind of anthem for a generation, speaking about how people become less important than statistical processes.

I was reminded of this as today I received three letters from the benefits agency. They make absolutely no sense at all. Seriously- I would defy anyone to understand what they are trying to tell me. I understand something of the system, after all it was my job to support others through the morass previously, but even I was rather flummoxed. See what you think;

I am pleased to tell you that we can pay you jobseekers allowance from the 29th of July 2012. (Good, although I already knew that.)

You are not getting any more job seekers allowance because your partner is working for 24 hours a week or more (she is not, and we have told them several times, and in several ways that she is not.) If your partner is working for 24 hours a week or more you are not entitled to jobseekers allowance based on how much the law says you need to live on. (Huh?)

We cannot pay you jobseekers allowance from 30th January 2013. 

I could go on, but I am sure you get the point.

Official speak, designed to give information in a way that is all about the information giver, not the information receiver. Information given to manage comeback.

Perhaps they can give me a job redesigning their letters?


After the frenetic activity of the last few weeks and months comes the inevitable energy dip. I am in my second day of unemployment, with a contradictory long list of things that need to be done (and which I am not doing.) Partly I suppose this is OK as I kind of need a rest, but equally I know myself well enough to be careful of such uncertainty- inactivity can become a trough which takes some climbing out of.

It all feels a bit surreal- as if I can’t decide whether nothing has changed, or that everything has changed when I was looking the other way. I say this as some kind of record of what happens when you decide to re invent yourself by jumping out of the rat race into the unknown.

The one thing that will bring you up sharp against the new reality is this word- money. Michaela and I sat wondering how best to husband our resources in this time of transition last night, and I felt the old childhood anxieties rise.

And today I went to the Job Centre to sign on as unemployed, and to claim my Jobseekers Allowance. Despite years of advising and supporting others who claimed benefit, I have never claimed as an adult. However, I am a child of a single mother surviving on state benefits so this forced an examination of role and status which was understandably challenging!

I was told that my first ‘signing on’ date (where I report to describe my activities in relation to seeking employment) is next Tuesday- when we are away on holiday for a week. Cue kerfuffel as a form was produced for me to describe how I was going to continue to seek work, and to be available for work on my holiday. Is that not an oxymoron?

The staff in the job centre, it has to be said, were polite and friendly- perhaps even a little intimidated by my qualifications and background. However, the atmosphere of the place, shiny and clean as it is, was quite energy sapping. I think it is the general feeling of state censure and disapproval. The security guard who greets you at the door, and the clear cross-desk dividing line of us/them.

It has been clear to me in the past from my previous working life that people are changed by encounter with this kind of bureaucracy. It is not just that they are beaten down by the sense of loss of role and identity- it is also something more subtle- we are in danger of losing our sense of freedom, choice and adventure.

This, my friends, we can not allow to happen…