A New Chapter

For the past 18-months, I have been the full-time carer to my autistic son, David. I quit work to do the role, having combined it and work for many years. However, over those years, the toll was taken and had I continued to do both, I probably wouldn’t be here, roasting away.

Having left work, I’ve lived mostly off my savings but now, things are changing. David has started residential college. I am free to find work again. Easy? Not one bit. Everybody in the same boat, tells me that there are no jobs and soon, I could be as desperate as the famous character from the 1980s TV series – Boys from the Blackstuff.

I guess it’s depressing in the fact that in over thirty years, it appears nothing has changed since the time of Yosser Hughes. It’s been a long while since I was looking for work and I guess I’m a bit sore that the government are happy enough for me to give up my life to be a carer, then offer no help whatsoever when I need to return to work.

So what help is there?

I went to sign on the other day for the first time. God the Walsall Jobcentre is depressing.

Not the nicest of places, full of badly dressed folk of unkempt appearance. How on earth are customers supposed to have a positive outlook when you have Jobcentre staff like that? Still, at least my advisor was decent enough. I’d filled the forms online and received notification that I had an appointment so I strolled in with my CV as requested, expecting to be informed of options but all I got was a conveyor belt and the news it would be two weeks before I saw somebody to discuss work. To be fair, my advisor was very pleasant about it. He even laughed at the irony when I informed him the latest news stated only that only six people had found work in Walsall during August.

So there we have it. I will wait two weeks and see if anything has changed since 20 years ago – the last time I was out of work. Now there’s a story …

My time on the Back to Work programme.

Yes, I was out of work for about two years all that time ago. Back then, if you were unemployed for more than six months, you were put on schemes to help and mine was a Return to Work Course.

The course involved teaching you how to get up in the morning, look in the situations vacant pages of the local press, and then apply for jobs. Great. Now I knew what to do, because obviously I had been pissing about for the previous months.

There is a fantastic parody of this set-up in the show League of Gentlemen where the course leader, Pauline, plays tyrant over the unfortunate subjects in her care, calling them useless and a bunch of work-shy dole scum.

Now the person running my course wasn’t that obnoxious. No, we had a different approach from her. She was unbearably patronising.

Looking the spitting image of Oprah Winfrey, she floated into the room, writing her name on the white-board and proclaiming that we were to treat the experience as an adventure. She went on to say, ‘I know most of you don’t want to be here, but we must get you on the employment ladder. Now don’t be embarrassed, there is no shame in your situation and remember, we are all in the same boat together.’ Horror then dawned before she added, ‘Well, obviously that doesn’t include me, because I have a job and you haven’t.’

Incredible. And so the week went on for us poor unfortunate souls, having to learn the art of writing after a job. One incident involved me volunteering to select people for a mock interview. All of us, including Oprah, filled in the forms and stuck them in an envelope, addressed them and sent them all to a fictional employer – me. I specifically chose Oprah’s first and looking at the envelope, proceeded to throw it out of the window on the basis she hadn’t put (or drawn) a stamp and it wouldn’t get there without one. Her face was unforgettable.

She sought revenge and while completing one module, some of us were … lets say, a bit fractious. Others were completing tasks and five of us were just being plain silly, with Oprah as the target. To combat this, she removed us from the group, took us to another room and had us sitting in a straight line of desks in silence as she sat at the front of the row facing us. It was surreal. I was 29 at the time. I wasn’t going to be treated as if I were a school kid on detention was I? Therefore, I proceeded (and encouraged the others) to put fingers on lips. Oprah didn’t like this and threatened me with expulsion, to be kicked off the course with my benefit stopped.

‘But it’s Friday,’ I exclaimed. ‘The last day. We finish in an hour.’

‘Do you think I care,’ she cried. ‘I run this course, not you and what I say – goes.’

It’s sad to realise these cretins exist and are among us as we speak, wreaking havoc and misery on others. Hopefully, some will get their just rewards but many will simply go on to be Personnel Officers.

Schemes like that are now privatised and it’s criminal that companies like A4E are making millions from folk being unemployed. You go on these courses, get bullied and end up taking jobs on an unpaid, trial basis at crappy shops like Poundland. Now there’s an incentive to sort myself out, quick.

And here’s another job initiative from the past.

At the same time, we had a thing called Job-Club and it was there I was sent when Oprah kicked me off the course and I ended up meeting Mad Pete.

Job-Clubs were supposed to be organisations where people attended to seek help and guidance in getting back to work. They were kitted out with all the latest technology and tools needed to achieve this. Well, that was the theory. The reality was, you had a small room, pens, paper and a copy of the local Yellow Pages. Here you could flick through at your heart’s content and write to any company that took your fancy and politely ask them if they had any jobs going.

It was while I was there, I encountered Mad Pete. Pete was a sacked sales representative and the spitting image of Harry Enfield’s, Scouser character.

Pete was unemployable because of his hyper, over-the-top, aggressive approach, and the fact he frightened all his customers. He had been attending Job-Club for longer than any of the staff who worked there and turned up each day in his crumpled suit and tie from his former sales days.

Pete had no luck whatsoever in finding work for himself, but he was very good at helping other people do what he couldn’t. He would go from one attendee to the other, help, bully and browbeat them into doing what he thought was the right way of getting the correct result.

‘Yow dow effin’ dow it like that, yow tosser – yow dow it like this – and dow it ten times over. Yow dow wanna be here for a nuvver effin’ year, dow yow?’

All the folk attending and having this help thrust upon them had the added incentive to find work. Get a job quick or have the prospect of coming in next week and facing Mad Pete, again.

As I say, each day he wore his old sales suit. Well, apart from one Friday when he strangely arrived in full combat gear. A tad weird and a little bit frightening. He told me it was due to the fact he was in the Territorial Army and due to go on maneuvers that weekend. Now I was really scared. Not only was he to blame for forcing unemployed folk into highly unsuitable careers just to so they could be shot of him, he was also part responsible for our national security.

However, it was a case of good on him in the end. He spent so much time at Job-Club, the organiser gave him a job. Well, a somewhat pretend job but he did get £10 on top of his benefits for doing so. Even so, I still don’t think I’d like to meet him down a dark alley at night in the near future.

So, what next?

Heck, I wonder if Pete still works in my town? Best get my applications out or they’ll send me on a course. Worse still, I could end up working here ….