Victoria B on 20 November 2020

The UC system is so unequal and unjust. I have had four emails this week telling me to check my UC account. Only to find group messages from the job coach (to everyone he's responsible for), sometimes with unique job and/or early applications opportunities, which is lovely for those who can apply. Sometimes with training opportunities. Four of the the five emails this week were about training opportunities, one for a cleaning job that required the ability to drive (why one would need to know how to drive to be a cleaner is beyond me). The training courses were those crappy 'employability' nonsense stuff that is shoved onto the unemployed to make us prove that we're earning our bread (more like bread crumbs) while all they actually do is allow job centres to write off their responsibilities as 'look we're trying to help them, not our fault they're still unemployed, must be theirs' (never mind lack of jobs, barriers to access, etc). Anyway, I digress. The first of these "training opportunities" was posted on Monday. It looked boring but offered a free laptop that could be kept upon completion of the programme. It was a five day "course" done online via zoom chats. Just needed to attended a one day induction and equipment collection day. I asked for more details (a free laptop isn't something to be scoffed at after all, looking for work would be much easier with a laptop after all). I asked if equipment could be posted, how the Zoom stuff works around children at home, can an exception be made to do the induction via Zoom instead of grading kids to the local (which was 3 buses away, 2hrs one way, with kids during a lock down, not ideal). Just as emails with my UC coach (I've learnt to email one question at a time with him, lots of to and froing, but if I send all my questions in one email I'm lucky if half get answered so ūü§∑ - no one seem to notice how much we (the benefit recipients) is limited by the skills and moods of our UC coach (I'm lucky, my coach is sympathetic and polite, careful to not offend or upset, but he's also pretty disconnected - I once was lamenting about how frustrating applications are when one has to give a CV then type out a cover letter then full in all the same information over two or sometime three more documents just for the sake of applying, knowing full well you'll not be entertained as you don't match their criteria but having to apply anyway, which I paused and apologised saying "sorry, I'm sure you hear this all the time. Heck, you've probably been though this yourself back in your pre-employment days" and he replied "not really, I've never struggled to find work. Only had to send my cv a few times before I got this job" I was shocked that someone who's meant to help the unemployed has no experience of being unemployed, his privilege is so stark compared to nearly everyone I know and he's seemingly unaware of it, I'm glad for him but a little envious also I'm not ashamed to admit. Sorry, I digress again. Anyway, so this training opportunity thingy was starting to look promising and I thought, sure the course will bore me to death as I've done it before but small price for laptop that'll help with securing jobs down the line, open up some of my options, etc. Then when I ask him to put me forward he returns "oh sorry, out of your catchment area, they can't accept your request to participate" (I was like 'why go through all this then, surely that's the first thing to cover, location), I politely replied 'okay, thanks anyway' and got on with my day. The next day I received a similar email, I first asked about location constraints and was told its outside my catchment area again. No big, I'm happy for those who can. Next day (the Wednesday) I had my fortnightly anxiety inducing phone call. I told my UC that my anxiety was high cos I'd heard from some ladies in a nearby town (neighbouring council) who'd had their details (kids names and email address) accidentally shared with over 100 people by their LA and these women I spoke to were like me, scared to be found by their ex and careful with details. It's horrifying how easily such details can get out and yet women like us get told we're paranoid and mentally ill when our fears are valid. One woman wasn't sure if she'd have to relocate again, unrooting her children, because one civil servant accidentally attached the wrong file to a group email. I told my UC coach this to show to him why I was so careful and scared about giving out my cv to strangers over the Internet. He "sympathised" but said "it's what you have to do" (literally, I have to risk my children's wellbeing, my very life if my ex finds us, cos the gov decided that once my youngest reach five I wasn't allowed to put my role as mother over that of taxpayer). Two hours later I got another email about a training opportunity, same as before but offering a tablet instead of laptop, not my catchment area again. The next day when I received an email from UC telling me to check my account cos I have a message from my coach I was so tempted to ignore it. I didn't want to read it. To have another email meant for someone else. But I know I'm not allowed to ignore these emails, I can ignore massages if they don't "relate to my circumstances" but if I get an emailing telling me to check my account, I HAVE to check my account. Literally. So I logged in again. Learning opportunity. In my catchment area. Free laptop. Yet for some reason, unlike the others that had been online five day ones, this was two four day weeks at a location, no online option. Starting next week. ūü§Ē So our local authority wants to gather people together during a lockdown (our local hospital has had to open its 7th covid ward last week, we're in a mildly-high covid area, not as high as some but high) twice as long as other groups in neighbouring areas. I ignored the message and took the rest of that day off job searching so I didn't end up screaming into a pillow. Spent time playing with my kids instead, we did some science experiments in the kitchen (chemistry - cornflour and water, cooking lol, bicarb and citric acid with vinegar, etc), a much better use of my time. Its disjointed. I agree all councils should be able to adapt to the needs of their constituents, but it doesn't translate to that. It translates to the council that have more funding and lower employment rates get more bonuses and benefits to support their unemployed. Where as poorer, high unemployment areas get less help and/or more punishment (I'd call expecting people in our town to put their health at risk for a two week course that can be done in one or two days - I know cos I used to create/teach these sodding courses - a social/cultural punishment). To quote my UC coach, when I said I was worried about having turned it down, he said "don't worry, during covid lockdown we can't legally force people to attend courses or even job interviews. When covid is gone it'll get back to normal." By normal he means, it'll get back to punishing the poor for being poor. Implying that if not for covid I, and others like me, would have been forced to do this course. Or face the dreaded sanctions. Seems pretty fucked up if you ask me. But what do I know, I'm just a lazy unemployed non taxpaying woman. What do I know of work, its not like I don't manage a household, education two children with additional needs, while dealing with my own healing/traumas while expected to look for work 25hrs a week.

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