Every time I hear the phrase “a life on benefits”, it’s like a slap in the face to my brother, who lives in my spare room while looking for a job. He’s not lazy or a scrounger, he just can’t find a job. As Sarah Teather said two weeks ago
the term “scroungers” has become so pervasive in social consciousness that even those on benefits do not attempt to debunk the entire category, only to excuse themselves from the label.
I asked my brother if he was willing to share what his life on benefits was like:
I have been on benefits for over three years. I apply to two or three jobs each week, making a proper effort to sell myself as best as I can with each one. It’s a very discouraging task: every role is oversubscribed, and the rare times I get as far as interviews I am always beaten by someone with more recent experience. It’s hard to convince myself each application isn’t just a waste of time.
I have volunteered at a charity shop for over two years, and though this varied and challenging work experience has not led to employment, it is emotionally rewarding and one of the few reasons I have to get up each day.
For food, I buy the cheapest healthy food I can, only getting nicer food when it is sufficiently reduced. For entertainment, I have the computer I use for job applications and the broadband in my sister’s house. I only buy myself clothes from the cheapest shops. I try to save a little from each month, against unexpected expenses such as bike or computer repairs.
I’m always conscious of my restrictions:
Though I do manage a life on benefits, it’s not a good life and it’s not my choice to be unemployed.
I admire my brother’s care with money and his resilience under the constant grind of jobhunting. Even so, I worry for him now that the Benefits Uprating Bill has passed its third reading. A 1% rise in his JSA is not comparable to the 1% rise my salary will see this year, because my starting point is so much better. We’ll both have to absorb a real-terms cut in income, but what I will hardly notice, he will struggle with.
* Rachel Coleman Finch is a LibDem activist in Cambridge. Jonny Coleman is a LibDem supporter.
* Rachel Coleman Finch is a LibDem activist in Cambridge. She blogs here