Monday, 23 November 2009

A HARD DAY'S "NEET"

It turns out I'm a "neet" (not in education, employment or training). Thankfully, my girlfriend is no longer in the same boat, since she's very luckily managed to bag herself a trainee job working in a care home. Trouble is, we have no real cause to crack open the bubbly just yet, since those bloody idiots at the Job Centre inadvertently seem to be trying to destroy our very financial stability like the bureaucratic buffoons they so clearly are.

You see, for the past 4 months, my girlfriend and I have been on benefits. It's not something we've been particularly proud of, but judging by all the statistics about poor job prospects for uni graduates and 1 million young people unemployed, it’s been largely unavoidable. Back in July, we made a joint claim for income-assessed Job Seekers Allowance, Council Tax and Housing Benefit. We got enough money from welfare so that we could sustain our flat (paying rent, bills, food, etc.), applied for as many jobs as we possibly could, and despite being pretty damn impoverished, we've managed.
However, now she's got a job, she's notified the Job Centre of her change in circumstances, and they're giving us nothing but jiff. Essentially, what's happened is that my girlfriend's recent employment has re-configured our joint claim to be a single claim for myself via a contribution-based Job Seekers Allowance. This means that as of now, while I’m still unemployed, my benefits are likely to be estimated by my partner’s income. Trouble is, her income isn't very high – about £10,300 annually – so with tax taken into account we ain't gonna have two pennies to rub together.
The other kick in the teeth is that regardless of her low income, since she'll be working more than 24 hours a week, they're automatically revoking my entitlement to Job Seekers Allowance, meaning that all I'll be entitled to is council tax and housing benefit. Of course, none of this would be so bad if my girlfriend could get working tax credits to top-up her low income so that we can be in a better position financially, but since she's under 25, she's ineligible for working tax credits too. Even a lady I spoke to on the Job Centre Plus phone service said that it's "disgusting" that my girlfriend's not entitled to working tax credits, and I couldn't agree more.
Now, I don't mean to run off on a tangent, and I know it's such a typically working class thing to moan about immigrants, especially after all this BNP nonsense we keep hearing on Question Time. But generally, I'm not a 'batten down the hatches’ sort of bloke with a closed door policy on immigration. In fact, I'm pretty sure for most immigrants in this country – particularly the Poles and the other East European workers who work for peanuts – it's nothing but sweat, blood and drudgery. Anyway, I perused through the direct.gov.uk website, and in the Money, Tax and Benefits section I discovered some information about immigrants. It turns out if you’ve come from another country to live and work in the UK, you may be able to get tax credits, pending a few ‘residency rules’. One of these rules mentions "being 16 or over."
Hold on a tick, does this imply that if you're a foreigner aged 16 or over, possess a work visa and have a legal entitlement to work in the UK, then you’d be entitled to working tax credits? Or is that only for foreigners who have children? If it's the former, what about UK citizens like my girlfriend, born and raised in this country, but disallowed working tax credits merely because she's under the age of 25? Am I right in assuming that foreigners on UK soil don't have to face such a ridiculous age restriction? If so, tell me, does that seem fair?
After all, not only is she not entitled to working tax credits, but since our joint claim for income-based JSA has now changed to a single claim for contribution-based JSA (for me), I therefore become somewhat dependent upon the fruits of her hard-earned labour. That, in itself, seems unfair to me. The fact that I myself am unemployed and seeking work appears to become irrelevant, since those drones at the Job Centre have said – as I mentioned earlier – that if my girlfriend is due to be working more than 24 hours a week (which she is) then I will not be entitled to JSA. So, despite my girlfriend working full-time hours, the fact that she'll be on a low income (£10,300 a year before tax) hasn't seemed to matter one jot.
Instead of that, the Job Centre seems more than happy to pull the rug out from under us. In fact, my girlfriend is due to be paid monthly, so when I asked about the possibility of financial help to pay the rent in that month – as is the custom (4 weeks extra housing benefit while you're waiting for your first paycheck) according to the Thanet District Council's website. This would've been ideal because the delay in her receiving wages is likely to make us fall behind in the rent. But oh no, apparently we're not entitled to that either, since neither of us have been unemployed for six months or more. To remedy that situation, they tried to recommend a crisis loan, but since between us my girlfriend and I are already in £43,000 of debt thanks to those pesky things called tuition fees and student loans, all it'll be doing is digging an even deeper financial hole for ourselves.
From what I’ve been told, working tax credits are supposed to be implemented to take the financial sting out of joint claimants if one of them comes off benefits and onto a low income. Therefore, it is slightly understandable that some entitlement to JSA may be lost in these cases, but surely JSA can only be repealed if my girlfriend’s receipt of working tax credits is assured? If she got working tax credits, then losing my JSA would perhaps be feasible, but since she can't (due to age restrictions), then surely we're entitled to something else in its place that would help us out monetarily? As it transpires, she's under the age of 25, can't claim working tax credits, and due to some petty contributions-based loophole, I can't claim JSA. How exactly is that supposed to put us in a financially stable position?
Clearly, it's not all doom and gloom – my entitlement to council tax and housing benefit will remain valid, so if that gets reassessed in accordance with my girlfriend's low income they may give us enough money (or perhaps recommend other entitlements) to accommodate for our ineligibilities so we can subsist. But my point is that none of this senseless rigmarole has made my girlfriend's path into employment any easier. All it does is make us worry whether we're going to fall into arrears.
After all, the biggest argument levied against the welfare system is that it doesn't give enough of an incentive to help people into work, hence the reason why some people wrongly feel it's better to sponge off. From experience, I'd say this incentive-to-work argument is partially true, since if you're under 25 and on benefits, all getting a job seems to do is make things a damn sight harder to guarantee financial stability – especially if some petty rule discounts my girlfriend from receiving working tax credits when some foreigner her age can potentially get one seemingly by snapping their fingers. Needless to say, this is stress that I could do without, but if I can find a job soon I'm hoping things will improve. Getting a job seems to be the only possible way that I can give the Job Centre the middle finger salute and bid farewell to their bureaucratic shenanigans, but considering my e-mail inbox is overflowing with rejections from the likes of Boots and WH Smiths, it seems like a pretty tall order.

4 comments:

  1. having been lucky enough to have been unemployed twice for no more than a few weeks on 20 years of a working life, I cannot relate to what must be a very frustrating time for you.

    something that I've stuck with which has served me well - its easier to find a job when you have one, regardless of what it is. employers like experience of any kind. there's relevance in every role to any role.

    write to your MP to and ask him to confirm the age/tax credit thing, and an explanation to go with it.

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  2. I sympathise with you. I've had periods of unemployment before and have quite often felt like a protagonist in a Kafka novel.

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  3. Luke, have you tried voluntary work? It's often an excellent foot in the door, & shows employers that you're willing (I got my current job via voluntary work!). There's plenty of charity shops that could use a day or two per week of your help, & you might even enjoy it.

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  4. Very informative luke I just started my own business and one of the difficulties I face is that I am employing my husband.

    This as you can imagine causes the system to go wild we have had to produce accounts twice to prove our position and have four young children that we can't allow the system to play with.

    The system stops people from thinking outside the box while it remains inflexible its customers are held rigid with fear of losing the little they are holding on too.

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