JobCentre drunks and losing your home: what life on Benefits Street is really like

13 Jan 2014 @ 12.14 pm
| Opinion
Fungi and his dog from the series Benefits Street. Photograph: Channel 4 / Richard Ansett
Fungi and his dog from the series Benefits Street. Photograph: Channel 4 / Richard Ansett

steve-shooter-bylineA Channel 4 documentary series claims to reveal the reality of life on benefits. Steve Shooter has a very different experience

With all the media coverage of the TV show Benefits Street, I thought it might be a good time to look at what life is actually like on benefits in York.

As you may know, I recently lost my job when my employers closed the shop I was managing without telling me, leaving me owed a lot of money, just before Christmas.

As a 34 year old, educated, experienced man I figured I would be able to find a new job relatively easily. I have always had a job, never needed to sign on.

My first experience of signing on was relatively positive, but the following couple of visits not so much. I want a job, I want to work, but the guy next to me at the Job Centre has arrived for a 10am meeting already drunk.

I’m glad my appointments have been in the morning, after being there in the afternoon I never want to go back to that!

Eight weeks later I am increasingly reliant on my £71 a week Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and am at a point where I might have to move out of my flat because I only qualify for £11 housing benefit.

My wife has a job, which is good, but she doesn’t earn much more than the minimum wage. Yet that is apparently enough to mean that I can’t get any help from this government.

According to the Benefits Agency a married couple needs £137 a week (after deductions) to live off, not including rent or council tax. Because my wife earns around this much, I am not entitled to anything more than my JSA.

Not entirely sure where I am supposed to find the £600 a month, which is roughly average for York, to pay the rent – or the £150 a month in council tax.

Where are the people of Benefits Street getting their funds? After spending 18 years paying tax and National Insurance, I can only get £11 to help pay my rent.

Thank whatever deity you believe in for the fact I have an amazing support network of wife, family and friends, without whom I would already be homeless!

Going to the Job Centre once a week is probably not going to help me get a job, but it helps me leave the house.

The reality of being “on the dole” is that I spend two or three hours every morning looking for jobs. I usually spend my afternoons being ignored by recruitment consultants who have never worked in the industries they are recruiting for and trying not to leave the house, because even spending the bus fare into town is more than I can really afford.

I have had some interviews, been rejected for many jobs without interviews and never heard back from at least 50 applications I have made. I have applied for an average of three jobs per day, most of them I am horribly overqualified for, but I need and want a job.

There are only so many afternoons you can spend watching TV. I’m finding myself less and less motivated to do anything other than look for jobs.

Long story short, if I could work out where to get some of this alleged benefit cash, I too would take it!