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From The Socialist newspaper, 27 February 2013

A busy day in the life of a 'shirker'

Jennifer Birch

I've considered myself as many things; a loud-mouthed leftie who tries to treat all equally, who laughs too loudly and tweets nonsensical, insider jokes with my friends. One thing I never thought myself to be was a 'shirker' or 'skiver'.

I have had a lifetime of education (after being force-fed a diet of New Labour's 'you must go to university, lest you perish and starve' initiatives), GCSEs, A-levels, a 2:1 BA (Hons) degree in Politics and an MA in Conflict Studies.

I also worked alongside my studies - with jobs ranging from barmaid, Human Resources advisor, retail assistant and radio presenter.

I did everything in the right order, worked hard to get good grades while notching up some work experience in the process, and volunteering with a youth support charity in my spare time. Millions of students do this on a daily basis. It is nothing new.

For my efforts, I was rewarded with the princely sum of £56 a week state benefit. I do not get the full amount as I am under 25. I turn 25 in August when, incomprehensibly, I will automatically need more money to live. At present all I need, according to CamClegg, is little more than £50 a week.

What irks me is the Con-Dem coalition's wonderful dichotomy of 'Strivers versus Shirkers'. Why am I a shirker? I worked hard at university. I had a full-time, if temporary, role at a local company dealing in mobile phones for the US market. As my temporary contract ended, I found myself unemployed and overqualified.

I endlessly apply for jobs. I note these on a spreadsheet ready for my next Jobseeker's appointment with Tony, who seemed to take delight in telling me that he only had a 'handful of O-Levels and he is in full time work, while I have heaps of qualifications and am out of work'. Yes, how wonderfully ironic, sir.

I reformatted my CV twice, hoping this was the problem, perhaps it did not read well. I scoured CV websites, to ensure I was 'maximising my potential'. I am registered on three agencies' books, in different places in the Midlands.

I have signed up to job alert emails, I scour Monster, Reed and Total Jobs all day, every day, hoping that someone, somewhere will employ me. I recently went into Birmingham and Wolverhampton to hand out my CV around offices, pubs and shops.

But by the standards of Cameron and the Daily Mail, I am a shirker. I spend my dole on flat screen TVs, watch Jeremy Kyle, wear a tracksuit and terrorise old ladies in the street for sport. I am a generation that does not want to work. But this could not be further from the truth.

The economy is in trouble, the banks are out of control, there appears to be a fight for the scraps of work that are out there. But instead of addressing the problems, the Coalition demonises those who are out of work, making jobless people a scapegoat and masking the problems with vile stereotypes. Believe me, if I could afford a bike, I would get on it.

'Sick of your boss!' initiative

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In The Socialist 27 February 2013:

Socialist Party news and analysis

Austerity... Anger... Action!

Resist all attacks on trade union facility time

The Work Programme isn't working

Will the Tories play the benefits card?

Foodbank figures reveal reality of austerity

Them & Us

International socialist news and analysis

South Africa: Big response for Workers' and Socialist Party

Italian election - Results resolve nothing

Socialist Party workplace news

Oil tanker drivers show their industrial strength

Socialists strengthened on NUT executive

London workers lobby GLA about cuts and conditions

Housing support - workers and service users under attack

Workplace news in brief

Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Southampton: Councillors must fight attacks on council services

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition: building an anti-cuts electoral voice

Hull: build an unstoppable force

Campaigning against the cuts

East Midlands Ambulance Service

Marching against cuts in Coventry

Socialist Party 2013 congress

Socialist Party Scotland conference

Socialist history

45 years since the Ford Dagenham strike: women workers still fighting for decent pay

Readers' comments

Should socialists support GM foods?

A busy day in the life of a 'shirker'


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