If there’s one group it’s easy to scapegoat, it’s the unemployed. You know the ones, littering every street corner with bottles of Boost and permeating the air with the slavering drawls of an army of attack dogs; the feckless, lazy scroungers who know every nook and cranny of ‘Halo 3’ yet adopt a look similar to a giraffe asked to hop-scotch when you mention the term ‘National Insurance’.
Satellite dishes hang from their roofs to beam trash TV direct to their living rooms, which are cluttered with empty vodka bottles, used needles and a thin layer of grime that covers everything, including the seventeen children being raised on Jobseeker’s Allowance who flit between school, jail and crime like a space hopper with ADHD. They are the losers, the undeserved, the morally vacant scrotums of a society they don’t deserve to play a part in. These people should be punished and ordinary working people should rise up and rebel against these scumbags, carrying them aloft to a burning pyre where they can die, agonisingly, in full public view.
This is the dire picture much of the media like to present. Barely a week passes by without some slum Mum plastered over the front page of The Sun, surrounded by destitute sprogs posing for the camera rather awkwardly. Two of the kids will be wearing NHS specs, while the teenage girl will invariably be massaging a baby bump. “Smile! You’re going to be national hate figures!”
I swear blind they recycle these families, especially as the quotes seem identical. The mother will usually bleat that having enough children to set up a primary school in her loft conversion is an inalienable “human right” while the father – often a cider lout wearing Lonsdale tracky bottoms – arrogantly declares he has no need to find a job as state benefits are generous enough to fund a cigarette habit, a few lock-ins down The Basketmaker’s Inn and the occasional night with a Lithuanian hooker.
All of this directly contradicts reality. Of course, saying that the tabloid press contradicts reality is not a huge revelation: forever it has been so. These are the same newspapers that put stunning topless women on page 3 for millions of readers to ogle, but Hayley, 22, from Morecambe, would never give me a private viewing in a million years without the aid of Rohypnol. These are the same organs that seem to care who Harry Styles (of One Direction fame; ask your twelve-year-old daughter) takes home after a night partying with assorted beauties and paparazzi, when in a straw poll conducted with myself, I would sooner fall asleep in an operating cement mixer than read extraneous details about who a millionaire teenage brat was poking. These are the same outlets that thought the best way to illustrate the tragic death of a young woman at the hands of her famous athlete husband, Oscar Pistorius, was by printing huge front-page pictures of the dead woman in a bikini, looking hot. Nothing says “I’m sorry for your loss” better than a wank-friendly lingerie snap.
The reality of unemployment, however, is far darker and murkier than any tabloid hack dares make it. It’s all very well printing so-called gossipy ‘stories’ about boyband heartthrobs which may promote nothing other than an amnesty for Superdry clothing, but the lies and propaganda served up to denigrate the unemployed affect people’s quality of life. And these people don’t have enough money to go on lavish holidays or hire a bodyguard, unlike the tweeny-boppers who infest showbiz columns in The Daily Mirror.
This is best demonstrated by the latest news from the good ship Costa Coffee – the tax-paying, decent employers as opposed to Starbucks, who just days after being hauled before Parliament for barely paying enough tax to subsidise three municipal water fountains, decided to slash employee benefits like holiday pay, winning the Chris Huhne Award For Rubbish PR – is that 1,701 people applied to work in one of their new chains. Just eight positions were available in the Nottingham branch and a Costa spokesperson said that applicants included recent graduates and former managers.
David Cameron and George Osborne love to paint the unemployed as a homogenous lump of needy blighters, sucking on hashish pipes and staring idly out of windows, but when appointment rates at a high street coffee shop are running at 200:1, that’s a much more pressing issue than the odd human gumball machine with zilch self-respect or self-reliance. Let’s not forget, this was for a job in which the most mentally demanding task would be to memorise the ingredients of a Caramel Frappuccino and understand those permanent marker hieroglyphics that barristers make on the outside of their cups. This wasn’t for General Secretary of the United Nations. It was to mop up the gooey brown spillages of clumsy patrons and 1,693 people will fail to even get that gig.
Presumably the bulk of those applications were made by people without a job, unless you’re in the unlucky position of seeing the £6.10 an hour wage as a promotion. Therefore, the broad brush painting of unemployed people as worthless scum is inaccurate and misleading. Application forms aren’t the easiest things to fill out, so it shows how desperate people are for paid employment that they trawl through acres of forms and answer eye-popping questions like “Is your gender the same as the one you were assigned at birth?” I’ve often thought that if you think you have a good chance of winning a role at an interview stage, it must be very tempting to tick lots of equal opportunities boxes because you will fulfil all sorts of quotas if you’re a half-Filipino, half-Bulgarian, post-operation transsexual with mobility issues.
Much is made of the ‘easy life’ the unemployed live but it’s rubbish. On occasion, my parents have been jobless so I have seen firsthand the demoralising effect of being without work. Waking up at silly o’clock and cow-towing to a belligerent boss and making small talk in lifts with Kevin from Accounts may not seem like paradise on earth. But it’s a whole lot more enjoyable than feeding your sensory system a junk diet of pound shop David Dickinsons, Sarah Beeny rip-offs and 25% extra free packets of custard creams. Even channel controllers are in on the hatchet job, making the least fortunate feel worthless. During the day – a peak time for curtain twitchers – terrestrial television broadcasts programmes where Jospeh and Hayley, a hip twentysomething couple from Islington, are looking to buy their first holiday home in Bratislava. Meanwhile the only people tuning in are sitting on a hire purchase couch and jotting down the phone number for Wonga.com during the ad breaks.
There are, without doubt, some people who abuse the system, wringing every penny they’re owed from a state which can at times be over-weaning. By focusing on the extremes of these abuses, harder and deeper benefits cuts are being targeted at the poorest. At one stage on the dole, my whole family were expected to live on £94 a week. Utilities, clothes, groceries, school uniforms. £94 a week. If you apply for a job at Costa Coffee, you’ll have a 1 in 200 chance of digging yourself out of that bloody great hole. Good luck.