Not the end of the dream
I have become a statistic.
More particularly, I am now officially one of the unemployed. I signed on at the beginning of this week – well, that’s not entirely true. I actually completed my first claim for Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA) on 4th January, but the DWP computer system promptly lost it. Fortunately, it did send me an automated receipt before consigning the claim to the outer darkness, so I can at least backdate my claim to then.
There is a school of thought that life as a benefit claimant is all ease, with no worries and a generous cushion of state funding to fall back on. Well, that’s never been true – after all, I used to administer the system back in the 1980s – and it’s not true now. I shall have to spend the next few days writing to people who I regularly pay money to so I can tell them why I can’t pay now. My only consolation is that I’m not the only person so suffering right now. I shall inevitably fall behind in my mortgage payments, as mortgage relief only kicks in after 14 weeks – another result of the popular belief that benefits are too generous and that life as an unemployed person is a bed of roses.
I also have to demonstrate that I’m actively seeking work – which means that work on The Lost Railway has to take back seat whilst I do job applications. At least with the benefit of the Internet, I can make multiple job applications quickly and easily. I suspect that I have applied for something like 70 jobs since the beginning of the year. Tellingly, I have not yet had a single invitation to interview, though I did hear today in respect of one application that my CV has made it through first sift and has been passed to the agency’s client, so I may hear something soon. I have to keep a record for the DWP so I can prove that I’ve been actively seeking work.
And I also have to be available for work – so my other activities have to take up no more than 16 hours per week, or I shall be deemed to be “not available for full-time employment” and my benefits would cease. Those 16 hours cover both paid and unpaid work; and if I do any paid work, I only get to keep £5 per week of what I earn. This “earnings disregard” has gone up a whole £1 since I worked in benefits in the 1980s! Even the DWP staff commented that it was hardly an incentive, though to be honest, I might be inclined to take up such work because then I really would be “just doing it for the exposure”! But in any case, the purpose of JSA is not to subsidise failing self-employment, so I have to scale back most of my ambitions on the freelance photography front. Not that that’s particularly difficult, given the lack of work generally.
I have allowed my paid advertising to lapse, and I’ve made an agreement with another local photographer that I shall pass her any enquiries I do get for weddings, bar mitzvahs and christenings. In any case, she seems far better at them than I am.
But as the title says, this isn’t the end of the dream. Rather, I can concentrate on the photography that I can do well and that I enjoy. If I have to take a menial job up again, then hopefully I shall still have time to follow photography in my spare hours, in between working on The Lost Railway. And after all, many pundits in the photography business say that if you have a niche, you should exploit it; so that’s what I’m doing.
And there is some good news on that front. My photobook, The Soul of the Machine, has been reviewed by the UK specialist model railway magazine Continental Modeller in its February issue (out tomorrow). The review was particularly complementary; it said “…the railway subjects are recorded not just with technical skill but also an original and artistic eye.”
I can’t argue with that! It’s comments like those that keep me optimistic about pressing on with my photography despite all the obstacles.