Battle with the Bureaucrats

Two deck chairs by Richard Akerman - a nice cheerful scene

When unemployed means not doing a thing ! 

Our Small Business Advisor beamed optimism : “Of course we expect you all to be well established in your business ventures by the end of 12 months.”  Al of us : trout farmer, boat builder, potter, breeder of endangered cattle, antiques restorer, word processor instructor, granny minder, and me.   “But should your business fail, then naturally you can apply to go back on the Unemployment Register.” 

I’ve always written although without much success.  I’m quite pleased with what I have achieved during my EnterpriseYear ~ I’ve had more stuff published than ever before and earned real money (about £2,000) mainly from a syndicated astrology column.  But I’m certainly nowhere near earning a living out of it.  Not yet.

When my Enterprise Allowance expired, reluctantly I trailed along to sign on again for Unemployment Benefits, but they said I no longer qualified : “It’s Income Support you should be applying for.” 

A DSS Assessor came to see me.  “Are you actively looking for work ?”   Yes.  Yes I am.   “But you are still writing, aren’t you ?" he said looking round my busy study.   "Although your business failed, you are still writing.”

I didn’t fail, I told him, explaining about the new project I was working on.   I have not yet succeeded, that’s all.    “We cannot pay you to sit here at your computer,” he said.  “To qualify for benefit you must stop writing.”

 But I’m only doing it until somebody offers me a job.  Would you rather I sat staring at the telly all day ?    “Yes,” he said.  “You cannot honestly say you are available for work while you are tapping away at the keyboard here.”   Of course I’m available for work.   I told you, I’m only getting on with my novel until something turns up.   But he didn’t believe me. 

Look ~ I am putting in for jobs, I told him fishing out the evidence.  Although there’s not much hope of finding anything, not at my age.  (I’m 56)   He looked at his file, checking my qualifications and experience ~ museum and archive work, editing, research, cataloguing, indexing, and teaching.  “They are taking on elderly staff at the Co-op,” he said, “stocking the shelves, cleaning, canteen work.”

(With a lump of humiliation in my throat I remembered the hundred-odd applications I’d sent off ~ for secretarial and clerical jobs, receptionist at the Health Centre, telephone selling, early morning office cleaner, lollipop lady ~ no-one would even interview me.   I was apparently unemployable.)   Fine ~ I’ll apply to the Co-op. 

Nevertheless, we cannot award you benefits unless you agree to stop writing.”    I couldn’t believe my ears ~ if I stayed in bed all day and slumped in front of the telly all night they’d support me.  But if I persisted in putting my time to some use ~ never mind how unlikely it was that I’d actually earn anything from my efforts ~ I could starve to death. 

I can’t stop writing, I tried to explain.  If you are a writer, when you have a job, you write in your spare time : late at night, early in the morning, in the lunch hour.  When you are out of work you are at it morning, noon and night. 

“I can only award you benefit if you undertake to give up writing.   Completely.”

What if I confine my writing activity to the weekend ?   The rest of the time I’ll do as you say ~ stay in bed till lunchtime, watch Neighbours, bum about.

But it was no good ~ his mind was clearly made up ~ I could not be trusted to kick this habit. 

Without benefit I have no money at all, I said as he gathered up his papers.  Not a bean. 

“That’s not my concern ~ maybe there is someone you can borrow from.   I don’t make the rules, I’m simply administering them.”

Three days later I got it in writing : “You are not entitled to income support or any other benefit . . . because you are working for 24 hours a week.” 

What if I was filling my time knitting, doing crossword puzzles . . . ?   I have lodged an appeal against this decision, since then nothing has happened.  If you are on the Enterprise Allowance and the end is in sight,I'd strongly advise you to tell them what they want to hear.  Agree to all their demands.    Admit failure and defeat.  Tell them that you will never write another word, never throw another pot, never compose another symphone ~ that way  help might be forthcoming.

This apopeared in The Guardian on November 2nd 1990 with the following explanation : "The official interpretation of regulations governing Department of Social Security payments can be frustrating.  Joy Peach is one of the 530,000 to have participated in the 12 month Enterprise Allowance scheme since it started in 1983.  It pays £40 a week to people hoping to set up in business, but not all succeed.   At the end of her 12 months Mrs Peach, trying to make a living from writing, found herself compelled to re-apply for unemployment benefits, but was told she was ineligible for support unless she stopped writing altogether.   She is waiting for the DSS to hear her appeal, and meanwhile her "right to write" is supported by the Society of Authors, the Writers' Guild and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists."

After more than two years with no income whatsoever and a terrifying overdraft at the bank,at a tribunal in London  I did eventually win and was awarded back payments amounting to several thousand pounds.   Several national papers were following my case.   And it was declared red letter judgement which entitled artists, writers, musicians to continue with their creative endeavours even as they kept applying for work.   The DSS at first refused to accept the tribunal's judgement and were all for spinning it out with an appeal, but several papers the Guardian among them) and local radio and TV stations up here in Yorkshire put them to shame, and reluctantly the back log was paid in full.

I didn't mention this in print, but in fact this thoroughly nasty DSS official insisted I must get rid of all writing materials ~ my Amstrad, pens, pencils, note books ~ every damned thing.   In amazement I asked whether I could write to my Mother and how about a shopping list ?   "No writing of any kind !" he shouted, banging his fist on the table.    By then he was purple in the face and stormed out shouting, "And you've only yourself to blames !"

Afterwards, at the tribunal, it turned out that none of this was true ~ having obviously taken against me, he simply made all these stipulations up as he went along.  I had a strong suspicion that when he gor back to the office and reported his success in crossing another scrounger off the list, his manager would reward him with a bottle of good wine !


After this sorry tale, Let me see whether I can find a cheerful picture . . .



A jolly basket of fruit and flowers from Cartes d'Art, Paris

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Joy Peach | Reply 27.10.2017 11.43

Michael ~ happily ~ and good luck ~ I'd like to know the outcome ~ joy peach

Michael Nulty | Reply 26.10.2017 14.33

I am in the same position. Amazingly, your case R(IS)1/93 - CIS/270/1991 is being used against me. Clearly, it got more complicated. Can I quote your blog? Mike

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14.03 | 05:51

Hi Joy, came across your blog while researching the Sanders, thanks for the interesting read about them and your lovely house.

27.10 | 11:43

Michael ~ happily ~ and good luck ~ I'd like to know the outcome ~ joy peach

26.10 | 14:33

I am in the same position. Amazingly, your case R(IS)1/93 - CIS/270/1991 is being used against me. Clearly, it got more complicated. Can I quote your blog? Mike

28.05 | 15:41

Hello Joy. We have a new Merrywood Grammar group on Facebook if you would like to take a look -

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