A Little Armchair Government

A Little Armchair Government

Running the country is easy when you’re not the one doing it – it’s why so many politicians and political parties perform incredibly well in Opposition roles, but can’t seem to get a grip when they manage to get elected.

But, since that’s never stopped any politician – or mediocre businessman – to date, I may as well throw my t’uppence worth in.

The good thing about running a country, from my point of view, is that you always start with the negatives – something is wrong, and you have to fix it. (Even if it isn’t actually wrong, and doesn’t actually need fixing, you’re like a kid who just has to fiddle with things, so you tell everyone it’s broken, and you’re going to fix it, and you usually end up making it worse.

One of the things we’re consistently told is broken in the UK is out of work benefits – Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – the latter is paid to individuals who are disabled and/or living with long term health issues, the former is paid to people with no health related barriers to employment who are looking for work.

The UK government is endlessly wringing its hands over what to do with people who are “economically inactive” (they could start by being factually accurate in their descriptions, really – no one who is receiving welfare payments from the State is “economically inactive” – they can’t afford to be. Welfare recipients are not stashing money in off-shore accounts or tax-free ISAs: they’re spending it, on food, clothing, utility bills, public transport. The money they receive goes straight back into the economy, pretty much in its entirety. Welfare recipients are certainly not “economically inactive” – however much it might suit ministers and Jobcentre advisers to pretend otherwise.)

The UK government spent over £17million to develop its flagship “Universal Jobmatch” site, to soothe the chattering classes’ sneaking suspicion that those awful unemployed people weren’t doing anything in exchange for their benefits – they couldn’t be, because surely,  if they’d actually applied for a job, at all, they’d be working by now, rather than mooching off the poor, hard-pressed tax payer. The running costs for Universal Jobmatch are £6million per year. That means, in the first year of Universal Jobmatch, an extra £23million will have been added to the UK Jobseekers’ Allowance bill – and, since Universal Jobmatch has been beset by “teething problems” almost from its conception, that £23million is a redundant cost – it’s not enabling the unemployed to contribute more to the wider economy, since they won’t see a penny of it, and it’s almost certainly not helping them secure employment. It’s literally just another recruitment website in a sea of recruitment websites who are all advertising the same jobs, because the same recruitment agencies simply post all their vacancies to every major website – Universal Jobmatch is run by Monster (the recruitment website, not the energy drink), for pity’s sake!

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) like the idea of Universal Jobmatch, because it enables them to interfere – claimants are literally expected to hand over their log in details, so that advisers can “recommend” jobs – in many cases, people have felt pressured into taking jobs that weren’t suitable, because of childcare commitments, public transport logistics, or simply that the job was in a sector they had no relevant qualifications or experience for – none of which were options to elaborate on “why didn’t you apply for this job?” (And which really should be options, because it would help advisers identify potential barriers for their clients’ jobsearch, so they knew what they should be working on with each individual client.)

The thing is…the DWP have spent £17m + on a system that, err… is already available, and free to use.

Reed Recruitment already offer full, intuitive, role and location specific search capability. They already mark jobs that have been applied for as “APPLIED” -meaning an adviser, whilst not able to interfere directly in the process, would be able to see what jobs a claimant had applied for, and discuss reasons why other roles they felt were suitable had been passed over. Reed already offers suggestions of “recommended jobs.” Reed’s site allows the candidate’s CV and sample covering letter to be clearly visible. It allows candidates to upload a profile image.

The DWP didn’t need to spend £17million creating Universal Jobmatch. It doesn’t need to spend £6million a year maintaining it. IT ALREADY EXISTS – with someone else paying the maintenance costs. All the DWP had to do was require every JSA claimant to have an active account with Reed – which is a sensible measure anyway, as they’re a company with massive reach and reputation, running an accessible, easy to use site which produces highly relevant search returns, from almost every major recruitment agency. Advisers would be able to look at the layout of their clients’ CVs, the kind of things they were including in covering letters, and what they felt was an appropriate professional image, all on one site, in a single setting, and immediately give feedback on what was good and not so good about the profile. They would be able to see what jobs their client had applied for – at the start of each signing-on session, the claimant simply clicks through to their Reed profile – as the Jobcentre offices now have internet access as standard – and the adviser can see which jobs have been applied for at a glance. Once the client’s activity on Reed has been discussed, the adviser can move on to discussing other jobsearch activities – something which, from anecdotal evidence, doesn’t seem to happen so much, with advisers believing that all jobsearching activity should be going through Universal Jobmatch, and sanctioning people who applied for jobs advertised in the local paper, or who popped a CV in after seeing a poster in a shop window.

Advisers could watch clients perform a search on Reed, and suggest additional search terms, based on related sectors and job roles, and commutable locations that the claimant may not have been aware of. (For example, I live in Lowestoft, and it may not occur to me, if I were scrabbling by on £73 a week, that, for the right job at the right salary, taking into consideration rail fares, etc, I could get to Ipswich, Cambridge or Central London by train, as well as the more obvious bus route areas of Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Beccles, Gorleston and Southwold, and places such as Dereham, Swaffham, and King’s Lynn – further out, and requiring a change of bus in Norwich, but still just about feasible.) Likewise, I may not, faced with trying to keep everything ticking over on a limited amount of money, and ensuring I complied with every tiny whim and rule so I didn’t lose that limited amount of money, realise that, while my primary skills are written communication and administration, sectors such as marketing, PR, advertising, digital communications, B2B, events planning, etc, all used those skills – I may have just searched “Admin”, for example.

In many cases, the solution large companies, and governments, need, are already there – those companies and governments simply need to look for them.

Flowers From Burn Out

Apologies for the drought of posts recently – though I think the title of this post hints at the reason for that.

Living with a mental health condition is challenging. Sod that – it’s downright hard. Challenges are usually enjoyable, on some level, while you’re engaging with them, and provide you with the warm glow of achievement at the end.

Mental health issues in flare are hell while you’re going through them, and just leave you exhausted.

But burn out – whether thanks to pre-existing mental health issues or out of the blue – is kind of like a wildfire. It’s a shock when it happens, you worry about the damage it’s going to do…and then, when it’s over, and you’re looking at what’s left, you realise that, one day, there’s going to be new growth on that patch of land where, before, the old ground level growth was strangling everything. You see the layers of ash, and realise that the charcoal is going to provide valuable nutrients to the soil.

For me, the burn out came about as a combination of living with mental health issues, and thinking I had to be “normal” in every way – including putting my ambitions, self-employment wise, aside to get a full-time, “normal” job – any job, as long as it paid.

I couldn’t do that, it turned out. I can’t fake passion for something. I don’t really grasp social skills well enough to manage interviews. My self-esteem has been too brutalised for too long to be much good at selling Me,Inc. At the same time, I have no intention of “not doing anything” – I need activity, I need to feel that I’m being productive, I need a focus.

But my life, up to today, for the past few weeks, at the very least, has been nothing but dust and ashes.

Now, though, the green shoots are coming through – the green shoots of being awarded paid writing work, by people who don’t know me. The green shoots of having ideas for ways to expand Negative Is Also A Charge, and reach new, diverse audiences, who maybe wouldn’t respond to writing, and have no need for a public speaker.

I won’t “just forget about” traditional jobs – but I will focus on identifying and applying for those I’m actually interested in, that I could talk about with passion, and do with full commitment and attention, rather than with half a mind on when I could legitimately have my next cup of coffee.

And I also have a meeting scheduled on the 3rd September to discuss another, completely different, business concept, that I’ll need financing to bring to reality – a new vision for recruitment, where people, rather than positions, are what’s promoted, where the onus is on employers to make the effort and state their case, to prove their worth. Those looking to pursue self -employment will have access to mentors, retired professionals from a variety of sectors.

The UK welfare system for the unemployed and disabled needs to change, drastically – it needs to be understood that, rightly so, employers aren’t interested in someone who’s only applied for the job “because the Job Centre said I had to”. They want, and deserve, people who are genuinely passionate about what they do, whether that’s helping create a clean, welcoming environment, selling double glazing, serving fast food, or managing a FTSE 100 company. People looking for work need, and deserve, a job that utilises their existing skills, and helps them develop new ones – not one that has them doing “make work” eight hours a day, 5 days a week.

Our society deserves a workforce that is passionate, and engaged – thinking about how they can add value, not how they can slope off a few minutes early. All societies deserve this. When you have a passionate, engaged workforce, doing jobs that suit them, challenge them, and genuinely appreciate them, you have a stronger economy, because customers and clients have a better experience, and are therefore likely to spend more money.

I don’t just want to live in, and benefit from, such a society – I want to be part of building it.


Anger As Grounding

It genuinely is only when you allow yourself to be angry that you are able to be kind – when you deny anger, it builds and finds expression through a series of petty resentments, petty jealousies, petty ways you hurt relatively innocent people.

Be angry.

Be angry, so that you are able, when you need to, to stop being angry.

Great piece from Gnoostic:


Every right to be…. angry. sure. fine. screwed over. but what do I do instead? lay low and wait, ANGER(the great grounding mechanism) true what do you think buddha did in some of his alone time? what do you think Christ did in the desert? They got grounded(yes, sometimes(I would say often) they let anger […]

via ANGER: the great grounding force — Gnoostic

Failearn (Learning by Failing.)

Caroline Cotto, LinkedIn, “Failing Forward.”

You don’t fail because you are a failure; you fail, typically, because you’re either trying to succeed in the wrong arena (my 5’10”, built like a rugby forward self trying to succeed as a jockey or a ballerina, if you can imagine such a folly – it’s okay, I never actually TRIED to be either of those things, though I’m a moderately competent hacker of big, bad-tempered equines…), or you didn’t learn from your failures.

If you didn’t learn, it’s probably because you’re not negative enough – you’ve bought into the “just move past it, think positively!” hype, and so, rather than looking at your failures analytically, developing and testing hypotheses as to why they might have happened, you happy-happy-joy-joy’d your way through life, grinning inanely and singing “I’ll get there in the end.”

By far the most common reason for failure is that you’re trying to succeed in the wrong arena. Now, that sounds sage, and vaguely self-help guru-y, but is actually a pointless piece of information if you have to claim government welfare support while you’re looking for employment, because you don’t have savings, a supportive family, or a spouse who is earning. In the UK at least, the government don’t like the idea that the people who need welfare support should also have the same right to find a job that works for them, and that is a good fit – they don’t get that, if a job fits, and you fit the culture, you’ll probably stay there, rather than ending up being one of the “revolving door clients” that get moaned about.

So; how to be “positively negative” when faced with a bureaucracy that doesn’t allow for “finding your niche”, personal empowerment, or any of the things that career coaches and the happy-happy-joy-joy brigade will tell you you “should be” doing?

Start with the cliched-but-good “mind maps”: once you’ve identified roles, sectors, etc that would be a good fit for you, and cultures you would be a good fit for, think “outside the box” (see, negative types can use jargon for our purposes, too) – start with the things, companies, skills, roles you feel genuine passion for or about, and move on through stages of separation, until you get the “likely to appear in reasonable enough quantity and frequency to keep bureaucrats happy, but vaguely related to my passion.”  Keep this mind map to hand.  Apply for jobs – a mix of the “outer edge”, vaguely-related roles, those in the middle of the web of relationship, and your core passions.  Try and weight it a little more to the “common jobs, vaguely related” – this fools the bureaucrats into missing the fact that you’re also applying for jobs that, in their view, you’re “not qualified for.”

For example: Your core passion might be to be a writer and motivational speaker.  The “closely related, but not exactly it” jobs would be things like fundraising roles for third-sector organisations, which will include telling people about the organisation with the aim of motivating them to give money, and writing grant proposals.  The more distantly related jobs will be things like customer service – where your communication will, hopefully, motivate people to purchase the company’s products, and social media marketing, where, again, you have the motivational communication element, but in written form.  The “non-core-passion” jobs are stepping stone roles; aim to stay there between 12-24months (a couple of years – it goes quicker than you think) and engage with the job, and the team, while you’re there. Offer to run “side projects” on your own time, that are related to the core business; you can then put these on your CV, and talk about them at interviews for jobs that are closer to what you actually want.

Positivity would send you further down the same dead-end track you’re already on.

Positive negativity, on the other hand, will divert you onto the road that leads to your preferred destination. It might take longer than expected, you might encounter tailbacks and roadworks, you might need to take a couple of comfort breaks – but you’ll get there eventually. As the opera singer Beverly Sills observed, there is no shortcut to anywhere worth going.

Oh, and my song of the moment? MeatLoaf’s “Blind as a Bat”, because of the line “for reaching out to help me across the bridges that I burned”; it acknowledges that we screw up, often in quite spectacular fashion, but promises redemption, help, and support from others – if we take it when it’s offered. You have to grasp someone’s hand when they reach out for you, after all.