Monday, 15 July 2013

Funemployment - Volunteering

Upon returning from my adventures in Russia (final post to follow shortly) I decided that I had had enough of sitting in my room applying for job after job and would use some of my time to do voluntary work.
It wasn't particularly hard to find people who were glad to have 'someone like me' helping out with them as, despite being rejected from over 100 jobs due to 'lack of experience', 'being overqualified' or 'not being quite right for the role', I still speak Russia, work well with people, have a Masters from UCL and have a wide variety of other useful skills.
Now, I consider myself to be an honest person and as such I dutifully informed the Job Centre of this fact. That and I have promised my boyfriend that I will not get arrested this year and that he will not have to come bail me out of jail for fraud or any other crime. This is where my latest spate of bemusement with the Job Centre and the whole JSA agreement began.
At my first appointment after returning from Russia I was asked, as always, if there was any change in my situation to which I replied 'yes, I am now doing some voluntary work' at which point the adviser's face literally fell and the reaction was akin to him just being told that I had committed the act of murder. When I asked why his reaction was such it was explained to me that while the Department of Work and Pensions (or Department of Worry and Pain as I have now dubbed it) do approve of me using my time to volunteer I can do no more than 15 hours a week or I will loose my benefit money.
My face now fell and it was my turn to react as if I had just been told that my adviser had committed the act of murder. I asked why it was that the DWP would have a problem with me putting my time to good use, gaining new skills and adding things to my CV rather than sitting at home eating MacDonald's, watching Jeremy Kyle and binge drinking. The explanation was simple; if you do more than 15 hours unpaid work the DWP will deem you to be in full time employment and will stop your benefit as it is not their job to fund your life while you help others.
While I can see that in some cases people could reject offers of employment in order to stay in their voluntary positions I was also confused, as isn't the Job Centre constantly trying to get me to attend workshops, or go and get more experience, or find unpaid positions that may lead to employment? How is it that when I then do these things of my own volition  I get told off by the DWP for doing so?
Since returning from Russia there have been two voluntary roles that I have undertaken. The first was at my Church's Arts Week where I offered my services to help raise money for a variety of charities. The second is at CCHQ. While I can see that if you are not predisposed towards the Conservative Party then you would probably be in favour of me loosing my benefit money as punishment for my Tory inclinations and right wing ways. 
However, through this voluntary placement I am learning new skills, meeting new people, being kept in the workplace mindset and environment, being given a focus, getting work experience and being praised for my contributions (something that counterbalances the constant rejection experienced while job hunting).
Given all of the benefits that come from volunteering somehow it seems strange to me that the Job Centre seem to have the stance that you can volunteer and try to better yourself, just not too much. It would be the same as them giving me a council flat but not providing me with glass for the windows or a front door, the attitude being one of 'we want to help you, just not too much.'
So for the time being I will be doing my 14.59 hours of voluntary work a week while job hunting, and if asked at an interview why I did not do more with my time to help others I shall simply reply 'Well, I wanted to use my time to better my situation and that of others but the Job Centre would only allow me 15 hours a week to do so and would prefer that I sit on benefits watching TV, drinking and eating junk food.'
The job hunt, and the disbelief, continues...