Heart attack

My Heart Attack

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Job Centre Experiences

I have had several periods of unemployment. Who hasn't. Going to the Job Centre has to be somewhat daunting, to say the least. When I lived in Bedford the Job Centre had several locations. It used to be in the centre of the town, not far from the bus station in Allhallows. The unit in which it was situated is now a Nationwide Building Society branch. It was then moved to Zurich House, in Goldington Road, which is on what amounts to a large roundabout when the traffic system was introduced several years ago. Then it moved to Ashburnham Road, in a building hidden from the street by flats and approached through a rather forbidding entrance. Then, years later, the Government decided to merge the D.H.S. with the Department of Work and Pensions (which was a separate building in Bromham Road at another rather forbidding building called Wyvern House.) In the early days you would have to sign on at the Job Centre and then get an appointment at Wyvern House, and if you needed Housing Benefit you had to make another appointment at the Town Hall. All of these take time and effort on your behalf and it took a great deal of walking between each to get from one to the other. If you managed to get the initial form from the Job Centre and you then managed to wade through this, filling in each section and then returning it (having managed to make an appointment with the Job Centre) and going through your application with a member of their staff and then making a separate appointment at Wyvern House and THEN going to the Town Hall to do an application for Housing Benefit (meanwhile, gathering together the various documents such as bank statements, proof of employment etc etc, as well as your National Insurance number etc. As the Job Centre and D.H.S. were eventually merged under one roof this to-ing and fro-ing was cut to a minimum. In more recent times you had to ring a telephone number in order to get the initial application moving, and they rang you back and some of the application was done over the phone (this might sound an improvement but if you don't have a phone you are in a difficult situation. It is quite difficult to do this using a mobile phone, as I can attest.) At that time they set up an appointment at the Job Centre, which is usually around a week ahead. Not that easy if you have a hearing impairment or if the mobile connection gets cut off or it's just a poor connection. Why can't you just go in and collect a form from the Job Centre? It would have made life a good deal easier, although I suppose if it's done partially before you go for the Job Centre interview and application, it might be said to be a little easier.

Nowadays you are expected to be 'actively looking for employment' when you claim what is now called 'Jobseekers' Allowance' (formerly known as 'Unemployment Benefit.') You have to show that you are actively looking for work and have to take paperwork to prove you are looking for a job. This is all part of your application and you have to sign the documentation to this effect.

After several months you had to have what is called a 'Restart Interview.' I think it was to find out how you are doing as regarding finding work. A good idea in a way as it means that you can't expect to stay on 'Jobseekers' indefinitely. I got a letter to that effect and went along to the office in Ashburnham Road. I think, if memory serves, at about 12.45 on the particular day, but don't recall the date. The woman who was due to do the interview wasn't in the office so I had to wait. I had bought the relevant documents with me as required and more forms filled in. Then the interview started. I have to say this woman wasn't very good at her job, or so I thought. She never once gave me eye contact. It was as if I wasn't there and she wasn't very interested in me. It seemed as if I was merely another number, another person on her list of other interviewees for the day and she went through the motions of the interview as if she was just ticking off a list of objectives on a list she had in order to fulfill certain targets. I don't know, but as far as I was concerned it was rather a lack lustre job she did and after all the efforts I had made to be at this interview I wasn't very impressed. Maybe I was the last person on her list and she was desperate to get to her lunch break. To say I was annoyed would be untrue as I was, so, once I got home I wrote a letter of complaint to the manager of the Job Centre. I did receive a reply and as far as I know this woman was disciplined. I don't suppose you want to get letter of complaint from your customers, or clients as I expect you'd be called or perhaps 'end-user' which is a term I detest.

My flat was in a block of flats in Beauchamp Court, in Greyfriars, Bedford. I was owned and rented from Pilgrims Housing Association. When I eventually got to a position whereby I wanted to leave the house I was in which was in Rutland Road, Bedford (owned by Louis Fussell. See earlier post.) I was very surprised when, one day, I discovered that someone (no doubt from Pilgrims Housing Association) had left a key for me to the flat in Beauchamp Court, on the hall stand in Louis's front hall at 35 Rutland Road. Amazing, as it had the flat number and everything on a label. It could easily have been taken by anyone and it makes me wonder why they didn't give me the key personally to prevent it being taken by anyone but me. But no, it wasn't. I eventually moved in and was then told by Pilgrims that I could paint the flat any colour I wanted. They would provide me with an allowance of so much so that I could buy paint. I think I could have tokens to a certain value which I think could be exchanged in Wilkinson's store in Bedford High Street. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the point where I wanted to buy the paint I wanted they informed me that the allowance scheme had ended and if I wanted I could buy the paint myself. A bit mean of them I thought. I didn't actually paint the flat in the end, in all the four years I lived there.

Another incident comes to mind whilst living at this flat. One afternoon a couple of my friends came to visit. Part-way through the visit one of them went to use the toilet in the bathroom. There was suddenly a crash, and it turned out that, when he'd gone to flush the toilet (which was one of those old fashioned toilets with a cistern high up on the wall over the toilet bowl.) the chain had broken off and the plastic cistern had broken. Pilgrims had  a telephone number you had to ring in emergency, a helpline if you had a maintenance issue with your property, so I rang this number. It was called a 24-hour helpline, but when I rang there was no human to answer, just a recorded message saying 'please ring back during office hours, Monday to Friday.' So, why was it called a '24-hour helpline' and why even a 'helpline.'? I was then stuck with a toilet that wouldn't flush and I couldn't do anything to repair it until Monday morning after 9, when the Pilgrims office opened again. When I did eventually get through they told me to just flush the toilet with a bucket each time I used it.

That flat was really bad as regards damp. Some of the walls had terrible damp in them, in particular the bathroom. Pilgrims eventually dealt with it by installing an electric extractor fan, but instead of putting it in the bathroom so any steam and condensation would be taken out by the fan, for some unaccountable reason they put it in the kitchen, which didn't suffer with damp half as much as the bathroom. Then there was the issue of quite a lot of moisture running down the wall near the front door of the flat. It got so bad that the door itself began to bow out, to such an extent that the bottom rail of the door fell out and they had to come out and replace the door, but I they never actually dealt with the moisture running down the walls. There was a lot of black mould on the walls and I begin to wonder whether it wasn't that which lead to me having my heart attack. The flat was on the top floor of that block of flats and the damp must have been caused by the fact that it had a flat roof. Apparently each flat had a communal television arial, and at one point, when the roof had been refelted and the workmen had used hot tar as part of the refelting process, the cable for the television ariel had got burnt. I learnt this when someone had come to my flat to tell me that they were going to replace all the cable to each flat and it was then that I learnt that I could then get Freeview digital television in my flat and I eventually bought the required equipment to receive these digital channels at around the time the entire country was going over to digital television. Why I mention all this is that the damp in the flat may have been a direct cause of the refelting of the roof of the block of flats, but I'm not entirely sure about this.

After I had my heart attack in May 2006 I had to sign on for benefits. But, not being in a fit position to get myself out to the D.H.S. office in Bromham Road (about a 5-minute walk from my flat in Beauchamp Court, incidentally.) someone else had to get the relevant forms for me, a member of Rutland Road Church. If he hadn't helped me then I would have been without any income for the period I was ill. I think I was put on sick pay from the agency I worked for when the heart attack happened, which was for something like 27 weeks, although I don't know how they arrive at that period to receive sick pay. I don't think, looking back, I got any income support or anything. The joke of it was that I couldn't have free prescriptions for the medication I was on (around 6 items which worked out at around £30-£40 a month.) Doesn't make sense, as you get free prescriptions if you are on any sort of benefit, Job Seeker's Allowance, Income Support. Considering that I needed that medication to control my heart condition, to prevent another heart attack happening, this seems ridiculous. When I left hospital I was given all the medication I would need for around a month, but I had to go back to the hospital pharmacy as the hospital sent me an invoice for the prescription. I remember being in Milton Keynes Hospital a few years ago and when I left they gave me the medications and I was not expected to pay. Fortunately now, being over 60, I do not have to pay for my repeat prescription. At around £8.20 per item that would work out to around £50 a month!
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