Friday 23 April 2010

My Dummies Ride to Social Security

My own man alone
The independence of mind and means is a wonderful thing to have but this kind of single-mindedness comes with dangers and hazards that I have so well learnt.
I have been in employment since 1991 and the longest time I was out of work before now was for 5 months between December 1999 and April 2000.
In the UK, welfare and social security was never anything you felt encouraged to call on, no matter how dire your situation might be; after visiting those offices for 3 weeks in early 1991 I decided nothing will compel me to enter those crooked jobless statistics ever again.
Now, in the Netherlands, I never fully understood what my working status was, where I thought I was freelancing as an ICT Consultant, I was actually on an agency’s payroll but my employment was limited to the duration of the project I was in.
That confusion of project-based employment gave me the feeling I was not entitled to any social security funds, but apparently, I had been paying my dues all the while and indeed I was entitled to a lot more that I could have expected to receive.
The downward spiral
Having this independence and resilience was working its stubborn stoicism in me, as savings ran out, debts piled up and demands grew more aggressive, my health was failing too – in a desperate quest for funds I offered part of my real estate for sale at a bargain but the market had fallen out of favour and I was near destitute.
Here I was, a one time high-flying expatriate on the verge of entering the dreaded credit blacklist, losing my credit cards and unable to face the fact that no money would just appear, I needed to talk to people and many people at that.
My creditors from mortgage lender, through insurance, rates, utilities, credit cards and every leech that felt they had some hold on me put on the squeeze.
By the time I knew it, penalties were mounting to the point of doubling the debts, it is so amazing how businesses apparently make their profits out of misery – people like me are conveniently classed as delinquencies – we are treated as “can’t pay, won’t pay” people who need to be sent to some workhouse till we have bled the last drop.
Starting up from below
Surely, if I had the money, I would pay, but I had no income and I had to come through the realisation that I needed every ounce of positive energy I could muster to fight the cancer that was threatening my life – honestly, I had no time to think about my iris recognition travel pass, it was the last thing on my mind – subscriptions can wait.
I was eventually persuaded to register as unemployed in December but registered myself as seeking work, this was me believing I could work whilst I was still halfway through my course of chemotherapy sessions, the serious pain did not subside until the middle of January.
Eventually, I started speaking the truth about my situation to my creditors, some had already run out of patience and I really had no great stories to tell, I was completely dependent on the charity of friends and relations and just prayed that this great tribulation would soon pass.
Working to May day
The bank sent someone round to collect, there was nothing to collect but the story he heard was the opportunity for a period of grace until May, but just 3 days after that visit, the electricity company that had been making a mint out of me refunded the excess which basically put my account back in the black with nothing to spare.
The mortgage company called and I arranged to meet them in February, they also agreed that May should be the time for reckoning, it meant I needed to start making money by May.
In reality, it was a tall order when I now realise that the chemotherapy took a lot more out of me than I was ready to admit but what looked a long way away was fast approaching me like a rampaging stampede.
In fact the real application for unemployment support only got properly filed in at a meeting in February and it got stuck within the bureaucracies, it took the help of the social services of my hospital to unwind the process and gain some traction.
They will pay and did
The social services finally made a decision, the unemployment benefits would only go back 6 months from February which was August to the day I was admitted in hospital after which I would be entitled to sickness benefit until the day I returned to work.
Apart from my mortgage arrears and a few little issues, all other rates, debts, claims and demands have basically been paid off by what came through.
I find myself thinking, if only I was not so stubbornly independent and just walked into the social security office and told them I was out of work in May 2009, I would have saved myself a whole world of misery, the money would have covered the basics and the worry about the bigger bits would have been much less.
If only …

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