from Bristol

Dear Department for Work and Pensions


I’m trying to work a few things out and I was wondering if you might be able to help me. Because I’m confused. And I’m poor. And I’m trying really hard.

A bit of background: I’m 23 years old, single, female, self-employed, an artist and on jobseekers allowance. I have a first class degree in theatre from a respected art school and although I don’t wish to gloat, I’m doing all right. 

My first show was commissioned by a theatre in Brighton and presented at the Brighton Festival. It received Arts Council funding and, for a period, we were able to pay ourselves for the work that we were doing. We’ve just started booking a tour (we’ve got a show in Hampshire and another in France so far) and we’ll be putting in another Arts Council application to help with that, so hopefully we’ll be able to pay ourselves properly again soon. I don’t know if you know much about this industry, but within a year of graduating, that really is doing quite well.

For now I’m dipping in and out of other bits of work – theatre production, web design, helping friends with their projects, and sometimes there is enough money but often there isn’t. Sometimes there is none. That’s just how it goes. 

I’m also looking for a job. Because even though I’ve already got a few of them, the only way I’m currently surviving is by claiming £56.25 from the Jobcentre every week.

Unlike friends of mine who are just a few years older, I am not eligible for Working Tax Credits. Despite the fact that we might be doing the same job, earning the same money, at the same stage in our career. It’s not a lot, but it helps them keep going, and it means they don’t need to lie to the Jobcentre. 

The truth is, I’m working more than sixteen hours a week. Sorry.

I told the Jobcentre this by mistake once and then had to wildly backpedal because I can’t claim any money if it’s too many hours. And of course I wonder if the information in this letter will get back to them and they’ll cut my benefits? You see, despite having a degree in theatre, I’m not a natural born liar. 

I work really hard. And perhaps I am misguided, believing that if I really want something, and that if I’m willing to put in the work, I can do it. I’ve always been an idealist.

(It’s likely something to do with the fact that I started high school in 2002. My generation has probably heard the words ‘entrepreneurism’ and, ‘enterprise’ more times than most entrepreneurs have. And whilst I appreciate that I am referring to a pre-recession economy, I doubt that even you would dispute the benefits of bright young people starting their own businesses, pursuing the career that they have trained for, being motivated, caring. People who give a fuck.) 

I know you’re trying, a bit, and I think it’s great that you’ve employed someone from Dragon’s Den to run a start-up loan scheme, honestly I do. But for individuals, freelancers, artists like myself, taking out a huge loan is an unrealistic and compromising situation to be in. We’ve already got enough student debt, overdraft payments, money owed to parents.

And in much the same way that food costs the same for jobseekers under 25 (who receive £56.25 a week) as those over 25 (who receive £71.00), under 25’s who are working towards running a successful business deserve the same support as their older counterparts. 

It would be unrealistic for me to expect you to create a new system for artists. I am under no illusions about the privileges I already have, the channels of support and funding that are available (still, just) for creating art in this country. I’m really grateful for that.

What I am asking, is that you explain your inexcusable ageism. And if you can’t explain it, that you change it. 

The fact that Universal Credits are coming in is of little relevance to people like myself at the present time. If you have now decided that under 25’s might, just maybe, in the future, deserve some support when they are working, then you need to create a provision, an exception, something to acknowledge and allow for those like me who – as I said – are really trying. Right now.

The website for your start-up loan scheme states, “With the support of Chairman James Caan and Prime Minister David Cameron, we are starting 30 businesses a day”. Do you realise how many more you could be starting by just providing young self employed people with a little help? 

We could probably save the economy if only you’d let us.


Off to do my jobsearch.

Yours sincerely,

Rachael Clerke