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'No-one in our house works'

By Paula Dear
BBC News

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With redundancies rising and job vacancies shrinking, unemployment is back in the headlines. But for millions it never went away. As part of a series on Britain's jobless, one family explains how and why lack of work has touched their lives.

Elizabeth Malcolm, 43, has never had a job. She lives in a two-bedroom council flat in Glasgow with her three children, one grandchild, two cats and a hamster.

Neither of her two working-age children has a job.

BRITAIN'S JOBLESS
Our series asks, who are Britain's jobless?
Interviews with five people who are out of work published on the BBC News website in December and January
Read more about the issues: Britain's jobless - who cares?

The family is what the statistics gatherers call a "workless household" - one of three million in the country. In reality it's not quite so easy to put every jobless person into a neat little box. This is their story.

Elizabeth, known as "Biff" to family and friends, wishes now that she had got into work or college back in 1980, when she left school at 15.

It was hardly a great time to be a jobseeker, especially living in Easterhouse, a part of Glasgow long synonymous with deprivation and unemployment. But she concedes that she doesn't really know why she didn't get a job, and that there was an element of just "not getting round" to it.

She doesn't think school wanted her to stay on because she "wasn't too bright" and used to bunk off a lot.

Without any qualifications she assumed she wasn't able to follow her chosen path and join the Army. She never actually made it to the recruitment office to ask.

I did try, but nobody took me on
Elizabeth Malcolm

After signing on the dole, she was nagged to find a job by her parents - who both worked until redundancy and illness stopped them in their 50s - and says she tried to find something.

"I did try, but nobody took me on," she says.

By 17 she had met the father of her three children and by 22 had their first son William. From then on family, home life and dealing with a failing relationship took over, she says.

While Elizabeth "feels angry" at herself for not getting into work when she was younger, at the same time she believes looking after the kids and the house has been a job in itself. Labour market survey figures for the last quarter showed more than two million women gave the same reason for not working.

Now a lone parent, she shares her bedroom with her son Jon, 13, daughter Danielle, 17, and Danielle's son Rhys, 11 months.

Next generation: More on William, Danielle and Jon

William, 21, who served in the Army for three-and-a-half years and went to Iraq and Afghanistan, sleeps in the small second bedroom.

The family survives on a combination of Income Support and Child Tax Credits, claimed by both Elizabeth and Danielle. Both also receive the universal Child Benefit for one child each. It all amounts to about 270 a week for the five of them.

As no-one in the house is actively seeking work, they don't count as "unemployed" and none claims Jobseeker's Allowance.

Things will change for Elizabeth next year, when she will no longer be entitled to Income Support for being a lone parent. She is already being asked to attend interviews at the local job centre.

"They send for you every month to ask you why you're not working and if you've been looking for work. I've told them my situation, that I've been having panic attacks when I go out - which started after my dad died - and they've written it all down.

Elizabeth Malcolm

"They said I'd be better off if I was out working because Jon's at an age now where the money I'm getting will stop soon. I'd need to sign on [for unemployment benefit] again and I don't want that because I think I'm too old to sign on."

Elizabeth says she would most want to work in a caring job, with animals, children or elderly people, because she has looked after people all her life.

Jobcentre staff have told her if anything comes up they'll "send her a letter", she adds.

Having a job would help "keep her mind off things" that have happened, she says.

Although there's always been a degree of struggle to get by, the family recently went into a complete tailspin, says Elizabeth.

A catalogue of events have left her and William suffering from panic attacks, while Jon has "gone off the rails" and started truanting from school.

I'll just need to get it out of my head and start going places, or else I'm going to be stuck in the house for the rest of my life
William, 21

Elizabeth lost both her parents in the past four years, with her father's death hitting her and William particularly hard. After his grandfather fell ill William became depressed and left the Army.

"He was his granda's blue-eyed boy," says Elizabeth.

In 2006 the children's father, John Purcell, who was separated from Elizabeth but had been visiting the kids, was stabbed to death outside their flat. Soon after, William was savagely attacked by local gang members and stabbed several times. After a second attack he stopped straying more than a few feet from the house, and started drinking more and more.

It's left William so afraid to go out, he can't sign on.

"I'll just need to get it out of my head and start going places, or else I'm going to be stuck in the house for the rest of my life," he says. "I can't keep living like this, living off my mum. I'd like to have my own house, and my own wee family... definitely."

'Downhill'

For the time being he plays uncle to Danielle's baby, Rhys.

With no father on the scene, Danielle relies on help from the family. She says she hopes to learn to be a hairdresser or beautician.

"All my pals are looking for work as well. But it's not that easy to get a job straight away, you've got to write out your CV and everything and then hand it in to places."

Day-to-day she spends her time going to the shops for her mother, collecting her money, or visiting friends who also have children.

Ellie
Elizabeth - who is besotted with her cats - would like to work with animals

"Some days I'm just sitting in the house. That's what I do, morning till night, unless I go down to see my auntie or something. It's not really a life."

Elizabeth is aware there are some who would criticise her life. She would agree, she says, with those who say it is "terrible" that taxpayers should be in the position of paying for those without work.

"I'm sorry they have to pay tax money to me. If I could get a job... give me a job then and I'll work, and then they won't have to pay me."

Photographs by Phil Coomes

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