Jobless stories: 'I wouldn't wish this life on anyone'
- 15 February 2012
- From the section Business
Two men, 40 years apart - one in England, the other in Wales - but they share the same daunting experience of unemployment.
Their downbeat mood is palpable: a smile is rare, and their softly spoken voices convey a lack of confidence and hope after years of sitting on the subs' bench.
In the town of Royal Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire, 25-year-old Ben Gillet is in his cramped room lighting up a hand-rolled cigarette.
The window is ajar and a crisp cool breeze forces its way through, blowing the curtain into the side table.
He hasn't slept all night - a common recurrence when you're without work, he says. The last time he was employed was in 2008 - and now his days mostly consist of playing video games and consuming vast amounts of tea.
"I've played all my games to death, I watch TV series that I've watched three or four times through," he says.
"My confidence is practically nil. I have no reason to be confident these days - I don't know why I'm failing to get a job, because I get such little feedback that it just amounts to none."
He doesn't have a plethora of experience. Short stints at factories and restaurants make up the bulk of his CV, along with low-grade A levels in sciences and IT.
Ben lives in a clammy rented flat with a friend. The kitchen is swamped with dirty plates and cutlery, some of which have been there for weeks. Mould lines the mug from which he drinks tea.
"I get £135 a fortnight in Jobseeker's Allowance and out of that I have to pay for my food, my electricity, my water, any luxuries, anything else that might crop up," he says.
"It's not a life I would wish on anyone, to be quite honest. As for making ends meet, I do my best."
During a short walk along the local High Street, his first trip outside for a couple of days, Ben points out the small businesses he has approached for work in recent months.
"I did a work placement once with a small husband and wife-led company, but they haven't really got the money to take on staff and most of the shops round here, they're either full up or they aren't looking for staff really."
The last time the BBC spoke to Ben was in 2010, two years after he had his last job. He was pessimistic then. That pessimism has become a permanent state of mind, with little to no hope for the future. He insists he's not lazy.
"I have no routine, I have nothing to set my day by," he says. "It's sometimes light, it's sometimes dark, that's the passage of time as far as I'm concerned now."
More than 80 miles away, Colin Lowth, 64, is now living alone in a modest rented two-bedroom flat in Bridgend, south Wales.
Unlike Ben, he is a man of experience. Having worked for the same cement company for 37 years, he has a wealth of industry knowledge. His career can only be defined as successful, with a promotion to operations manager in the later years.
But with a gloomy economic backdrop taking the company by surprise, Colin found himself without work.
"I was made redundant at the age of 60 in December 2007 and it came as quite a shock. I was put on the job market at a particularly difficult time," he says.
He reflects on his employment years as if they were a pleasant dream, where money was more fluid and careful budgeting was not a necessity.
'I'm surviving. Providing I don't do anything silly, I can get by, month by month, without going into debt," he says.
"I don't take any holidays and apart from my rugby watching and season ticket, I haven't got any luxuries. I've just had my car MOT-ed and that's cleared me out for this month."
And retirement is not on the cards. The only way to survive the financial storm is to keep on earning, he says.
Living off his company pension and what he defines as a fairly generous redundancy package, his concern now is how soon those funds will dry up.
"If I'm active and I'm working, I'm happy and to that extent, it's something to do with self-esteem, self-worth and self-belief really," he says.
"In three or four months, if I haven't found anything and things begin to get a bit too samey, things do start to get difficult, and then you do start retreating into yourself a bit and looking for things to do."
Colin tucks into a takeaway chicken wrap in front of the television. He talks excitedly of the rugby match he is attending that evening in Cardiff.
But at the back of his mind, unemployment is lingering on. He believes his age has played a part in not being able to find a job.
"The person at the other side of the desk is looking to bring someone into the organisation to develop and to train and to build their culture, and that's where age does come in, and I have a lot of sympathy for that," he says.