On Poetry and Culture Shock

Adventures in the UK's welfare system

Recycling posts in infernal bureaucracies together.... no one can say that I'm attacking America specifically, right?

In the UK, like in most civilised countries, some money is taken from your salary as an insurance for when you are retired or unemployed. Unemployment is high, and it is possible, but very hard, to survive when you’re on the dole. In Spain, fraud to this system is done by working without insurance and getting the dole at the same time. In the UK, fraud is a serious crime done by using several different identities and getting the dole for all on them. Since there isn’t a national ID card, just passports and driving licenses, adopting several identities was feasible a few years ago. Remember Trainspotting? The movie doesn’t make it very clear, but Renton and most of his friends lived on this fraud.

This means that nowadays, newborn babies are assigned a social security number automatically, and that if an adult requests one, like I did once, you have to go through an ordeal-by-paperwork. Getting a social security number is such a hassle that employers cannot refuse to give you a job because you don’t have one: they have to give you the job, and wait until you apply for the number. First you go to the Social Security office and someone fills a form for you. Then you get in the mail an appointment for an interview, asking you to bring every possible form of ID you have. I had: Passport, Spanish national ID card, My University’s student card, driving license, and a Spanish library card. They all had a photo on them. In the interview I was asked things like how many times I had ever been in the UK, what for, and if I could give contact details of several different people in town that could guarantee that the person there was actually Nia Andino and no one else. The interview lasted a couple of hours, and I know they checked the references because they called at my work on my free day. Wow.

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