The Truth About Universal Credit

blog, budget, finance, life, lifestyle, london, reflection, Uncategorized

Having spent several years working in retail management, last year I found myself at a crossroads. Wanting to move back to London from Bristol, I accepted a role in a Surrey based branch. Without going into loads of detail, three months in I had reached my limits. I knew I had to quit, but with nothing lined up, I was taking a risk.

Sometimes, for your own mental wellbeing you have to take a step back and re evaluate. Our jobs play such a massive part in our lives, that it’s important to acknowledge the overwhelming impact they can have on us. Taking all things into account, I fully stand by my decision to leave. I could barely make it through a day there, let alone another few months! So what was next?

I began applying for jobs having no clue of what it was I actually wanted to do or be. This meant my search was vast and unfocused. **We’ll skip past the 3 month internship as that’s a story in itself!!** I plan on writing a post on job hunting in the next week or so if that’s of interest to you. At the end of my internship, I was left back where I started except this time I had no savings to fall back on. I will say that I am lucky to have a supportive family with whom I lived during this time. I can only imagine the struggle for those without a network to rely on. So, it was off to the job centre!

Now the main reason I was keen to write this post is this, I realise now how completely naive I was to the system. I still am in many ways, but this was for sure an eye opening experience. I can’t refer back to Jobseekers Allowance as I never received this so I’ll only be talking you through my time on Universal Credit.

After signing up online, I received confirmation of my first appointment time which was roughly one week after originally expressing an interest. For reference, this was in a Yorkshire location, I’m not sure what the wait time would be like in other parts of the UK.

**I know this post is a lot longer than my usual, but i think it’s important to cover all bases and provide a bit of context for you so bare with!**

Walking into the job centre, I felt totally out of my comfort zone. I took a seat and made eye contact with the security guard, a sight I was taken a back by. It was a few minutes before I could fully process the fact that this centre would have a need for a full time security person but let’s be real, when the work they’re doing involves peoples ability to live, you can see why things might get heated at times. I sat down and waited to be called. As I looked around I listened in on a man being told he’d need his account details in order to access his Universal Credit. This confused me. He told the woman it was written in his other notebook, one which he’d left at home. It was also clear that this man was under the influence of drugs. I mention this with no judgement of him but of the system. How can they expect a man who writes things down by hand and is not communicating coherently to login to a website regularly, searching for work and completing the accompanying forms? It felt sad to watch him leave, knowing he’d potentially be missing out on a payment simply because of a reliance on technology.

Meeting with my work coach Sam gave me the boost that I needed to really get back into job hunting. It’s so easy to lose ambition after the umpteenth application form. We talked a little about my CV, previous experience and future wants. I was then sent away with some helpful tips and the instruction to return once weekly until I had found myself a job. Sam made it clear that this was about getting me back into work as oppose to finding my dream job. I really respected this outlook and took his advice on board. One thing I was suprised by was the lack of pressure, I’d gone in thinking I’d be told to apply for a set amount of roles per day, report back on outcomes and take anything that was offered. This was not the case.

In my opinion there are two trains of thought to this that most people will fall into. Firstly, it’s a trusting approach which works well for someone like myself who was genuinely trying to get back into employment quickly. The work coach is providing positive reinforcement and a brighter outlook to job hunting. On the other hand, if you are to look at the wider, much debated issue of unemployment in our country, you could see why this might cause upset. Essentially, I realised right away that, had I wanted to, I could’ve very easily spent the next few months, maybe even years playing the system. One 15 minute session per week and a handful of second rate job applications is all it would take to keep the money coming in. I understand now why for some, it’s a more viable option to stay on benefits than it is to take on a minimum wage role. Not only do you get payments, there is potential for help with rent, medical care and transport amongst other things.

For me, I think that the ‘Nanny State’ debate is far more complex than just job seeking. It’s a deep rooted issue that comes from years of ill treatment, class divisons and government cuts. If we really want to solve it, we have to provide equal opportunities to every citizen from birth. If that means giving a little extra help to those with less, surely  that’s what we should all be willing to do? I was lucky enough to find a job pretty quickly after signing on and now view my taxes in a different way. I’m more than happy to pay these as a working member of society and yes, there are those who cheat the system but I think it’s more important to give the benefit of the doubt to the system in order to ensure that those who do need support have access to it.

I realise that this is probably a little more sensitive of a conversation than my usual content, but it’s important for me to not shy away from life events and if my experience can somehow influence or help others, I’m more than happy to share it. I also think it’s important to share this because there seems to be a stigma attached to being on benefits, so much so in fact that they’ve been renamed ‘Universal Credit’. As someone who has been to university, worked in various roles and never dreamt I would’ve ended up in a job centre, it is perhaps okay to admit that we all go through ups and downs in life and sometimes we need a little extra help to get us back on our feet.

Like always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and views @sophieaiken.

Sophie

Sophie

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What I learnt from posting every day for a week

blog, celebrity, inspired, life, lifestyle, london, makeup, mindfulness, question, reflection, review, self improvement, social media, trend, Uncategorized, writing

If you’re up to date with my most recent posts, you’ll know that I set myself a goal to upload content every day for one week. I’m pretty proud of myself for managing to stick to it! Here’s how it went…

Previously I’ve been somewhat inconsistent with blogging, a wave of inspiration every few months passing quickly by. Setting this goal gave me the kick I needed to dig a little deeper for content ideas.

Going forward, my aim is to post twice a week. Whilst it was fun to focus on writing each day, I found that I was compromising on the quality of content I was putting out. Being particularly proud of this social media piece, meant I felt like other topics couldn’t compete.

Having hoped to find a little more direction in terms of the type of content I want to create, I think I’ve found this but am keen to continue to write about whatever it may be that comes to mind on that day. Essentially, I’ve settled on the concept of a lifestyle blog in order to be able to cover a broad spectrum of interests.

Mostly, I found it rewarding to have a focus each day that was soley for my own personal gain and enjoyed the sense of fulfillment that came from completion. A little bit of structure can be a great thing and I’d like to redo this challenge further down the line, perhaps with a little more planning next time though.

What do you think? Are you a Queen of procrastination like me or is your diary brimming with tasks? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for staying on track!

Sophie

Theatre Etiquette

blog, celebrity, life, lifestyle, london, Musical Theatre, reflection, review, Theatre, trend, Uncategorized, West End

As a fan of theatre, I was pretty shocked when this article landed in my inbox the other day. With reports that Ushers are being fitted with security cameras in an attempt to deter angry theatre goers, it got me thinking about general theatre etiquette. So let’s take this journey together on how to behave at the theatre…

  1. Preparation – The only thing worse than being stuck behind someone in a queue who isn’t ready, is being the person holding everyone up! Have your tickets out and your bags ready for searching so that we can all get in a little quicker. Just like at the airport, you know security is coming so be ready for it.
  2. Timings – It’s pretty common knowledge within the theatre world that most shows have a ‘latecomers point’. This means, if you arrive once the show has begun, you’ll be taken to a viewing screen until you’re able to take your seats. If this sounds a bit shit, the solution is simple, get there early! Go to the bar, explore the store or take a seat and scroll through Twitter. If timing is within your control, don’t be the one who has to awkwardly shuffle down a row to a symphony of shushing.
  3. Food & Drink – This isn’t the cinema, let’s skip the crunch of popcorn and rustle of packets for something a little less distracting. Recently, I’ve noticed just how loud a plastic water bottle can be. It’s 2019, why not try a reusable option like ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>this one?!
  4. PHONES/FILMING & PHOTOGRAPHY – I could honestly devote an entire post to this topic. Nothing is more infuriating as an audience member than being distracted by the bright lights of a phone. If it’s that important, step out of the auditorium. Not only is it a distraction for those around, you also look a total tit to the actors on stage who see your face lit up in all its Facebook obsessed glory. Turn it off and enjoy two hours of peace. And if you have the misfortune of being sat near someone on their phone, remember that you have every right to tell them where to shove it!
  5. Alcohol – I think this is the thing I found to be the biggest takeaway from The Stage article. As a country, we are particularly bad for binge drinking. Friday night comes around and everyone is ready to get on it. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this, but is the theatre really the place to be doing this? Personally, if I spend money on a ticket, I’d like to remember the plot. If alcohol makes you aggressive towards ushers or anyone else who is simply trying to make a living, it might be time to re-evaluate whether you should be drinking at all…
  6. Home Time –  By all means, go to the toilet, cloackroom etc on your way out. Do what you need to do. But spare a thought for those who work in the theatre and can’t go home until you do. From my supermarket days, I can tell you how frustrating it is to wait around for the last customer to leave.
  7.  Stage Door – I’ve seen so much debate surrounding this element of theatre recently. It’s a real shame when actors have to publicly ask for respectful behaviour at Stage Door. Utimately, you pay for a ticket to a show. There is no prerequisite for a meet and greet. Stage Door can be such a fantastic way for fans to connect with performers if it’s taken for what it is, an added bonus! Basic courtesy and understanding are key as is the respect for every performer who takes their time to say hello. Swings and ensemble are just as important as leads and deserve to be treated as such!!

I feel like this has been a theatrical rant of epic proportions. If you take one thing from this post, it’s this…Don’t be a dick. A night at the theatre should be a special occassion, one that leaves you with that amazing buzz. Yes the toilet queues may be long and the interval may be too short for you to smoke, drink and touch up your lipstick, but just enjoy the show for what it is and see everything else as the cherry on top.

Rant over!

Sophie

*This post contains affiliate links*

Why are we so afraid to die?

blog, celebrity, event, inspired, life, lifestyle, mindfulness, music, reflection, self improvement, Uncategorized

I won’t lie, I’ve kind of gone down the clickbait route with this blog post. After admitting to writer’s block yesterday, I felt I’d better come back with something a little more interesting.

This may sound strange to some of you but I have a funeral playlist saved to my Spotify account. Obviously I’d like to hope that this won’t be played for many years to come but it’s always good to be prepared! I’m not someone who considers death a lot, I don’t really pay much thought to what will become of me once I’m gone but it’s nice to appreciate the many different beliefs offered to us by religion, spirtualism and science. I also love seeing how much comfort the likes of heaven or reincarnation can bring to people in their moments of need.

To many this may be a morbid or upsetting topic and yet ultimately death is the one thing that we all have in common. It’s the only guarantee in life. As I don’t own a house or expensive jewellery, there’s really no need for a written will so I guess this is my one specification. Personally, I’d like to think I’ve found the perfect balance of humour, sorrow and sentiment to leave my loved ones with.

I know the suspense is killing you *if you’ll pardon the pun*. So without further a do, here is my funeral playlist as of July 2019…

What are your thoughts on creating your own funeral playlist? Have you got any of the same songs as me or am I just a morbid music maker? Tweet me @sophieaiken and let mw know!

Sophie

Writer’s Block

beauty, blog, inspired, life, lifestyle, mindfulness, question, self improvement, Uncategorized, writing

In case you hadn’t realised, I have been attempting to post content every day this week. I spent today trying and failing to write several different posts and couldn’t seem to complete any of them.

So in the end, I decided to write this one. Basically, I’m cheating my way into being able to say that I’ve posted every day for a week. I felt this was the only way to really get myself back into blogging on a regular basis. The truth is, it’s hard to constantly be coming up with new content whilst simultaneously finding a direction to take my site in. I think moving forward, a realistic approach would be 2-3 blog posts per week.

Do you ever struggle with motivation when it comes to hobbies? It’s a strange thing to not be able to come up with content when a million ideas hit me on an hourly basis! The difference between that initial thought and actually sitting down to write a post is vast to say the least. I’m keen to know what you guys do to get yourselves out of a ‘writer’s block’ or whatever your equivalent may be. Help me out and give me some suggestions!!

Hopefully tomorrow will be a little more interesting.

Sophie

Lust List: The Skin Edition

beauty, blog, face, highend, inspired, life, lifestyle, london, look, makeup, review, skin, skincare, trend, Uncategorized

So I know my posts recently have been a bit mixed in terms of content but I thought I’d get back to a bit of beauty today. Recently, I’ve been making a more conscious effort to use up my current products before buying new ones. Of course there are a few exceptions, but for the most part I’ve been pretty good at ‘shopping my stash’.

Whenever I discover a new product that I’d like to try, I add it to the notes on my phone. By doing this, I can refer back to it once I’ve used up a current favourite. So here are the skincare/makeup items I’m lusting after right now. Let me know of any others you think I should try!

Glossier Skin Tint – As a self confessed lover of full coverage, this may be somewhat of a suprise addition. Having seen Anniecherrymakeup feature this lightweight foundation regularly in her videos, I am keen to give it a go.  Perfect for evening out discolouration, this appears to be the solution to no makeup makeup. One downside to point out is the small shade range. Whilst it does appear to cater to a range of skintones, there are only 12 shades within the range, minimal compared to the likes of MAC and Fenty.

Ole Henriksen Bananna Bright Face Primer – This particular product has been raved about by a number of successful influencers over the past few months. Packed with Vitamin C, it promises a ‘dewy, healthy-looking glow’.As someone who isn’t massive on primer, this product appeals more so for the promise of radiance. This is one of many products from Ole Henriksen that I’m keen to try.

Khiels Daily Reviving Concentrate – Admittedly, I have used this serum before but at £38, I haven’t yet been able to justify a repurchase. As a massive fan of the Midnight Recovery Serum, I was hopeful that this would deliver on the same scale and it did. Definitely time to add it back into my routine!

Do you own any of these products? Anything you think I should be trying instead? Tweet me @sophieaiken.

Sophie

Boots First Feel Good Session

beauty, blog, celebrity, event, inspired, instagram, life, lifestyle, london, reflection, review, self improvement, social media, trend, Uncategorized

Last week I was lucky enough to win a ticket to the first ever Boots Feel Good Session thanks to an Instagram competition ran by the wonderful Megan Jayne Crabbe *bodyposipanda*.

Upon arrival I was greeted by some lovely ladies who pointed me in the direction of a wall of positive quotes. I grabbed one of these in exchange for a free drink at the bar and readied myself to take part in a Body & Image Workshop.

This particular workshop was hosted by Natasha Devon MBE. Natasha is a body image activist, writer, speaker, campaigner and all round genius to be honest with you. In just fifteen minutes, she gave us a run down of how our brains work and the ways in which we view ourselves. In my last post, I told you all about how I filter my social media, below is a list of body positive influencers composed by all those who attended the workshop. So if you feel like you want a bit less filtering and facetune and a lot more real life, check them out.file-2

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend thePhotography Workshop hosted by Alex Cameron. Alex is a renowned confidence photographer who focuses on the use of natural light in her work. She has a beautiful portofolio and is well worth a follow!

We then moved on to the main event in which Megan, Natasha and Alex were joined by Youtube sensations Hannah Witton and Gary Thompson as well as Scottish footballer Claire Emslie. The panel spoke all things confidence with a particular focus on social media. The discussion was open and varied and really reflected the common concerns of six prominent figures. A big take away from the day was about learning to live in the present and making the most of where you are right now. As I mentioned earlier, there was also a focus on the use of social media and the ways in which we can make our own platforms as positive a space as possible.file-4.jpeg

And now for the best bit. The goody bag. As I looked through the contents, I couldn’t help but feel like some kind of trendy influencer. Full size products from the likes of Urban Decay and The Ordinary. Absolutely over the moon with that and I cannot wait to give them all a go.

I’d really recommend taking the time to watch the full panel discussion here.

If you do watch, let me know your thoughts!

Sophie

Why You Should Filter Your Feed

blog, celebrity, contour, inspired, instagram, life, lifestyle, reflection, self improvement, social media, twitter, Uncategorized

Something I’ve become increasingly aware of over the last couple of years is the need to filter the media we expose ourselves to. For me, this began with making a connection between the television I consumed and my overall mood.

I spent years as a self-confessed Soap Queen. Eastenders was my vibe and I lived for the Christmas Day tragedies. Nowadays though, the thought of sitting through an omnibus leaves me feeling like Shirley Carter upon finding out about the murder of her beloved Hev. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a total avoidance tactic, simply a curation of content. For instance, after watching the hit series ‘You’ on Netflix, I moved on to ‘Brooklyn Nine Nine’ for an easier watch. It may sound bizarre to some but I find it important to seek out lighthearted content in order to maintain a balance. It’s like when you watch a horror film before bed and have to follow it up with an episode of Friends after.

What began with television and film has now evolved for me and I am working to get to a point where my social media reflects a realistic yet uplifting view of the world. So with this in mind, I figured I’d share some of my methods for achieving a better relationship with the media.

As a former journalism student, for many years Twitter was my go-to place for news. I felt like I had to know about every major event going on in the world and be prepared to discuss such in great detail. I then realised that the news very rarely consists of positive stories. It’s okay to disconnect from these stories if they are having a negative impact on you. I find it best to follow broad news accounts such as BBC News and Reuters in order to know the top headlines without being overwhelmed by the details within them. Twitter is terrible for people Retweeting sad, disturbing or offensive content. I see people complaining all the time of the level of ‘trolling’ and scrutiny on this platform. Personally, I don’t see much of this side of the app thanks to my fondness of the unfollow button.

Instagram is amazing, I’m definitely a little too invested in it right now but I’m okay with that as long as I’m following the right accounts. I am particularly partial to a dog account, @tunameltsmyheart is a firm favourite. I’m making a more conscious effort to follow accounts that represent ‘real’ people with less facetune and more desire to inform and inspire. I can love the Kardashians and at the same time be totally aware that their fame and success have given them a platform unlike any other that we as ‘normal’ people could begin to comprehend. Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with every sponsorship or brand collaboration they post, I am more than happy to support them for the monumental business empire they have created as a family.

One tricky thing to tackle when filtering your social media is real life friends. Often I see things being posted by people I know in actual real life that I disagree with or find to be somewhat negative. I’m sure there are those who feel the same about my pages too and that’s okay! There are many reasons why you may still want to maintain a connection with these people and so in that respect, an unfollow is probably not the right option. Instead, mute them. They won’t know you’ve done it unless they suprise you with a random Instagram related pop quiz and you can continue to flick through instastories without seeing their billionth Brexit related post.

If you take one thing from this post, let it be this. The block, unfollow and mute buttons are your best friends. Your social media is exactly that. It’s yours. Don’t let it be dictated be the views of others. I really do believe that social media is a wonderful thing if we just learn to use it in a more positive way.

Sophie

The Wish List Revisited

blog, event, inspired, life, lifestyle, lipliner, london, Musical Theatre, review, Theatre, Uncategorized, West End

In this previous post, I listed out fifteen theatre shows I wanted to see in 2019. Now that we are half way through the year, it seems a fitting time to revisit the list!

I should begin by saying, since writing that post, I have actually taken on a job working at a theatre and in doing so, have limited my availability to Wednesday matinees and Sunday shows. Not particularly helpful when trying to tick off a whole host of shows but needs must…

So, where am I at? Well as of July, I have managed to see two out of the fifteen. These being Waitress and Come From Away. I could’ve given you a review of each but I didn’t and since there has now been a cast change for the former, it would feel a little outdated to do so. But seeing as this is an update, I will give you a quick run down of both.

WAITRESS

After the controversy of the cast change announcement, I booked a rush ticket via TodayTix to see the original West End cast. I had high expectations for the show and for sure the cast delivered on this. The stars of the show were of course Katharine McPhee, Marisha Wallace and Laura Baldwin. Three powerhouse voices playing well developed characters. Being honest, I felt a little underwhelmed by the time the interval arrived. With all the buzz about the show prior to its arrival on British soil, I’d been expecting great things and I wasn’t entirely sure that the show was resonating with us in the way that it had appeared to do so across the pond. However, the second act came around and the audience really seemed to lift. A flawless rendition of She Used to Be Mine by Kat McPhee completely stole the show. it honestly hit me that I’d have been happy to pay for a ticket just to hear her rendition of that song. Incredible. It is no surprise to hear that she received a 4-minute standing ovation for this at her final performance. Would I recommend this show? Yes, if you are a theatre fan and have a spare £20-£30 to spend.

COME FROM AWAY

There really are no words for just how amazing this show is. It seems impossible to fathom that such comfort and happiness could be produced from such a devastating  event. I think this show works because it shares the very real stories of passengers, pilots and Newfoundlanders alike. The skill in which this show has to take you on a constant journey of such contrasting emotions is like nothing I have ever witnessed before. It is simply stunning. Personally, I find that there are usually one to two songs within every musical that I would skip on Spotify. Come From Away defies this. You know you have a new favourite show when you immediately open the soundtrack upon exiting the theatre. If you see one show on the West End this year, make it this one!

Having unfortunately missed a couple of shows from my Wish List, I seriously need to get my act together!! I’m thinking next week will be the turn of Joseph for nostalgia purposes only. I’m going to need some convincing on this reimagining starring Sheridan Smith but having grown up listening to casette recordings *yes I’m old* of this show, I can never turn down the chance to watch it. I’m also hearing amazing things about Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican so let’s officially add that to the list in place of Noughts & Crosses, Small Island and A German Life which have all now sadly closed.

Have you seen any shows lately? Anything you would recommend? Let me know!

Sophie

 

Going It Alone

blog, inspired, life, lifestyle, london, mindfulness, museums, Musical Theatre, reflection, review, self improvement, Theatre, West End

To some, the thought of going to the Cinema alone seems proposterus. To me, it’s therapy.

A few years ago I decided that I wanted to be able to enjoy my own company in public, the only thing left on my checklist is having the balls to walk into a restaurant and ask for a table for one (not there yet). I set myself this goal to shake the social anxiety that comes with needing to have people around in order to enjoy life. It worked.

These days, I regularly go to the cinema alone of a quiet afternoon and I bloody love it! I can get there nice and early to watch the adverts without anyone complaining that they’re bored, I can see films like The Greatest Showman more than once and really just switch off from the outside world for a couple of hours. It’s lush.

It doesn’t stop at the cinema though, I’m also partial to a museum expedition. I will say at this point, it’s best to be savvy with timings in order to avoid masses of school trips. I found the British Museum to be an utter flop thanks to the large volume of young children being marched around in high vis jackets. They were totally bored due to the lack of interactive exhibitions and were acting up accordingly. Personally, I like to get there early and be done before the mid morning/early afternoon rush.It is particularly brilliant that the majority of museums in London are free, you can literally walk straight in to the Natural History Museum (do take the time to drop something into the donations box if you can).

One of the best things about independent expeditions is the people you meet. For my birthday last year, I went to see Hamilton. An older, very well dressed lady sat next to me and we got talking. She was Canadian with an excellent life story and a strong dislike of Donald Trump. We chatted politely before the show and during the interval and it was so interesting to learn about a total stranger whilst sharing a common interest of theatre.

More recently, I won a ticket to a Boots event. Whilst I was slightly anxious about heading in solo, it turned out to be an amazing experience, I left feeling so inspired and proud of myself for going. I really think it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone every once in a while. I plan on writing a seperate blog post about this event but given my track record with blogging, don’t hold your breath!

The point is, being able to enjoy the things you love in your own company is so rare these days. In a social media obsessed age we seem to be unable to disconnect from the internet at all. Our phones have become an extended part of us. Take a look at your little finger, does it have a dent in the side? That’s the ‘Smartphone Pinky’. And to prove it, here’s a super legit, scientific article from the wonderful Daily Mail.

So if you’re wanting to give this a go, start with the cinema. My top tips are to pre book your ticket, go to an earlier showing where there will be less people and turn your phone off as soon as you sit down. Take a break from the world for a couple of hours and just enjoy your own company.

If you give it a go, let me know how you get on!

Sophie