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

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

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

Happiness

books, life, lifestyle, mindfulness, self improvement

I’m a girl that loves a bit of mindfulness! (I also appear to be fond of an exclamation point or five!!!!!) Whilst I don’t always practice what I preach *does anyone?*, I do find that it makes a massive difference to my mood and mentality.

If you’re looking to get into the world of mindfulness and/or self improvement I would seriously recommend a book called ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ as well as ‘The Path’. If reading isn’t for you, try an adult colouring book or one of the many apps that teach you meditation (personally I have never been able to get into these).

This is one of those topics I feel like I could discuss for hours upon hours and it’s something I definitely hope to share more about in the future. But I truly believe it has dramatically changed my outlook on life.

For Christmas, I received a copy of Fearne Cottons book ‘Happy: the Journal‘. Fearne is a British television presenter with unbelievable style and a lush Instagram page to match.

We always hear how writing things down can be a wonderful outlet. ‘If you’re angry at a co worker, write an email but don’t press send’. As someone who genuinely spends hours pondering over whether a craving for watermelon makes you hungry or thirsty, this sounds like a terrible idea. The thought of losing focus and accidentally clicking Send like in one of those cheesy American comedies is far too fear inducing!

An old school ‘Dear Kitty’ style diary might work for many but it can be hard to know where to start. This journal is structured enough to guide your train of thought without being rigid in its’ questioning. Yes, daily entries can be a challenge for us procrastinators, but I find it just as effective when I fill out a few in one go.

blog9.PNG‘Happy: The Journal’ has really helped me to take a minute and deal with all the changes going on around me. There are very few things in life that we truly have control over, being able to write a few sentences about how you plan to move forward this year or what your biggest worries are can really help with perspective.

See now I’m a big fan of perspective. When people around me are being negative I tend to be the first to pull out a cliche about how lucky they are to have what they do. It is however so easy to be sucked into these thoughts and feelings. Who you choose to surround yourself with seriously does have an unbelievable impact on how you approach your day!

So when I have been lured into the metaphorical snake pit of negativity, taking 5 minutes to jot down a few thoughts can totally re balance my mind. Thank you Fearne!

How do you guys approach life? Are you into self improvement and mindfulness or are you a typical British cynic?

xoxo

She’s backk…

blog, life, lifestyle, Uncategorized

So after making endless promises to keep up to date with blogging, things kind of went South. Oh dearrr

Important life lesson learned…stop making resolutions!

The reason? There isn’t one. The excuse? I’ve got plenty of those! But I shan’t waste my time typing them up because ultimately, who actually cares? In a world in which Donald Trump is now President and we’ve long since moved on from the iphone 4 (see my ‘Contact’ page) my blog isn’t exactly a major concern!

‘BLOGGING IS DEAD’…hear it all the time. In fact, I’m guilty of dropping it myself a few times over the past couple of years. But why do I do it? Because I enjoy writing, because it’s therapeutic and because it makes me feel more productive than just watching back to back episodes of Fresh Meat on Netflix (total favourite at the moment).

Every few months I go through a ‘what am I doing with my life!? moment’. In September I decided to move across the country. This time, I’m going to start small and try and get back into blogging.

Basically this is just my, I’m blogging again blog post. See you tomorrow for my first official one (I scheduled it..profesh)

xoxo

The 2017 Checklist

beauty, life, lifestyle, reflection

big-ben

I’m not one for New Years Resolutions but I have been thinking a lot about what I would like to do and achieve this year. First item on the agenda…start blogging again!

The number one goal I have set for myself this year is to sort my finances out. It’s a boring one but it needs to happen. I have made a plan to pay off my overdraft and credit card within the next few months. The key to achieving this is that I have created realistic figures to pay back each month. With the help of direct debits and a large amount of will power to stop splurging on makeup, I hope to be free of debt by the Summer!

Recently I have found myself becoming increasingly interested in the concept of Mindfulness. For those that don’t know about it, it’s essentially the idea of learning to live in the present moment in order to clear your mind and calm your life. Perfect for anyone with anxiety! I am currently reading Mindfulness in Eight Weeks by Michael Chaskalson. This book is great as not only is it broken down into short, simple chapters but it also provides mp3 links to help you complete the exercises online. I want to continue to learn more and be able to integrate Mindfulness into my life fully by the end of the year.

Reflecting on 2016 led me to realise I need to broaden my horizons. So with this in mind I’m trying to find myself a new hobby. At the grand old age of 24 I’m thinking something a little more relaxing. Perhaps pottery or knitting? Essentially, I want to learn a new skill and challenge myself.

This year I am determined to spend less time on social media!! It’s beginning to feel like I spend my life refreshing news feeds and for what? One photo on Instagram is not someones reality. So many of us are guilty of seeking what others have based on a single image. I’d rather spend my time absorbing my surroundings and being present in the moment. So I’m going to considerably cut down my time on Instagram and Snapchat to begin with. One week in and I’m actually finding it a lot easier than anticipated. Facebook is next!

I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with ideas so I’m stopping here for now. In order to succeed it makes sense to me to be realistic with the number of things I want to complete. Perhaps in the Summer I’ll create a few more. What are your goals for 2017? If you are interested in Mindfulness also then please share your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to hear them!!

Sophie xoxo

A Rather Lengthy Look Back

lookback, reflection, review, trend

I know it is such an overused phrase, but I just can’t help myself because seriously WHERE HAS THIS YEAR GONE?! I have to admit at the start of this year I was somewhat dreading 2015 but it hasn’t been half as bad as I thought. So here is a little look back at some of the highlights.

January and February were clearly slow months as I can’t think of any stand out memories so let’s skip straight to March 2015 and of course the highlight of this was my trip to Amsterdam. I went with two of my favourite ladies and we just had a right laugh. I also discovered the most heavenly Strawberry Daiquiris known to man. I really don’t think there is anything better than making fun memories with your friends so I’m hoping 2016 brings more of these trips!dam

April 2015 consisted of self imposed deadlines. With the help of my mum (a former university lecturer) I created myself a timeline in order to be able to complete my dissertation about the Blackfish documentary to a standard I could really be proud of. This might seem a bit mundane to you but for me this was a major milestone as I am terrible at focusing on work and to see something I had spent so much time and effort on printed and bound was a real achievement.

May 2015 was the month of exams and hand ins. It was the culmination of a year of hard work and the pressure was on! Once uni was done and dusted and there was no more I could do I was able to forget about it and actually enjoy myself again. What better way to do this than with a trip to Lemonfest. You can read the blogpost I wrote about it here, but basically it was just a fun weekend with friends.

And then we reach June 2015. Two life altering, majorly exciting things happened at the beginning of this month. Firstly we brought home our beautiful puppy Wilbur. He is a black and white Spanish Water Dog with eyes that could melt the coldest of hearts. He’s also a total nutcase! In terms of personality Wilbur is the polar opposite of my lovely 6 year old dog Alfie. He throws himself into, onto and at anything and anyone. He’s fearless and bold and won’t take no for an answer but we love him.

And then came June 5th 2015. One Direction. Need I say more?!?! I saw One Direction on tour in Cardiff. They were incredible. I think my heart stopped beating on several occasions after months of waiting. Oh yeah and McBusted opened for them! I am a self confessed Queen of Pop and this was a memory I will treasure forever. I did however manage to forget my phone and camera so here’s a video for your enjoyment. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho32Oh6b4jc

July brought me back down to reality as I was unemployed and bored. A lot of my time was spent telling Wilbur off and hopelessly trying to train him. This month provided me with the time to dedicate to my blog which I absolutely loved (sunny days make it so much easier to take pictures and stay motivated). I also arranged to go back to my job which I must admit I do still enjoy. Screen shot 2015-12-16 at 20.50.44

Screen shot 2015-12-16 at 20.49.57

Screen shot 2015-12-16 at 20.49.26

Screen shot 2015-12-16 at 20.45.09

August 2015 meant only one thing in life. Boomtown. The best festival if you want to lose your mind for a few days. It is the ultimate reunion for my friends and there is no chance of ever being bored thanks to the millions of things to see and do. It was amazing and I have so many funny and amazing memories from it. Bring on Boomtown 2016!

The end of September 2015 was AMAZINGGGG!! Let’s just take a moment to remember the fact that I won free tickets to see Little Mix and One Direction at the Roundhouse in London. It is the most brilliant venue to watch big artists perform in. I was three rows back and will forever swear that Harry sang several lines of Story of My Life whilst squinting into my eyes. The dream! Both bands were incredible and seeing them in such a way was such a once in a lifetime opportunity (told you I’m a pop Queen). My phone memory was full by the end of the night but it was worth it to capture every moment possible.Screen shot 2015-12-16 at 20.48.18

Screen shot 2015-12-16 at 20.47.50.pngSeptember also saw the Rugby World Cup come to England (we’ll brush over their performance) and so myself and my dad went to Cardiff to watch Australia vs Fiji. I feel like events like these are so few and far between for most of us and I would nearly always prefer to have an amazing memory to look back on when I’m older. Most of us can barely remember the Christmas present we got last year but an event like this can stay in your mind for years. We also went to New Zealand vs Namibia at the Olympic Stadium. I am always in awe of the All Blacks and love watching them do the Haka so this was insane. It made it even more special knowing that it was the last chance I would have to watch greats like Richie McCaw on the field. Screen shot 2015-12-16 at 20.48.44

Screen shot 2015-12-16 at 20.47.00.pngIn October I finally conquered one of my biggest fears and got behind the wheel. You heard it here first, I am on the roads. I actually really love driving and according to my instructor I’m a natural (I like to tell everyone this at every possible opportunity). I’m getting pretty confident now but still have a few more lessons to go. A part of me wishes I hadn’t waited so long to do it but who cares because I’ll be out on my own before I know it. faves learner.png

In November last year I was in the midst of writing my dissertation and I just couldn’t see an end in sight. Flash forward to November 2015 and I proudly strutted across the Guildhall stage to collect my degree. From the severely delayed train to the gale-force winds that broke my umbrella in half and left me with outrageously frizzy hair the day didn’t exactly get off to the best start. The general feeling was that it was a lot of effort and hype for 10 seconds on a stage. But I was really proud of myself for finally getting my degree. It was so lovely to have my parents and granny there to share the day with as well and we did manage to hobble together a couple of decent photos. I also went on holiday to New York with my lovely family and you can see the photos here. Being in America during Thanksgiving was lush, there was just a nice atmosphere around. We did so much that we hadn’t done on our trip previously and I got to watch several decent films on the flights in spite of ignorant seat recliners in front!DSC00296

DSC00298

So there was a just a few memorable moments from 2015.

Sophie xoxo