With lockdown finally easing, we can now visit restaurants and even spend a few nights away. It would almost appear that life is slowly starting to resemble normality, but sadly that’s not the case for everyone. At Christians Against Poverty (CAP) we are continuing to monitor trends and speak to clients, learning how the pandemic is impacting those on the lowest incomes. For some, things are starting to look up, but for many, there remains more tough times ahead. Craig, Ben and Jared (names have been changed) have all been impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19) in different ways and they bravely share their experiences below.
The UK Prime Minister has insisted that he will do all he can to avoid a second national lockdown, but we know we're not out of the thick of it. For many, particularly those facing in-work poverty, there is uncertainty about future job security or only being able to work reduced hours. With no one expecting a quick economic recovery, more households are set to face these challenges in the future.
Impact of furlough
‘Lockdown has been depressing. I’ve always worked, since I was 16. From 14 March, I’ve had no work. I got put on furlough so I’ve had about a £400 decrease in wages – I can’t pay anything towards my debts now. Also, I’ve not got the money to go shopping or get the stuff I need. The essentials you need have either run out or are too expensive. The shops where I usually go are closed, so you have to order online and pay shipping. It’s extra costs. I would usually get tips too, so my income has been drastically reduced.
There are four of us in the house together all day instead of being at work or uni. It’s been stressful – we’re all used to not being at home at the same time.
As lockdown is easing, I’m due to go back to work, but part-time. It will take a while to go back to normal. Before, I was contracted to work 30 hours, but I usually do more like 40 to 50 hours a week depending on how busy it is. That’s an extra ten or more hours not covered in furlough, around £80/£90. It’s been a massive drop for me.’
‘It’s not been too bad, I’ve been working a reduced number of days. I’m in one of these loopholes – our company became a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) last year, so the Government sees us as self-employed, although technically we are partners. As it only happened in the last year, we were not eligible for self-employed help or to be put on furlough. To economically survive as a company they put us effectively on a 2.5-day week and cancelled our bonuses. I’m on a 2.5-day week for the foreseeable future, until at least September. My wife is a teacher so she still has an income.
We have three children at home. One of my daughters works with me so her salary went down to half-time as well, so that affects what she can contribute to the family. My other two children are on zero-hour contracts so their work was cut.
Our grocery bills have gone up. Before, we would spend less, but because of lockdown and potentially the scarcity of some products, it’s gone up. It’s not too scary. It’s manageable. It’s not causing undue stress.
In effect, the impact has been in our reduced contributions to our CAP Plan. It’s frustrating as we had in sight being out of debt by May 2022 and now it’ll be two years after that. I’m sure we’ll find a way of recovering, but it may not be as quick as we'd like it to be.’
‘I have asthma and fibromyalgia so I’ve just been shielding. At first, I had no one to collect my medication. Then the council got in touch and arranged for someone to help. It’s been hit and miss.
I’ve had the money to do everything I needed to do. But I have to put gas and electricity on my prepayment meter and I’ve still had to go out to do that. I’ve got anxiety and depression so that hasn’t been easy. I’ve also had a problem with one company about my debts. All the way through this crisis they’ve been shouting for the money through letters. I phoned up and I explained my circumstances, but they weren’t really interested. Luckily, I’ve recently gone debt free. The help from CAP has really helped lift a weight off my shoulders.’
With advice to shield in our homes set to end on 1 August, many who have health vulnerabilities will be expected to go back to work and re-enter society. The virus will not have gone away by 1 August, but the financial support for those who are trying to protect themselves will. Those who are fearful of contracting the virus due to health conditions may be faced with difficult decisions, particularly around going into work.
What is CAP doing about it?
The UK is slowly starting to establish a ‘new normal’. From 23 August, enforcement action is due to restart, yet many are still surviving on benefits or reduced incomes. That’s why, amongst other things, CAP is calling for Local Authorities to adopt a pre-action protocol for Council Tax, building in more steps to help identify households who are struggling financially or who are vulnerable, before enforcing a debt.
Debt advice will be needed more than ever in the coming months and years. The Money and Pensions Service predicts that need for debt help in the UK will increase by 60% by the end of 2021. If you support CAP financially, we’d like to thank you for your generosity. Your support means we can help people across the UK who are living under the overwhelming weight of debt and poverty. If you’d like to start supporting CAP or increase your monthly donation, you can find out more at capuk.org/donate. Thank you – we couldn’t do it without you.