‘Stress is making me sick’: UK workers on losing their jobs to Covid | Job losses

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Since the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses across the UK have been forced to close once again, with the number of people being made redundant climbing to a record high in the three months to October.

‘I’d relocate to London for work but don’t have the funds’

Blake Spratt, 26, graduated with a law degree from the University of Hull in July and was working shifts in an Arcadia warehouse in Leeds until he was made redundant last week.

“I worked about three eight-hour shifts a week in the warehouse, which was just enough to support myself and my boyfriend, who is a student and also hasn’t been able to find work. I’m now back up in Newcastle with my parents, and have applied for jobs up here, in Leeds and in London.

“I used to work in IT support and have been applying for all sorts of work: telecoms engineer roles, paralegal positions, various administrative roles, retail jobs. I’d be willing to relocate to London but without any funds that is quite unrealistic. I had a few interviews with law firms in London, but no luck so far.”

Blake Spratt lost his warehouse job in December.
Blake Spratt lost his warehouse job this month. Photograph: Blake Spratt

‘I won’t be able to pay rent, the stress is making me sick’

Agata Zeberska, 34, had just accepted a role as an assistant general manager at the Albion pub in Islington, north London, when the second national lockdown was announced.

“I had just started the new job and so couldn’t be furloughed. I supported myself with savings and credit cards. Then lockdown was lifted and we reopened in the first week of December. But now we are moving to tier 3, tonight is the last night of trading, and it’s still not certain if I will get furloughed – it would only be for about two weeks of employment. I was due to earn £1,800 after tax this month; now I will have half of this. I don’t have any savings left and won’t be able to afford my rent.

“I didn’t sleep all night yesterday, trying to budget money I don’t have. It will take me at least one year to fix the damage this year has inflicted on my finances, and, of course, this will only be possible once everything goes back to normal. I can’t eat very much or eat nothing at all, and during the summer I was sick every day from the stress. But I don’t want to complain too much: a lot of people are in much worse positions than I am.”

‘I’ve served people for 20 years, now I’m reduced to busking to make ends meet’

Ian Gilson, 46, from Bristol, was a retail advisor on the shop floor in a Virgin Media store until the pandemic, when he was reassigned to a new role that affected his health, forcing him to take redundancy this summer.

“When lockdown happened, I was given a laptop and was switched to a home-based web support role. Then in June, we were told we were not going back and that the shops would remain closed, and that we’d receive an alternative offer. But instead of standard nine to five retail hours, we were offered rotating shift patterns, with days lasting until 9pm, which is a completely different proposition and totally changes the work-life balance of staff.

“Virgin did offer all retail staff a home-based customer service role. I was able to accept the switch to online customer support but then I was asked to do telephone support, and as a chronic tinnitus sufferer, sustained telephone conversation is very detrimental to my health. I did not feel I was capable of doing this role. I lodged these concerns with HR, had a conversation with them and then heard nothing more, and eventually took the redundancy option. I can categorically say that no offer was made to cater for my health concerns. Now I find myself on employment support allowance and am reduced to busking on the internet to make ends meet.”

Ian Gilson
Ian Gilson worked at a Virgin Media shop until changes to his role because of the pandemic left him no option but to opt for redundancy. Photograph: Ian Gilson

A Virgin Media spokesperson said: “We closed our stores earlier this year in response to a longer-term shift towards online and telephone care and sales channels. We offered all staff the opportunity to stay with the business in newly created roles and consulted with everyone about how we could support them in these positions, including making any reasonable adjustments.”

‘I loved my job, but it’s all over now’

Paul Elwick, 54, had worked at the gift shop of London’s Shakespeare Globe theatre for 20 years when he was furloughed in March. He expected to be back at work by July and recalled joking with a colleague that they would need to do a lot of dusting beforehand.

“But when the inevitable [second wave] happened in September, most of our jobs at the Globe just disappeared really and everything was being restructured. There were new roles to apply for which I considered, but they were jobs I’d been doing when I first started at the Globe back in 2000 and I didn’t want to go backwards. So I applied for voluntary redundancy.”

Elwick, who moved to London from Torbay in 1998, has a fine arts degree. But, apart from having a few exhibitions, he has only ever worked in retail. “I don’t know what’s next. My industry is being hit so hard by the pandemic, and it’s going to be quite difficult for someone my age to find a job in this climate. I’ve given myself a year to stay here and figure things out.”

When his mother died in June, he was forced to sell her house in Devon. “In a few short months I lost my mum, our house and the job of 20 years I’d never taken for granted. I loved my job; it was a dream really, to work there on Bankside opposite St Paul’s and with Tate Modern next door. After growing up in a boring seaside town I was in heaven. But it’s all over now.”

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘Stress is making me sick’: UK workers on losing their jobs to Covid | Job losses

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