Socialist Worker

Out of work and out of money - how lives are being torn apart by profit system

Workers are being pushed to make big sacrifices during the lockdown—but things could get much worse as unemployment bites. Tomáš Tengely-Evans spoke to some of those affected, and argues that the crisis shows why we need a different system

Issue No. 2710

The closure of workplaces during the coronavirus crisis has hit workers hard

The closure of workplaces during the coronavirus crisis has hit workers hard (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Call centre worker Jasmine has “run out of money” and been forced to leave London. She’s one of the millions across Britain facing unemployment and poverty as the Tories and bosses try to make workers pay for the coronavirus crisis.

“We have been forced out of London,” she told Socialist Worker. “It’s horrible because I’ve had a lot of increased anxiety and no stability.

“I have worked as hard as I can. I was in the process of looking for a job that I actually wanted to do.

“All the opportunities I worked for have been taken away. Businesses are being given bailouts and we are being left out to dry in the gutter.

“You can’t see people to say goodbye.”

By Christmas, more than four million people across Britain could be out of work. This would push the ­unemployment rate to 10 percent, one of the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Jasmine was furloughed on the Tories’ coronavirus job retention scheme. It sees the state pay 80 percent of wages, up to £2,500 a month, if workers would have been laid off because of the lockdown.

Almost ten million workers currently rely on the scheme.

But Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak has asked bosses to stump up money towards it from August.

Bosses are determined not to pay. And the whole scheme will stop in October in any case. Jasmine said her boss has already laid her off to avoid having to pay. “My employer is saying my furlough will end in July,” she said.

Her partner has also been made redundant. She said leaving to live with family “seems like the only option because we’ve run out of money and there might not be work for ages”. “Everything is day to day,” she added.

“We have no idea what will happen in six months. At the moment the only question is the roof over our heads. That’s it.”

Politicians say a “great tsunami is going to sweep away the jobs of many people who thought they were in secure employment”. Lord Forsyth, chair of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, admitted that unemployment would “perhaps reach levels last seen in 1938”. He said it could take years to fully recover.

Julia, a workplace trainer who has been furloughed until September, said unemployment is “becoming more real”. She told Socialist Worker she hopes there will be work to return to, but that this isn’t guaranteed.

“So I’m having to look for other work,” she explained. “The last time I was made redundant, I found it takes you about a week to tune up the CV and get into things. Then you get people ringing back.

Positions

“Now there’s some stuff out there, but the volume of applications is so massive many times you won’t get an acknowledgment. So now I’m taking it as a positive when they get back and say, ‘Sorry, we’re not ­proceeding with this.’

“The most positive thing is if they say, ‘We’d like you to apply for other positions’.”

Jasmine added, “I’ve been looking at some jobs online, but there aren’t many out there.

“Lots of people who had stable jobs are having them ripped away. Nothing is being done about it by bosses and government—it’s a joke—and nothing is being done to control the virus.”

The predicted tsunami of layoffs will begin to hit in August when the Tories start to wind down the furlough scheme. But even workers who have been told they will have jobs to come back to face huge uncertainty and a hit to living standards.

Samantha, a McDonald’s worker who has been furloughed, told Socialist Worker, “Our suffering hasn’t even started.

“They’ve pressed the pause button. But we’re going to pay for furlough. I do worry about it. You look at how much austerity has already inflicted and you think, ‘What can they do now?’”

Samantha says bosses will push people into unemployment through hardship. “I think they’ll decrease people’s hours and I don’t think they’ll be handing out any more contacts,” she said.

“They will have natural wastage as people who don’t get enough hours to survive may leave—and then they won’t have to pay redundancy.

“People will be forced into it.”

Samantha feels “physically sick” at the prospect of unemployment or fewer hours. “Life on furlough is hard, but now there’s the thought of not even having the amount I’m getting now,” she said.

“I don’t trust our government to put in any support.”

Many of those laid off will be forced onto the hated Universal Credit (UC) benefit.

Fresh research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children shows that two thirds of families on UC have been forced into debt during the pandemic. This includes pay day loans and credit cards. Some eight million children across four million families are affected.

Samantha says she’s “too scared” to claim UC. She was hit by the Tory benefit “reform” to child and working tax credits and forced to give back £5,000—a bill she’s only recently repaid.

Massive

The lack of support could force ­Samantha to move her family into overcrowded housing. “I’ve started looking at what’s out there and what the price difference is,” she said. “It’s not really massive, but a couple of hundred pounds a month is massive when you haven’t got any money.

“At the moment my house fits us all in nicely. But downsizing would be to a two-bedroom house. The girls would share, the older boy would have one, and we would give up our bedroom and sleep in the front room.”

Lockdown has caused immense ­suffering for people, but that’s because the Tories and bosses want to protect their wealth. The money exists to protect working class people’s health and living standards.

Julia said the Tory arguments treat “workers as a disposable resource,” adding, “Yes we want to be working, but without killing anyone.”

Jasmine added, “The top people in society have doubled their wealth since the financial crash of 2008. People are made redundant, but the rich keep their wealth. We need to keep the furlough scheme going as long as it’s needed.”

The Tories are winding down the scheme to force people back to unsafe workplaces and get profits flowing again.

They claim this is for our benefit, as working class people will suffer in a recession if they don’t reopen the economy.

In reality many will still suffer poverty and unemployment. And the Tories and their profit-driven system are responsible.

So Transport for London recruits “volunteers” to hand out face masks in stations when millions need paid work. Vulnerable people who need help ­getting the basics under lockdown are forced to rely on volunteers in mutual aid groups.

People who are ill with things other than coronavirus don’t get care because the NHS is grossly underfunded. Children who are out of school don’t get support because there aren’t enough support workers.

Delivering the services that actually matter to people would create millions more jobs.

But winning that means challenging the rule of the bosses, private ownership and profit.

The coronavirus crisis has shown how capitalism utterly fails to meet the basic needs of ordinary people.

It’s an argument for transforming society and reshaping production in ways that benefit the majority, not the handful of rich people at the top.

Some workers’ names have been changed

'I eat once a day and feel trapped in my home' - the reality of life on furlough

Because of the way furlough is calculated, Samantha is receiving around half of her usual pay.

Samantha worked 35 hours a week from last summer. But when the government published the furlough guidance, she had an email saying 80 percent of pay would be calculated using the average for the tax year 2019-20.

So she’s been forced to live off around 18 hours a week pay since being furloughed.

This has caused immense hardship for Samantha, her partner and her three children. “It’s getting more and more difficult as time goes on,” she explained. “We’re on a water meter, so we don’t flush the toilet if we don’t have to.

Food, or rather the lack of food, is really hard. I will eat once a day. I think, ‘How can I make a meal last two days?’ If I don’t eat lunch or breakfast, there’s more for my children to have.

“I just drink lots of water. I do find I am more tired and snappy than I would naturally be. It’s all the stress and the pressure of looking at the bank account.

“I don’t have a mobile phone contract any more. I’ve put it onto a rolling one, so I can get rid of it if I need to.

“I spend a lot of time researching where to shop. ‘Oh, there’s a sale there, so I’ll go there.’ When I go shopping online, I have to go into the basket at the end and see what I can get rid of.

Delivery

“I live in a village so if it doesn’t come with the supermarket delivery, we’re not having it because I can’t put fuel in my car.

“I feel trapped within my home.”

Samantha added, “People like Katie Hopkins say I should think about how I’m going to feed my children before having them. I did.

“The position I’m in today has been forced upon me by the government putting the economy ahead of our safety and health.

“There’s a constant drip, drip, drip about ‘rags to riches’, but really there are not many rags to riches stories. Everything is run for profit, not what will benefit us as a whole.”

Things have been tough on only half pay—but it’s hard for those on 80 percent of regular pay too. Jasmine said she is spending money on “just food”.

“It shouldn’t be that way,” she said. “The bills and council tax are still coming in with no reduction and there’s been no talk of support.

“My pay went down by 20 percent to around £1,300 a month. With rent and bills at nearly £700, that’s a big chunk.”

 
 

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