Socialist Worker

‘We’ve been thrown on the scrap heap by the Tories’

Workers facing poverty, unemployment and insecurity told Sadie Robinson why they feel they have been completely abandoned by their bosses and the government

Issue No. 2715

Hundreds of thousands of workers face unemployment

Hundreds of thousands of workers face unemployment (Pic: Wikimedia/JJEllison)


The Tories are trashing the lives of millions of people by refusing to support them through the coronavirus crisis.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak says workers can be furloughed to protect their jobs. He claims self-employed workers can access grants. And the Tories say anyone thrown out of work can get by on benefits.

The reality is that millions have either little or no support. People are suffering poverty, depression and stress, and they have no idea when it will get better.

Nicky Warnock was offered a job with a construction training firm in February. Her start date was delayed as she was caring for her sister, then put back again due to lockdown.

Now bosses have withdrawn the job.

“It’s had a huge effect on my mental health,” Nicky told Socialist Worker. “I’ve just taken a nosedive.

“I just feel on the edge of tears a lot of the time.”

Nicky described how she has had “a really tough few months”. She was made redundant last October. Her brother-in-law died suddenly last May, and her sister passed away in March.

“Getting offered a job was a real boost,” she said. “It was the one little positive glimpse of light.

“Now trying to get the energy to resurrect the job search is daunting. Every day is just me in the house, on my own in front of the computer job searching and not hearing anything back.”

Laura Gonzalez was working as a tour guide in Brighton before the virus hit. Now she’s working 18 hours a week in Morrisons supermarket on a temporary contract that could end next month.

Laura told Socialist Worker that the feeling of being left behind has had “a significant impact on my mental health”.

“There is nothing really positive in my life,” she said.

“By the end of August I’m going to be competing with the millions who are now unemployed.

“I’m watching my savings disappearing. Everything’s out of my control.”

Susan Lee was made redundant from her admin job two days before the government announced its furlough scheme.

She said her MP then wrote to the firm, but bosses “absolutely refused” to put her on furlough.

“It’s absolutely soul destroying. I don’t like being at home all day,” she said.

She added that benefit rules mean her future is even more precarious. “Come September, I will have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for six months, so then I will get nothing at all,” she said. “I will just be reliant on my husband.”

Nicky said her JSA “runs out on 4 August”. “As far as I know I’m not entitled to anything as my husband is ­working,” she said. “But we’ve still got a mortgage and all the other bills to pay.

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

Anna, a self-employed potter, lost teaching work during the lockdown.

She’s now on Universal Credit—and says she’s left with £8 a month after rent to pay bills and feed herself and three children.

“You can’t live for a day off £8, let alone a month,” she told Socialist Worker. “I’m 54 years old. I’ve worked hard and paid tax all my life—and for this? It’s shit.”

The Tories claim self-employed people can claim grants and loans.

But Anna said she is ineligible for them, as she doesn’t have business premises and the government isn’t taking the 2019-20 tax year into account.

So she is using credit cards, building up “hideous levels of debt”. And she has had to rely on family to buy her and her children food.

She says, “We’re growing some veg now to feed ourselves. I walk around the house looking at things and ­thinking, ‘Do I really need that? I could get £10 for it on eBay.’”

As government rhetoric focuses on support for young people, older workers who have lost their income fear not being able to get work again. But young people face an uncertain future too.

Postgraduate student Nathan was made redundant from a part time job at Jarrold department store in Norwich earlier this month. “I’m lucky to be living with parents who are working,” he told Socialist Worker.

“But longer term, it’s a worry. I’ve got a big old lump of student debt. And the longer I’m out of work, the harder it is to get back into work.”

Nathan added that many young people have worked in industries that are now in pieces. “All my work experience is in food and beverage, and hospitality,” he said. “All of those jobs have been eviscerated.

“There are lots of other young people and migrant workers in these industries. What jobs are they going to find?”

There is, rightly, fury at how the government has operated throughout the crisis.

“There will be millions who have fallen through the net,” said Anna. “We’ve been completely forgotten.

“When questions are put to ministers, it’s like they’re just sticking their fingers in their ears. They never answer any questions.

“You just want to punch them in the face, really.”

Laura said trying to get Tory ministers to hear what is happening to people is “like talking to a wall”.

And she said Sunak’s supposed “alternatives” to grants are a joke.

“You are told you can get a ‘bounce back’ loan—but the last thing I want to do is get into debt,” she said. “You are told you can get mortgage holidays—but banks say they will leave a mark on your financial records.

“I can’t get a penny from Universal Credit because I’ve been working for Morrisons. But I’m earning probably a third of my regular monthly income. I don’t know how Rishi thinks we can survive on that.

“He clearly has the money, but we aren’t a priority. To be told I can’t get anything, that the taxes I paid for 15 years mean nothing, is a kick in the teeth.”

Laura accused Sunak of ­“destroying people’s lives”. “People have said they feel suicidal, they’re becoming depressed,” she said. Peta, a lecturer at Liverpool university, was told her temporary contract would not be renewed this month. She has worked at the university for 23 years.

“It’s not been good for my mental health,” she told Socialist Worker.

“I’ve had three months of thinking, this job is going to finish and I might never get another job in higher education again.

“It’s like your whole sense of identity is going.”

Peta said that studying for years involves a lot of “sacrifices” and the huge rewards that people are told will result are a myth.

“You aren’t earning much doing a PhD,” she said. “But you’re told that at the end of it, after some temporary jobs, you’ll have a permanent one. But I’ve had eight different contracts in the last four years.

“They may as well just issue us all with Deliveroo uniforms.”

Valued 

Laura is also angry that workers who were told they are crucial and valued have been put at risk.

“During lockdown, we were told to stay home,” she said. “But I had no choice but to go out and find work.

“I had to expose myself to the virus and work for the minimum wage as a ‘key worker’.”

Nathan agreed that the rhetoric from the top doesn’t match the reality. “Employers say you’re valued and an essential worker,” he said.

“At Jarrold we were told we are all ‘part of the family’ and all that crap. But you’re not. You’re just an employee being exploited.” Too many people are already in desperate situations. Yet a more horrific situation is looming.

Debt, cutting back on food, endless stress—the reality of life on Universal Credit
Debt, cutting back on food, endless stress—the reality of life on Universal Credit
  Read More

The government will begin winding down its furlough scheme, currently supporting over nine million jobs, from next month. By October it will be gone.

Every day more firms announce redundancies. Those self-employed who have lost work and who can’t claim any support will eventually run out of cash. And people claiming JSA will be told they can no longer receive it.

“We’ve probably got a few weeks, and then we’ll start running out of money,” said Nicky.

“The government should be doing more to support people, such as extend JSA.

“People are working hard to find new jobs, but the jobs aren’t there. I know someone who applied for an admin role at a local golf course, and there were 200 applications.”

Susan said we need a better system. “The government should have put ­everybody on a payroll on £1,200 a month,” she said. “They could have provided a living wage that we could all have lived on and everyone would get the same.

“I’m 55 and I’ve worked since I was 17. I just wish the government would go back and think about people with absolutely nothing.”

But the Tories won’t budge without a fight. And as Boris Johnson piles the pressure on people to return to work, some feel a growing sense of being left behind.

“I’m finding it harder to cope now,” said Nicky. “It feels like everyone else is getting back to normal, but normal for me is this really horrible world.

“You’re forgotten, really.”


What to do?

Some of those abandoned by the government are fighting back. They have set up a group called Excluded UK on Facebook, to give support and campaign for change.

Laura said, “We need as many people as possible to spread the word.

“A lot of people feel like giving up, but I’m not giving up.

“We need to continue putting pressure on the government to say you can’t ignore us. There’s nothing else to do other than keep shouting about it.”

Nicky explained why it’s important to get organised. “You’re stronger together,” she said. “As a group you have more clout, and can campaign.”

UCU union member Peta added that, in workplaces where unions are organised, there needs to be much more of a fightback.

“There are loads of universities in the same situation as us,” she said. “We knew this was coming for months—we should have been prepared.

“Our general secretary says we can’t have ballots of strikes. But we’ve seen that others can, such as council workers in Tower Hamlets.

“We’re allowing our employers to pick us off one at a time.

“The union needs a national response.”

For more information and to be involved go to excludeduk.org

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