Pin It
Unemployment during coronavirus crisis
Photography Ali Yahya, via Unsplash

‘We’re struggling’: young people on losing jobs amid the coronavirus crisis

Young people, women, and low-income workers are among the worst hit by ongoing job cuts in the pandemic

“I’ve been left with no income and no assistance from the government,” says 27-year-old Jennifer Thomson, a vocational education provider from Doncaster. Thomson had just started a new job when her contract was terminated amid coronavirus cuts, just two weeks after she joined the company. She is one of an estimated six million people in the UK set to lose their jobs in the pandemic.

As we enter the third week of the country’s lockdown, the future feels more uncertain as the days go on. With offices and establishments across the UK closed, many people have been furloughed (asked to take a leave of absence) or lost their jobs completely. Now, in news that may not surprise you, it’s emerged that young people are among the worst hit by the recent job cuts.

According to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank, low-paid workers, women, and young people are the most likely to have lost their jobs amid the pandemic. Analysis shows young workers are more than twice as likely to be impacted by coronavirus shutdowns, while women were a third more likely to be affected than men. Those with low wages are, unsurprisingly, seven times more likely than high earners to work in the one of the sectors worst hit by closures.

Since the UK’s lockdown began, almost a million people applied for Universal Credit in two weeks, a rise of more than 500 per cent. “We have never seen anything like this,” Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation think tank, told The Guardian. “It’s not remotely normal even in the grim circumstances of a recession.” While those who have been furloughed and the self-employed (the latter of whom won’t receive their first payment instalment until June) are able to receive 80 per cent of their wage – up to £2,500 a month – from the government, those who have lost their jobs haven’t been offered any support.

One group of young people particularly hit by cuts is those who had recently started a new job. “Despite my job loss, I can’t claim Universal Credit due to having a partner still in retail work,” Thomson tells Dazed, “meaning we will struggle with our bills. I’m worried about what happens if the virus lockdown and economic impact lasts longer than three months and continues to leave me out of work.”

23-year-old TV researcher Alexandra Lockyer and 31-year-old Kim Waddle have been faced with similar situations, both having started new jobs in March. Lockyer was just two and a half weeks into a new fixed term contract working on a documentary series when she found out she’d lost her job. She says she was “angry and sad” when she got the news as she believes the role she was doing could have easily been done from home. After taking a career break in November last year, Waddle, a content manager for a recruitment agency, started her new role on March 16. “I was relieved that I’d got in the door before businesses stopped hiring,” she explains. “I’d set up a home office and received my first paycheck on March 30 – the same day I had my contract terminated.”

“I’ve been left with no income and no assistance from the government. Despite my job loss, I can’t claim Universal Credit due to having a partner still in retail work, meaning we will struggle with our bills” – Jennifer Thomson, 27

With coronavirus halting many TV productions, Lockyer reveals that the majority of her friends in the industry have also lost work, many of whom are also struggling to get help from the government. “I’m not self-employed,” she continues, “so can’t claim based on that, and because I’m freelance, I don’t work for one company all year round. I’m currently waiting to hear from my last company if I’m eligible for furlough.” 

As she lives with her mum, Lockyer says she can just skip rent payments for a while. “My family has been very supportive with my job loss,” she adds, “and are trying to keep me positive in what’s turning out to be a very difficult period.” Waddle isn’t so lucky – she rents with her partner whose salary has been cut in half. “I’ve had council tax deferred to July, and asked for a 50 per cent rent reduction, but that means we have to pay double later in the year. Because of my partner’s salary, I’m not eligible for Universal Credit. The only thing I can claim is Jobseeker’s Allowance at £75 a week.”

With a disproportionate amount of young people in rented accommodation, job cuts will be having an immediate impact on their lives. Not taking into account the fact that many young people live in house shares with others who are also likely to have lost their jobs, the study’s author, Xiaowei Xu, said: “Fortunately, in the short run, many will have the cushion of the incomes of parents or other household members.”

While the government quickly announced the option for ‘mortgage holidays’, enabling homeowners to take a break on their payments, renters were left behind, leading to a swathe of landlords telling tenants they must continue to pay their full rent, despite many losing their income completely. In cases where the landlord has allowed tenants to freeze their payments, or pay half rent, there will be a huge sum for people to pay once the crisis is over. The government did announce a three-month ban on evictions, though.

“It’s fair to say this whole experience has set me back mentally,” Waddle says, “but I’m trying to remain positive.” She adds that she’s been on the waiting list for cognitive behavioural therapy since October 2019, and will now have to wait longer for support at a time when she needs it the most. In a recent study, over 80 per cent of young people who struggle with their mental health said their condition has worsened since the coronavirus crisis began.

24-year-old Maddie O’Reilly agrees that the adjustment has been hard to come to term with. She had been working in editorial content since October last year, and was recently given her week’s notice to leave. “I was upset, of course,” O’Reilly tells Dazed, “but not surprised. In my team, not only was I at the bottom of the structure, but as a contractor I knew I’d be first to go.” One of O’Reilly’s main disappointments was that her team had been told the previous week that they were “not looking to cut costs via contractors, nor freelance or permanent staff”.

“It’s fair to say this whole experience has set me back mentally, but I’m trying to remain positive” – Kim Waddle, 31

“I’m trying my best to be positive,” she continues, “but it is worrying. As a woman who wants to be successful in her career but possibly a mother too, it puts more pressure again on success before the start of a family. It feels as if my life has been put on hold, pushing back any other plans.” Like Lockyer, O’Reilly lives with her parents who have said they will support her until she finds another role.

Although disappointed to be out of work, Lockyer hopes to use this time wisely. “I’ve been trying to learn more about the TV industry and keep up-to-date with any news regarding coronavirus’ impact on it,” she explains. As well as participating in online television workshops, Lockyer says she’s begun thinking about “opening up my options to another sector and adapting my skills to fit into other roles”. Though she adds that she “would love to go back to the documentary I was working on before lockdown”.

Waddle is also keen to return to her work after social distancing measures are lifted, saying she will “never take a job for granted again”. O’Reilly agrees, explaining that she wants to add to her CV as much as possible during quarantine, but says what she really wants is to see her friends and family again. “I won’t be taking time like that for granted anymore,” she concludes, “and in that sense, at least I’ve gained something from this whole situation: a huge sense of perspective.”