Adelola* is a support worker in a residential project in London and cares for adults with severe mental illness. She loves her job, and believes she makes a real difference to the residents’ lives. Her daily tasks include helping them take their medication (and avoid relapses which can mean sectioning and a return to hospital), keeping them busy with gardening or cleaning tasks and simply providing laughter and companionship.
I love my work. The residents they make me laugh, I make them laugh as well sometimes...I say, ‘let’s sit together, let’s have a chat on a one-to-one basis.’ I make them a cup of tea, I go ‘let’s drink a cup of tea, coffee? Sugar? What do you want – biscuit?’
Very few of us would refute the importance of work like Adelola’s. But she is struggling to get by on a wage of less than £8.80/hour and a zero hours contract.
The hours she is required to work vary widely: during the summer months many permanent staff go on holiday and she is busy, but there have been months when she has not been required at all. Since starting her job a few years ago, she has never earned enough in a single month to cover her outgoings of about £1,300.
I’m struggling with the wages I’m getting. I feel so bad, I feel down …there are debts there, there, there, there… how do I go about paying all this? Universal Credit gives me something but not enough.
Adelola’s budget is topped up by Universal Credit payments. These go up and down depending on how much she earned in the previous month, but they never go much over £700. £90 is deducted every month to repay previous emergency loans to the DWP.
A local foodbank eases the pressure on her budget a little and her landlord, a housing association, has been understanding. But Adelola has accrued over £3,000 in rent arrears – which are now subject to a court order – and prior to the lockdown she was being frequently pursued by bailiffs for her Council tax debts.
So scared…they gave me so much anxiety – Adelola on bailiffs coming to her door
Covid-19 has meant that the bailiffs have stayed away for now at least, and Adelola knows that she cannot be evicted. But the pandemic has decimated her income: her employer took the decision early on to ‘lock down’ the residential project and use its permanent staff only. As a zero-hours worker, Adelola is not entitled to any furlough pay.
Adelola is on medication for high blood pressure, and also worries that at the residential project it is virtually impossible to enforce any kind of infection control.
I’m not protected enough, I’m worried about the residents …they cough at someone, they don’t close their mouth…some of them are sneaking out [to the garden] behind us…they don’t wash their hands and we can’t force them…I know it’s not the fault of them but I have to protect myself.
To help her to keep her tenancy, Adelola’s housing association referred her to Money A+E’s money Advice service. Her adviser, Rosie, saw the need for Adelola to receive some income immediately and arranged for an emergency grant of £300 to covered her household expenses.
I didn’t know I could get help like this…I’ve been to [traditional advice providers] before but they didn’t go to this extent.
Together they have worked on Adelola’s budget, and Rosie is liaising with Adelola’s job centre to see if the £90/m Universal Credit deduction can be reduced. She has also been in contact with her local Council tax office to request that Adelola’s debt be recovered by direct debit instead of by the bailiffs.
When asked about her future plans, Adelola says that all she would like is to go back to work.
I’m in the tunnel but there is light at the end of it for me. As I move on, there is light.
*Name has been changed.
About the Money A+E Money Coach (Advice) service
Money A+E works with Diverse Ethnic Communities (DEC) (BAME) and disadvantaged communities across London and the South east. Our Money Coaches service provides one-to-one debt, benefits and budgeting advice. The service takes a ‘holistic’ approach and provides guidance on all three areas to create long-term, lasting solutions to service users’ money issues.