When the Coronavirus crisis made it impossible for Jessica* go to work safely, she found herself without any money for food or bills. She shares her story with us, and the difference that an emergency grant from Money A+E and support from our Advice team were able to make.
Jessica’s life was turned upside down by Coronavirus from the very start of the outbreak. Working night shifts as a cleaner in a major London hospital, she was not provided with any protective clothing beyond some pairs of gloves – yet was still expected to work next to Covid wards and to dispose of medical waste.
‘That is taking a risk with my life’, says Jessica, who is in her 50s and has an underlying health condition. She felt she had no other option than to quit her role.
Her agency did not provide any form of financial assistance, and she found herself wondering how she was going to pay for food, rent and bills. She started having sleepless nights, so intense were the feelings of isolation and stress that it caused.
‘It affected me,’ she says. ‘[I thought] what is going to happen, am I going to be on the street?’
How Money A+E could support
During this period, Jessica was referred to Money A+E through her contact with one of our partner organisations. Our Money Coach adviser Rosie immediately took up her case.
Rosie supported Jessica to make an application for Universal Credit. This had been proving challenging for Jessica, who lacked access to a device other than her phone and does not consider her IT skills to be strong.
Confirmation of the amount that Jessica will be paid – and her first payment – were subject to the usual 5-week wait period, and are expected to arrive in mid-May.
To help bridge the gap, Rosie arranged for an emergency grant of £250 to be paid to Jessica from the Money A+E Community Fund.
‘I was very happy…when I got it I bought food’, says Jessica, who also used the grant to cover her gas and electricity bills.
‘If I never found Rosie, I would be sitting here, don’t know where my rent is going to pay, don’t know where my council tax is going to pay, don’t know how my light and gas will be on.’
Struggling before the crisis
It was particularly difficult for Jessica to absorb a loss of income, because paying her bills has already been a struggle for years.
Her core issue was that working in her cleaning role part-time, her income simply did not cover her basic expenses.
She had been searching for a full-time role, but had again been held back by lack of access to IT. She recalls times when she was unable to travel to work because she couldn’t afford her bus pass, and others when she could not buy food for weeks on end.
She describes relying on her part-time salary and housing benefit: ‘That money when I get it, it’s like it goes in one hand and it come out in the next one because… I had to do so much out of that money and when I did it I had nothing left’.
She had also been unable to make her home into the comforting environment that might have helped ease the pressure. For the first seven months in her current accommodation, she lived without a cooker, a fridge or a bed and was sleeping on the floor.
‘I feel depressed because I had a lot of things to do in here to make it look like a house, to make it look presentable,’ says Jessica. She was eventually able to purchase a cooker and bed on credit, but is still paying back this debt after more than three years.
She also attributes a worsening of her physical health to the strains on her mental health. ‘It makes me stress,’ she says. ‘I think that’s why my blood pressure’s been going up and down.’
Looking to the future
Once the national picture starts to return to normal, Jessica wants to return to her search for full-time work as quickly as she can.
Her goal is to purchase carpets and a television for her flat – she regrets not having the latter for connection during lockdown. Rosie has also secured her a second-hand tablet donated by another community organisation.
Jessica says that she likes to work, and recognises the increased choices that full-time work would bring her. ‘When you’re working [full-time],’ she says,’ you can do what you want to do with your money.’
Money A+E Emergency Coronavirus Appeal: https://localgiving.org/appeal/MoneyAE/
*Name has been changed
Update: Jessica’s monthly Universal Credit payment amount has been confirmed. It is too low to cover her rent, food and bills and she plans to challenge the decision with Rosie’s support.
She has also been awarded an advance payment to reflect the five-week period where she was without funds. This will then be repaid through deductions from her monthly Universal Credit payments, as is normal practice.