Coronavirus diaries: the cost of a crisis

On day two of #ThePerfectStorm, three people who have taken a financial hit from the Coronavirus pandemic share their stories.

Credit: Unsplash

Name: Marley

Age: 31

Profession: Freelance events producer

Up until a few days ago, Marley was working as a freelance events producer, but after the entertainment industry ground to a halt amidst social distancing measures, she is, like so many others, out of a job. And given the precarious nature of the entertainment industry, she cannot rely on going back to her usual income once lockdown is lifted. This means figuring out how to secure future financial stability, while also mourning the loss of a career she has worked so hard for.  

“Unfortunately, the sad fact is that a lot of art institutes are so underfunded that they don’t have crisis funds to allow their companies to survive when things like this happen” she explains. “Audiences won’t be able to afford tickets because earnings will have dropped.” 

Credit: Hanny Naibahoon Unsplash

This uncertainty becomes more unsettling when personal debt is involved. After mistakenly placing herself in a lower tax bracket last year, Marley currently owes £5,000 pounds in tax returns, and is already in her overdraft after having to pay £10,000 to finance her private mental health care. Shockingly, she says, overdraft fees are yet to be lifted, meaning £80 will leave her account each month, adding to her debt. 

And although breathing space is being offered to people in Marley’s position, this, she says, won’t provide much respite in the long term: ‘Talking to the tax man is all well and good, but what will end up happening is the bill will be paused now, and then by January I will need to start repaying again, and I don’t know what income my income will be. It’s just delaying the problem.’ 

For now though, this concern must be put on the back burner, as just making ends meet takes priority. Along with thousands of other freelance workers, Marley must wait until June, at the earliest, to find out what she could will be offered from the Chancellor’s payout. Stuck in limbo, she feels paralysed in her choices…should she apply for Universal Credit to tied her over? Will this effect what she is owed once June comes around? Or should she try to work instead?

What makes this decision all the more difficult, she says, is questioning whether, as a healthy and able-bodied person, she should be accepting any money from the government at all. “If more people in my situation were applying for work, there would be more resources for other people in need” she says. But it isn’t that simple: “My fear is that, I live with my sister who has asthma, so there is a wider responsibility to not expose yourself to the virus.” To get a job would mean moving out, just another layer of upheaval in these already tumultuous times.

Name: Antonia

Age: 22

Profession: Bartender

Last week, the hospitality industry ceased to exist as measures to tackle the Covid-19 infection increased in severity. “Having been paid my last paycheck I am officially unemployed with no income, and no promise of when exactly the government will help,” Antonia says. She worked full time in a pub forced to shut its doors when lockdown was announced with no certainty as to when they will re-open. With no savings and the Chancellors payout to employees of 80 per cent of their salary to be implemented at the earliest in June, Antonia, like so many others, is floundering financially.  

“I contacted my landlord to see what options I had but they weren’t able to reduce my rent. I still have to somehow live, pay bills and council tax,” she says. Antonia graduated from university last year and has subsequently amounted both student and credit card debt. Like so many others her age, she lives in her overdraft, a fragile situation only to be made worse as the economic implications of coronavirus become clearer. The lockdown could last weeks, or months, and the next few months before any government payout comes in is going to be turbulent for Antonia and the 3.2 million other hospitality workers across the UK.  

In Antonia’s case, a lack of savings has forced her to move back in with her parents. “I’m putting them as risk by doing this, and it also goes against what we should be doing as a country to stop the spread,” she says. “But what else was I going to do?” 

Name: Katie

Age: 23

Profession: Legal Administrator

In near enough two months from now, Katie should have been standing on a cliff edge, overlooking the Santorini sea, saying yes to the man she loves in front of all her closest friends and family. Now, her wedding is cancelled, her job hangs in the balance and she fears for her life.

Katie*, 23, is a legal administrator working in the property sector. She also suffers with a long-term, serious respiratory condition, that means she is in the high-risk category and in self-isolation for 12 weeks.  

She had been planning and saving for her wedding for over a year after getting engaged in December of 2018. Santorini has always been the dream, as she had holidayed there nearly every year since she was a child. 

“I can’t do it there next year, it’s just left a sour taste in my mouth now, the place is tainted… Also, we just don’t know what state the world is going to be in next year, it could be better but we just don’t know” 

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“I’m quite privileged in the fact that my parents were helping us out with the wedding, so we are only out-of-pocket £2,000, which was the deposit for the hotel. It is a small blow compared to what we could’ve lost. I’ve learnt to get wedding insurance for next year, for definite.” 

That the financial hit wasn’t greater is purely down to luck, as Katie and her fiance were yet to pay the final instalment for for their long-awaited wedding. However, her guests are now out of pocket after splashing out on hotels, flights and car hire. Katie had also arranged to fly out before the wedding to arrange the florist, and as they had booked their hotels, that’s more money down the drain. 

With rumours of pay cuts circling around her office, Katie is now worried she may lose her job. “I think that work are expecting things to get nasty.” 

Katie is in a precarious position, as she works dealing with adjudication in contentious construction legal battles. It is an entry-level position, and Katie hopes to complete her GDL, LPC and secure a training contract. But her career plans are in jeopardy. Under the looming shadow of a deep recession, and the construction industry often being the most vulnerable to economy crashes, her job now hangs in the balance. While it is an uncertain time for everyone, it is especially felt by those trying to carve out a future for themselves.  

“Everything is on hold, we were even about to buy a house.” With having to save for a new wedding, and the possibility that Katie may lose her job, they are not even considering taking up a mortgage, which could be a quick route to getting into serious deep waters.  

And Katie has the added worry of her particular vulnerability: “Something like coronavirus could very easily kill me.”  But perhaps this also helps her keep a sense of perspective.

“it’s a very tumultuous time, but I’m trying to remember that as of right now I do have a job, there are a lot of people worse off. It’s only a wedding.”  

Lois Borny, Daisy Lester and Elle Magill

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