Falling through the cracks of Covid-19

Emma Kiernan tells her story of what it’s like to be excluded.

I left my job of more than five years in the legal sector on 22nd February, after months of being treated absolutely terribly, and started my new one on 2nd March. My old employers put me on garden leave almost immediately after handing in my notice.

In the middle of February I found out I was pregnant (my first). I told my new employer, as I had a good rapport with her, being a former colleague. After only working for one week from 2nd March at my new job, I fell ill with suspected Covid-19. I initially self isolated for two weeks, however the illness got worse and after a trip to A&E they told me I should isolate for another fourteen days at least. Being pregnant their initial advice was to isolate for three months, but I knew this would not be possible.

This brought me to the beginning of April with more than a month off work already. As lockdown fully took hold, my new employer told me that they were furloughing as many people as possible but unfortunately I was looking at redundancy. I repeatedly asked to be furloughed, but I had missed the original date of the end of February by starting two days after on 2nd March. When the eligibility dates changed, I asked again, but the catch this time was that I was not officially on the payroll until toward the end of March, again missing the dates by a matter of days. My employment officially ended on 13th April.

I had started studying a part-time degree in September 2019, meaning I was not eligible to apply for Universal Credit, being classed as a student. The academic year was ending on 5th June, so I had to make the decision to not continue with my studies to enable me to receive help. I was able to finally put a claim for Universal Credit through on 5th June and was told it would take around five weeks to deal with. I was also told it would not be backdated.

Unfortunately me and my partner decided it was best if we were no longer together. I understand this is my life choice and not to be pinned on the government in any way for me having to provide for myself.

From April to July I have had to borrow money from family to survive, any food shopping I have needed they have had to pay for, my phone bill had not been paid in a few months and was about to be cut off so I had to borrow money for that, I am extremely behind with my rent and all other utilities. Thankfully my landlord has been very lovely and understanding at my situation.

With money borrowed for four months, the amount of rent owed, all payments due for utilities and other bills piling up, I have amassed a huge debt that I will no doubt be paying off for quite some time.

I finally received the UC payment the end of last week; a grand total of £640. That includes £290 of housing benefit. The £640 does not cover my rent alone, as such I am having to prioritise what is the most desperate to be paid, along with trying to leave myself a small amount for necessities (food, toiletries etc). I can honestly say after a few days of having the money, there is next to nothing left, with one months payment of rent only being partially paid, and paying just enough to not get the rest of my services cut off.

I have never in my life found it so difficult to survive financially. I feel like I am in a massive hole that will take at least a year for me to recover from, if not longer.

I did not ask for this to happen to me. I was studying to better my future prospects. I moved jobs as my old one was desperately effecting my mental health as well as my physical health. My new job was perfect for me, close to home, a good wage, surrounded by lovely hard working staff. Things were looking good for me, I was excited about my future.

I turned 31 years old in May and have worked in law without any gaps in employment since the age of 17, paying taxes solidly for my 14 years of adulthood. I now find myself penniless, in huge debt, all while being 6 months pregnant. The stress and damage this has caused me is astronomical, I am having to seek help for my mental health.

I was absolutely left behind by the government and fell through all the gaps. I would not be asking for a lot by pleading to the government for help, just something to enable me to live instead of just survive.

Having your first baby should be an exciting time for any expectant mother, unfortunately for me I have felt nothing but stress since the beginning. On top of that, my baby will be born to a mother that will struggle to provide for her, and I will definitely not be able to give her the best start in life as I had hoped. There is an immense amount of guilt attached to that but I know there is absolutely nothing I can do. I am unable to buy anything for her arrival, or anything to decorate a space for her, unable to buy any maternity clothes.

I do not doubt my family will help me, but again it’s all debt to add to the list, as well as the shameful feeling of constantly having to ask for financial help when I have always been quite independent.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

Emma is a member of Excluded UK, a group for people entirely or largely excluded from the UK Government’s Covid-19 relief programme.