The Women Who Don’t Qualify For Financial Aid

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell
When Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £350 billion bailout package to help British companies cope with the coronavirus lockdown, the government was heavily criticised for not putting workers first. Soon after, Sunak announced that the government would pay the wages of millions of workers – a move he described as "unprecedented measures for unprecedented times".
A YouGov poll last week found that one in 20 people in the UK have lost a job due to coronavirus, while one in 11 have had their hours cut as a result of the pandemic. The numbers this week would likely be far higher. While everyone will be impacted in some way, young women are among the most vulnerable.
According to the Young Women's Trust, over a million young women are already struggling to live on low or no pay and the coronavirus outbreak is only going to make it worse. Sophie Walker, CEO of Young Women's Trust said: "Young women are more likely to be in precarious, unprotected contracts and dependent on a dysfunctional benefits system that faces ever greater demand. We call on the government to urgently overhaul universal credit and extend a work safety net to ensure those who are already economically vulnerable are not plunged into even greater hardship."

One in 20 Britons have lost their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rhéa Rosana, 25, from Manchester says that the coronavirus outbreak has left her in financial limbo. After deciding to move from marketing to the hospitality sector, she interviewed for a number of jobs in January. She secured a role, handed in her resignation and worked her month's notice up until 28th February. She started her new role the following Monday 2nd March. Then as the government announced the job retention scheme, her company started to furlough its staff. Rhéa, however, was kept on as skeleton staff. "For me, this was great as I had expected to be made redundant with being so new," she tells Refinery29.
Rhéa was later placed on furlough. As part of its financial plan for coronavirus, the government has agreed to pay 80% of the wages of people on furlough, up to £2,500, for three months. It is hoped this will prevent companies from making their staff redundant or firing them. But Rhéa is unable to claim. The new rules mean that workers who were not on payroll on 28th February will not be eligible. She started work on 2nd March.
"I have been stuck in limbo not knowing what is happening with my job or pay as my company tries to explore every avenue and assist me in this situation," she says. "I am a young professional and while I have some savings, these can only get me so far. I live on my own and I am not financially dependent on anyone, so if I do not make a wage then I face the possibility of losing everything."
Following the news, Rhéa launched a petition that calls for the government to support workers who started their jobs after 28th February. The petition has garnered over 35,000 signatures at the time of writing and a Facebook group has now emerged with over 3,000 members supporting and lobbying for change. Rhéa says she's been contacted by over 100 people across her social media accounts sharing similar stories.

I am a young professional and while I have some savings, these can only get me so far. I live on my own and I am not financially dependent on anyone, so if I do not make a wage then I face the possibility of losing everything.

Rhéa, 25
"There was one man who messaged me to support the petition who was due to start his new position on 6th April," she says. "He was working his notice period for his employer, due to finish on 3rd April, and now has been told that his start date will be deferred indefinitely until this is over. His old employer, who he is technically still on the books for, has told him they won't help as it was his decision to leave."
There are many other reasons women are falling through the cracks of the government's bailout. One young woman from R29's Money Diaries Facebook group said she was due to start freelancing on 20th March but because of the coronavirus outbreak, all of her work has been cancelled. "I had asked my employer to retract my resignation as I was aware of the issues surrounding the virus but they declined," she wrote.
Another said her job offer had been revoked. "My new company has now retracted my offer stating that because of COVID-19, my role as office manager is no longer required," she wrote. She added that the company has told her they will pay her for only one week, as per a clause in her contract. "I am now in a situation where my current job is coming to an end and I am set to have no income for the foreseeable. I am not entitled to furlough because I was not on the payroll on 28th February."
After the backlash from the public, the government eventually also outlined new measures to help self-employed people, who are set to receive an average of 80% of their salary with back pay in June. However, this package, too, comes with caveats. "Anyone else become self-employed a year ago?" another young woman in the Facebook group asked. "Seems we're excluded from the new announcement. Can't do a self-assessment until the end of the financial year and I was PAYE in 2018-19."
If you don't qualify for one of the government's new schemes, the alternative is universal credit. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that claimants "don't need to worry" about financial penalties such as sanctions (a cut in their payment) if they cannot meet the requirements in their commitment or if they miss a meeting. Nearly a million people have applied for universal credit since the UK announced a lockdown, putting pressure on DWP staff who are used to processing 100,000 claims in a two-week period. Reports of delays are common.
But for Rhéa, this isn't an option. "We are being told that universal credit is the answer. £100 a week certainly isn't going to pay for anyone's rent or mortgage and I'm still technically employed at this point so I don't even know what it would mean to get another job to top that payment up," she says. "Plus, I'm not naive enough to believe that if I were to apply right now I would receive any payment in time for my next bill's due date."
Many others have expressed their concerns, with some already being hit with sanctions. Others have been unable to register for universal credit due to the high volume of applicants.
Rhéa says her current and former employers are doing their best to try and support her but she's disappointed that HMRC and the Treasury haven't clarified the issues relating to those who don't qualify for furlough.
"I've worked consistently since I was 16, even alongside my studies, and do not see why at this time I am being penalised for not being able to see into the future and predict that coronavirus would be a pandemic before some of the world's smartest minds could see it was going that way.
"I get that no scheme can be perfect and cover everyone but the last few days have shown me we aren't that much of a minority. There needs to be something in place to support the people that fall through the gap."
The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. It says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don't get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever.