‘Too Little Too Late’ — How The Job Protection Scheme Still Fails Women

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell
Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Thursday ruled out an autumn budget and instead announced a new "winter economy plan" that promises to support the wages of people in work from November. The government's "job support scheme" will replace furlough and will top up the wages of people already in work, covering up to two-thirds of their hours for the next six months.
The new scheme arrives six months after the government announced a £350 billion bailout package to help British companies cope with the coronavirus lockdown, including the furlough scheme which has cost £39.3 billion so far. The announcement comes as fears grow that firms will make mass job cuts when the furlough scheme ends in November.
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The aim is to help the economy cope with the new coronavirus restrictions announced by Boris Johnson this week, including a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants in England, Scotland and Wales and ordering office staff to work from home.

The government's 'job support scheme' will replace the furlough scheme and will top up the wages of people already in work, covering up to two-thirds of their hours for the next six months.

A YouGov poll in March found that one in 20 Britons had lost their job due to the pandemic, while one in 11 had seen their pay or hours cut. For 25-year-old Shaneika Johnson-Simms, a writer and film director from London who was furloughed from April and returned to work this week, the government’s announcement is a good idea but she fears it will still leave people in limbo.
"Companies are still finding loopholes to let people go, with excuses of ‘group saving exercises’ and a ‘need to restructure'," she tells Refinery29. "For someone like myself, it seems a little too late but I hope this stops workers from being out of work, especially those with families."
She continues: "But companies are sticking to their guns by making people redundant who are on furlough until this point. Reduced hours/part work isn’t ideal but in this climate, I’d be happy to understand what that means for my role."
Sunak said on Thursday that employees must be in "viable" jobs to benefit from the wage top-up scheme, although he admitted that he couldn't "save every job". This means that people working in industries which are currently closed — such as the entertainment industry — may lose out.

Rishi Sunak said on Thursday that employees must be in 'viable' jobs to benefit from the wage top-up scheme, although he admitted he couldn't 'save every job'.

Amy*, who lives with ME (chronic fatigue syndrome), Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and a heart condition, works as a marketing assistant at an O2 venue in Bournemouth and says the government's new scheme fails to protect the entertainment industry. She has been furloughed since March and still fears redundancy or unemployment.
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"What’s even harder to stomach is that I don’t live in London or another city with a huge amount of jobs in an industry I’ve trained/specialised in, and because I have complicated health conditions it’s even harder to find employment that works for me," the 31-year-old tells Refinery29. "I have a supportive team and roles that I can adapt to my fluctuating health so the prospect of unemployment is even more terrifying and upsetting."

I don't live in London or another city with a huge amount of jobs in an industry I've trained/specialised in, and because I have complicated health conditions it's even harder to find employment that works for me.

AMY*
She continues: "I'm devastated for my whole industry and peers but on a selfish note, I'm terrified. We all know the government isn't kind to disabled people at the best of times." Most of all, she adds, she's worried that a reduction of hours and pay will thwart her future plans such as buying a house or getting married.
Mother-of-two Jane*, from Cambridgeshire, works in the charity sector and is the breadwinner in her family. She is currently on furlough with a salary of £38k, while her husband was made redundant over the summer. They've both had to apply for universal credit to get by, but she's not happy about the new job protection scheme. "The prospect of having to reduce my hours and potentially only take 77% of my current wage is frightening," she tells Refinery29. "We rent, so are worried about being able to keep up with that — rent is so expensive as it is."
She continues: "Unfortunately we've had to cancel the wraparound childcare for our two kids and really cut down on the food shop. We're trying to keep the kids' extracurricular activities as they enjoy them and have had such a disrupted year already.
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The prospect of having to reduce my hours and potentially only take 77% of my current wage is frightening.

JANE*
"But if I were to have my hours reduced, I don't think we'd have much choice but to cancel them. My husband has set up as a freelancer, working around school hours, so it helps to have universal credit to boost that while he's setting up and if any further lockdowns prevent him from working."
Holly Proctor, 25, who works in retail, says she is filled with anxiety about the future. "I worked until the day lockdown came into effect in March and was placed on furlough until I could return to work." She adds that, while she is back at work, the government's scheme still feels unstable, what with the sharp rise in coronavirus infections. "It's worrying financially and stability-wise as to how it's going to work, whether businesses will have to consider whether they can afford to do this again and what it means for us workers. Although I wish this was discussed at an earlier stage."
For many, the government's announcement is too little, too late. Alex*, 25, who is from Essex, was a receptionist for an insurance firm in London. She was asked to work from home in March and at the start of April was put on furlough. At the start of September she was told that her role was no longer needed and had her employment terminated. "Unfortunately, because I lost my job, this new job protection scheme won't help me. I don't think this scheme is helping companies too much as they're still having to make a lot of redundancies and get rid of staff despite the help."
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Unfortunately, because I lost my job, this new job protection scheme won't help me. I don't think this scheme is helping companies too much as they're still having to make a lot of redundancies and get rid of staff.

Alex*
As of August, approximately 9.6 million jobs from 1.2 million different employers were furloughed in the UK, while the latest unemployment rate — for May to July — stands at 4.1%, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures. The biggest rise in unemployment has been among young people, up 76,000 for 16 to 24-year-olds compared to last year. The ONS says that this is because young people are more likely to be employed in areas such as hotels, restaurants and tourism.
Jessica*, who works in the tourism industry, was furloughed in April. "I just heard this week that I'll be going back in October on part-time furlough, which I'm very happy about," she says. "I think I'll be keeping my job as they have already made a few employees redundant, but it depends on the state of the company."
She says she was hoping to go back to work without any government assistance but hopes that her pay or hours aren't impacted by the chancellor's new wage top-up scheme. "I found the stigma around furlough really difficult with people my age, they were torn between being jealous and resentful or patronising, especially with my housemates who are all still working full-time."
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
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.

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