It is easy to turn a blind eye to poverty when you do not have to see or experience it. Afterall, the UK is home to more than 6% of all millionaires globally, with over 50% of the population having more than £70,000 in wealth. Meaning that depending on where and what you’re born into, poverty is just not your problem. Yet, there are things everybody needs to be made aware of as charitable efforts are urgently needed, however big or small
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the need for food parcels has been forecast to increase by 61%, UK unemployment has risen by around 5% (a 1.2% increase from 2019) and over 395,000+ workers have been made redundant.
With 15.2 million of Brits currently living in poverty and unemployment being a main cause, let’s take a look at the impact that coronavirus has had on low-income households.
How have people been combatting redundancies?
By September 2020, 125,000 already low-paid, Brick-and-Mortar employees lost their jobs due to over 13,000 permanent store closures as well as through thousands of job redundancies. The latest growth in redundancies arguably being at the hands of ASOS after purchasing Topshop at the start of the month, causing over 2500 staff redundancies at the start of February.
In 2020 we also witnessed a surge in job availability for food stores like ASDA and Sainsburys’ with hundreds of applicants being turned away regardless of their experience and qualifications.
Catherine Kass, a former member of management and visual merchandiser in a retail store in London, remembers feeling “professionally unwanted” after hearing she was being made redundant. Expressing that coronavirus made her “think a lot about what the future will look like”. Finding it the perfect time for a career change, Catherine decided to figure out how to gain more transferable skills by completing courses online, with the aim of getting work in a field she feels more job security in.
Since Covid-19 spread across the globe, it seems as though businesses have been pushed into an e-commerce rat-race. With online competition at an all-time high and smaller businesses unable to invest more into the online world of selling through innovation and strategic marketing, street-side shops have been agonised.
Yet, we must address the individual impact that coronavirus has had on the people who have lost their jobs. With most of these ex-employers already refusing to pay a fair day’s pay (Living Wage), people who could barely save are now forced to struggle to survive, thus forcing them to seek the very little help offered by the UK government in the form of benefit schemes and grants. Around a whopping 5.8 million of the UK population were in receipt of Universal Credit by November 2020 (a 2.8 million increase since March 2020), a clear demonstration of coronavirus’ bearing over the UK workforce.
In order to combat this, the unemployed have had to compete against new graduates, industry professionals and the self-employed in the form of frantically completing dozens of job applications with the hopes of finding anything for a job. One’s that are lucky enough to have internet access have contributed willingly to the rise in online learning, or more forcefully through following the advice of the UK government. Remember that ad about Fatima the ballerina and her next job being in cyber?
Still, no matter how hard some people try and no matter what their skills they have, the reality is that some people have no choice but to stay on benefits for the foreseeable future.
How has coronavirus affected job availability?
Jobs, jobs, jobs. Known to be scarce, and now even more so.
In recent months it is common to see a role advertised on LinkedIn to have hundreds of applicants with only a few days of posting. Redundant persons who really need this break are competing tirelessly for just a response, let alone an interview. 5% of the population above the ages of 16 are unemployed, not accounting for those on 0-hour contracts unable to make ends meet.
Companies that advertise jobs usually only have one role available at a time. Since October 2020, BBC Business News reported that vacancies advertised significantly decreased by 10% due to the third lockdown, leaving little hopes for those struggling to pay their rent and feed their families.
With information given by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, job recovery is not likely to occur till beyond 2021, leaving thousands discouraged.
What impact does coronavirus have on families that live in poverty?
The ramifications caused by the coronavirus pandemic have undoubtedly struck low-income homes most critically.
Families who already struggle to buy essential household items have begun to rely on food banks for basic nutrition. In late 2020, Food Foundation data suggested that “14% of UK adults living with children have experienced food insecurity in the past 6 months”, a considerably higher number when compared to pre-Covid-19 findings. This has resulted in parents having no choice but to opt for low-cost meals resulting in unbalanced diets, small meal sizes and even skipping entire meals.
Despite commendable efforts by Marcus Rashford who demands “a meal a day” through his Free School Meals campaign, there is still a long road ahead. It can be considered that even with this campaign, made with the hopes of relieving pressure from parents who are unable to cope financially, some children from families on Universal Credit are sadly not able to qualify.
Nutrition for people, especially children has been associated with various behavioural, sleep, emotional and psychological impacts meaning nutritional insufficiency poses a greater threat than what is being presented on the surface. This impact can be long-lasting and detrimental to an individual's quality of life, future prospects and health.
Additionally, coronavirus has also been proven to have a vast impact on the mental health of families that are living in poverty. As financial inequality leaves low-income households disproportionately affected by the pandemic, it also results in them being at a higher risk of developing ill mental health. Mental Health UK links “unemployment and financial inequality” as main catalysts for the declination of mental health with twice as many unemployed people surveying (25.85%) that they are unable to cope with the stress of the pandemic, while over 10% said “nothing has helped them cope with stress”. Subsequently taking a negative toll on family relationships.
“I am studying at college, sometimes my parents put pressure on me to get a job and help the family because they are so desperate, it makes me angry and causes a divide between us because I feel like they are going to stop me from getting a career I love. I am worried I will have to face that for the rest of my life”. – Salma Dressi.
For some of us, home is a peaceful place yet for others it is the exact opposite. Families living in poverty are more than likely to be living in crammed, overcrowded conditions with the lack of hot water and electricity. Going to work, school or just to meet a friend is an escape for people like student Salma Dressi, aged 18, who lives in Cambridge Estate, Kingston. In a conversation, Salma said, “I don’t want to spend longer than my bedtime in the flat, not because I don’t love my family, just because of the conditions”. Admitting that “the pandemic had a big impact on our family, we live 6 people in a two-bedroom flat, 3 of them are young children, one of my brothers has disabilities, making it even harder”. Her family are under a lot of pressure since both parents were made redundant and are said to quarrel regularly about how they will manage to make ends meet.
Naturally, families in these positions are able to feel tensions rise, causing them to live under constant stress.
What have been the effects of Covid-19 on pupils’ that live in poverty?
Now, thousands of school pupils learn from home as physical lessons have transitioned into virtual lessons over the many months of Covid-19. Again, leaving some of the UK’s poorest pupils’ disadvantaged.
The lack of internet access and smart devices is one of the main drawbacks these pupils’ face, while schools are typically unable to facilitate the vast necessity of these devices, despite the £195 million provided as backing for remote learning.
As a result of this, these pupils are exposed to their unfortunate harsh realities. Unable to ignore their fate, it is expected that some of these students will lose prospects they once had of achieving more, forgetting they’re dreams of being able to have a better life in the future.
What has been the impact on our ageing population?
The ageing population, especially those over 70, are at a high-risk from developing serious symptoms of coronavirus. With that being the case, the elderly in poverty have been left extremely vulnerable, isolated and without internet access. It can be wondered whether they even know where they can go to ask for help as some lack mobility, making things even harder.
What can we do?
By supporting charities as much as we can and by donating to causes you care about, things are able to change. Donations to local charities are a great way to help people in your community who have suffered from the impact of Covid-19 the most. However, checking on your neighbour also wouldn’t go amiss. Through supporting your local communities, you can make a great national impact.
Here are a few of the charities that have been able to save lives and create positive change throughout the pandemic: Trussell Trust, Little Village, Beauty Banks, Mind and Age UK.
How can you help?