Coronavirus: ‘I don’t know who I am anymore’

The economic consequences of coronavirus are gathering in the wake of the health emergency.

The outbreak has already upended millions of lives and left many uncertain about their future, and worse is likely to follow, with recession certain and a massive impact looming for the jobs market.

The headline job market figures from the Office of National Statistics, for the three months to March, are deceptive.

They show that employment remained at a record high of nearly 77%.

But behind that figure, which includes only a week of lockdown and lags behind the position today, are numbers that speak of a looming crisis.

A staggering 856,000 more people applied for employment benefits of some kind in April, a 67% increase taking the total to 2.1 million.

In the same period the number of vacancies – that is positions available to fill – suffered the sharpest fall since 2001, greater even than following the financial crisis.

More people applying for benefits and fewer jobs for them to take instead is a grim combination that would already be worse were it not for the government support propping up employment.

The employee support furlough scheme is already paying the wages of eight million people at almost one million companies, as well as two million self-employed.

Some of that support will extend until October but when it is withdrawn even the chancellor acknowledges we may be facing an era of mass unemployment, with social and economic consequences for millions.

Kerry Homer, 48, unemployed, Poole

Kerry Homer has worked in retail for 30 years

Kerry Homer, from Poole, is among the first wave of the COVID unemployed.

She was the manager of two Cath Kidston shops, in Bournemouth and Southampton until, a month into lockdown, all 60 of the company’s stores were closed and she was made redundant overnight.

After 30 unbroken years working in retail, the redundancy has robbed the 48-year-old of more than her wages.

“It’s always been the biggest part of your life, a job, and it’s not just about the money side of it.

“From a personality side, it takes your identity away. It’s like you’re lost. I don’t know who I am.

“I was the store manager, and now I’m Kerry. I don’t know what I am anymore.

Coronavirus: 'I don't know who I am anymore' 1

Tough time for business under lockdown rules

“I don’t know what my job is and what it’s going to be.

“In one way that’s exciting, but in the biggest way that’s really, really scary.

“It knocks your confidence for six, it really does.

“I’ve been so lucky my whole life, I’ve always been fortunate enough to do jobs that I love, and the thought of having to take a job just because it’s a job is really scary.

“It just turns your whole world upside down. You spend more time at work than you do anywhere else. And if you don’t enjoy your job…”

The consequences of unemployment are likely to be most severe for the young.

Self employed couple

‘Going back to work puts my family at risk’

The Resolution Foundation estimates that a third of 16-24 year-olds have been made redundant or furloughed since the epidemic began and will face challenges for years as a result.

Many may face the prospect of debt, with charities forecasting that household and personal arrears will rise steeply in the months to come.

James Martin, who lives in Carlisle, was hoping to put years of debt behind him with a fresh start.

After working with charity Step Change to clear years of arrears, in January he resigned from his job as a college lecturer to join his girlfriend in France, where they planned to run a restaurant.

James Martin, 33, unemployed from Carlisle

James Martin says he faces a financial hole of £600 a month

Then the virus hit and the 33-year-old found himself unemployed, ineligible for furlough, and facing the prospect of borrowing to survive.

“I’ve got one last payment for work coming in.

“From next month really my normal bills are essentially doubled because we have two houses to run, one here and one in France, where my partner is isolated, and with no income.

“She is a head chef but the restaurant’s closed, so we don’t have any income coming in.

“Things are not looking very good at all. We’re talking about a hole in finances of around about £600 a month.

“And the only way to really solve that is by using credit cards. I’ve spoken to the landlord, he has been absolutely super, but some of the utility companies have been very difficult for any relief or any support.

“I promised myself that I would never get into any debt.

“So it is completely humiliating personally to then have to start using credit facilities to again survive, really feels like I’ve come full circle.”

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