Companies are scrambling to put staff back on furlough after the scheme was due to close at the end of October but will now continue throughout this month amid new lockdowns. However, for those already made redundant it is too late.
Tima Reshad, beauty salon owner, London
Tima Reshad, 42, spoke to the Guardian on a busy Monday as her beauty salon customers anxiously sought to get their treatments before the new lockdown is imposed in England later this week. Reshad said 2020 was now harmed beyond repair, although she was relieved the furlough scheme protected her staff’s livelihoods for the time being.
“We missed out on the peak of our business this year, from April to July, and now we face missing the Christmas season,” she said, adding: “We’re super busy now, everyone’s frantically trying to get in … They’re panicking about going into lockdown.”
As her work involves close contact, she doubts being able to reopen her Notting Hill-based business in December. “2020 is a write-off business-wise for us,” she said. “At the moment, it’s just a case of surviving. Forget trying to grow and advance, we’ve had to adapt everything. It’s also quite scary as you keep seeing more and more stalls and shops shutting on the high street and in shopping centres.”
However, her main concern is her staff being able to pay their bills. “I just hope there’s going to be a solution for this because how much longer is it going to carry on for,” she asked. “But I’m relieved because of furlough; without that it would’ve been really stressful. I’ll have to think of something for the other expenses.”
Ian Sivell, project manager, Basildon
After taking voluntary redundancy a fortnight ago, Ian Sivell faces an uncertain two months before Christmas and fears his family could become destitute if he does not find a job during that time.
Having been on furlough since April, Sivell, 52, said taking voluntary redundancy was his “only option” last month as the scheme approached its end. He is dismayed that the furlough scheme has now been extended. “I’m sitting here really quite angry about it all.”
The Essex-based father-of-three said he was worried about his future. The IT project manager said he feared he may never secure another job in a similar salary range after previously spending years out of work following the 2008 financial crash.
“A lot of people are facing the stark reality of redundancy and that’s grim,” he added. “I joined my company four years ago fully expecting to see out my tenure there into retirement. Now I’m sitting here wondering if I’m going to find another job and the bills don’t stop. I’ll be destitute in a couple of months. My situation is indicative of a lot of people out there.”
Sivell said he will wait another couple of weeks before applying for universal credit, “because they don’t make it easy, and it’s demoralising”.
On being out of work a decade ago, he added: “There were times me and my wife would share a piece of pizza in town because we couldn’t afford lunch after I was unemployed in 2008; I thought that wouldn’t happen again.”
Amelia Hill, telesales operative, Rhondda
In south Wales, 50-year-old single mother Amelia Hill has been provided with some “breathing space” after it was confirmed on Monday that she would continue to be furloughed. But she fears there may be no job to go back to once the support ends as demand for photocopiers and printers – which she sells over the phone – has evaporated.
“There are many people out of work and I worry about the future, as I have sole custody of my children and do not have any financial support from their father,” she said. “But hopefully now I can see my way clear to Christmas; we just don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Part-time since she has to care for her two school-age children, one of whom is autistic, Hill said the furlough payments from her minimum wage job were “80% of not a lot” but were at least something.
“It delays a situation where I would’ve been without money and waiting for universal credit,” she said. “I know what not a lot is and I can make do. But not knowing if anything is coming in is infinitely worse.”
With less income but more time on her hands, Hill has kept busy over the lockdown period; landscaping the garden, decorating the house and growing her own vegetables. However, she added: “People will only put up with hunger and isolation for so long. All of this is disproportionately affecting ordinary people and in the longer term, I am worried about the more far-reaching effects upon society.”
Alex Shaw, hotel front of house manager, London
Meanwhile, back in the capital, 28-year-old Alex Shaw – who has been furloughed since March – is unsure whether the extension of the scheme will have any impact on his redundancy consultation.
“I’m yet to hear from my employer,” he said. “Technically, from 1 November I was supposed to be getting 100% of my salary while going though the redundancy process but whether they will just keep us on furlough and either pause or cancel the redundancy, or still proceed, I don’t know.”
He said that his hotel was undergoing its first round of redundancies since the pandemic struck, unlike many other hotels that are about to start a second round of cuts.
“Our company has been really, really good but there’s no tourists and no-one is coming to London.” he said.
While he enjoyed the early stages of being furloughed amid the tropical weather, “it’s got to the point where it’s not fun any more,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve been in limbo for the past seven months. The beginning was great, I was loving life, but we thought it would be over in a couple of months. We had no idea it would take this long.”
However, he was optimistic about the future, if he does lose his job. “Being made redundant, as horrible as it is, can be some form of release – with a cash injection. It might be time to re-evaluate stuff and look for something else. It is what it is.”