Working in Covid
As a final post in this series looking at how Covid has impacted different groups, I’ve spoken to people in a range of industries. If you’ve missed the previous pieces, I spoke to NHS workers and students, so check those out.
Back in March, the government asked millions of people to stay at home to help protect lives. This meant millions of people were unable to work. Only those doing essential work, such as providing food or electricity, were able to continue. It also meant people spent less on non-essential things like buying clothes and eating out – which of course has had a big impact on businesses within those sectors.
During the first lockdown, I was a student completing exams through distance learning, so nothing really changed for me. If you want to read about that, click here.
This time around, I’m working as a trainee reporter from my new home in Eastbourne. So although my circumstances have changed massively, Covid isn’t putting a stop to my work at all, so I feel very lucky for that. Hopefully we’ll be in our new office next year, but as with everything at the moment – let’s see what happens.
The same can be said for many other ‘office jobs’ so I’ve looked at the more ‘practical jobs’ that have really changed due to the pandemic.
Adam – Theatre technician
Adam went from being fully booked up with work contracts, to having jobs cancelled left right and centre.
“The pandemic completely changed my year, clearing my calendar. My income source completely disappeared, and I was forced to fall back on what little savings I had. I live with my partner and her income disqualified me from universal credit.”
This loss of work meant Adam had to look elsewhere, and this really impacted his mental health.
“I have spent the past year exploring other avenues that my skills can be transferred to, attempting to get any work that I can. My mental health has taken a serious dive, and I have had to seek medical help for this.”
Although 2021 is building up with work for Adam, he’s far from comfortable with what’s to come. As quickly has things can be booked, things can be cancelled again as restrictions change.
“If things continue to improve and the vaccine comes then I will be able to rebuild. However, the recent surprise lockdown was announced five days before I was due to start a job, which was then cancelled. This uncertainty is making me seriously consider whether I can continue doing the work that I do - that I spent years training for - or whether I should replan my life going forward. This is a significant change from the optimism I had at the start of the year.”
Support for the self-employed has been ‘lacking’ according to Adam.
“The grant is simply not enough to cover my rent and bills. ‘One size fits all’ is not the model that the government should have used for this, as it has caused many of my colleagues to slip through the cracks and receive no support whatsoever.
“As businesses were reopening theatre professionals should have been considered, we have been completely ignored, and the bailout is not doing anything for the millions of self-employed people who are still out of work.”
Claire – Dance school owner
Claire owns a dance school for adults and children. The school has had to remain closed over the two lockdowns, seriously disrupting her life.
“Covid lockdowns have meant long periods where we have had to close all face-to-face classes. We have been able to continue for some of that time with a reduced timetable over Zoom which has at least kept people dancing and helped people stay connected.”
Despite this, classes over Zoom aren’t the same. Claire said how dancing in a small space at home just isn’t the same as in-person, and because of this the demand for Zoom classes through the second lockdown haven’t been as high.
“Having had a chance to get back to classes in person, it was a real blow to have to be back on Zoom. During both lockdowns, income has been considerably reduced. We were able to go back to in-person classes for a six-week window in between lockdowns. In order to open safely, extensive risk assessment and planning was required, and we had to limit class sizes so that social distancing could be maintained.
“This reduction in capacity also meant lost income. We also had to build in time between classes to clean and we had to dance with all the windows and doors open for ventilation - this meant wearing plenty of layers!”
Claire said how much she’s missed teaching face-to-face and the social interaction that comes with it.
“Dancing is so good for both physical and mental health, and to be unable to carry on in the way that we would want to has impacted our whole community of dancers. I am concerned about the immediate future, and feel worried that the easing of restrictions over Christmas will risk putting us back into lockdown in January. This could mean we have to close again and this will not only impact the physical and mental health of our teachers and dancers, but also our income and working hours.
“I also really hope that we will be able to get back to live performances at some point soon. Like anyone self-employed and in sectors like the arts, the impact of Covid on our working lives has been enormous,and it will take time and effort to get back to where we were in early 2020.”
Sophie – Teacher
Teachers are arguably the other ‘front line’ for Covid as students need to keep learning. First lockdown saw schools shut and move online, but this time around it has been a priority to keep schools going despite other restrictions changing every few weeks.
“Covid has impacted my job hugely. Staff feel like they are being thrown to the wolves particularly after PPE equipment was deemed pointless and unnecessary for primary schools initially.
“Teachers who already deal with huge amounts pastorally and academically are now working through their lunch hours because bubbles can’t merge, so they're supervising lunches and even cleaning tables and toilets during breaks.
“Tensions are running high as everyone remains nervous and slowly burns out.”
For Sophie, classes are the same size – 32 kids with no additional help. There is also no cover staff, no lunch time staff, and no volunteer helpers to take on extra tasks. She also said how she had to source her own PPE, and cleaning equipment was in low supply.
The attitudes of people is something Sophie cannot understand.
“The stupidity of the masses still seems to amaze me. The belief they can risk it and are somehow different whilst others are having to stick to the rules. I am listening to parents arrange play dates as they leave school at staggered times and wait for parents from other classes at the bottom of the drives.
“I have watched a number of young fit friends and teachers get incredibly poorly. Many of them are also feeling very isolated, myself included.”
Sophie is pleased to see schools are remaining open now, but thinks there should have been more preparation and half term should have been extended.
Sophie worries about the impact the chaos will have on children of all ages. She said, “My heart sinks thinking of some of the children I have come across and worked with in the past. If nothing else, they will be left hungry and ignored. I also fear for teenagers and the higher level of online contact they're getting over face-to-face contact. This will inevitably enable teenagers to make choices that are unsupervised and probably later regrettable. “I think on the whole the feeling is negative. However, what I can say is that teachers are always committed to their children and doing the best for them. I have seen a number of parents take their own anxieties out on school and the teachers involved.
“Most teachers I know are walking around exhausted, demoralised and anxious. The children see happy confident members of staff offering levels of support above and beyond the call of duty on a daily basis. I am incredibly proud of the profession as a whole.”
Jazz – Catering business owner
Just like Adam, Jazz’s work completely dried up as events were cancelled, resulting in a loss of income with no idea of when the business would be able to serve the public at shows again.
“Our business was solely reliant on large events such as the Yorkshire Show, Burghley Horse Trials and weddings etc. Due to Covid, all these events were forced to stop – leaving us with no form of income, resulting in us shutting down our business.”
This ending - to a business Jazz has spent five years building up - meant that she had to look elsewhere for work.
“My day-to-day routine has completely changed. I have gone from working for myself and spending the majority of the year travelling around the country catering for the general public, to working as a nanny looking after four boys and working in their family business. It’s been a huge change to go from choosing my working weeks/hours to having a set routine.”
In terms of the future, Jazz is hoping that event catering will return, and although she wouldn’t return to that type of work full time, she would want to go back to working at some of the main shows.
“I’m feeling positive that things will return to some sort of normality eventually. I hope that I’ll be able to return to outdoor catering but I will have a very different outlook on things and there are a number of things I will do differently. I think as a business we will have to diversify and look into other revenues. I also doubt that I will give up my current job. I think I will try and do both if possible.”