As we enter a second lockdown period, the challenges ahead of us are considerable. We know that the pandemic disproportionately impacted lower earners and the number of young people sleeping rough is at record levels. The IFS has shown that lower earners are seven times more likely to work in shut down sectors as higher earners, the National Learning and Work Institute has shown low paid Londoners are four times likely to have lost their jobs compared to other Londoners and low paid Londoners are nearly four times as likely to be struggling to afford their bills and basics such as food.

The need for our work has never been greater. We want to share with you some of what we learnt during the last lockdown.

What we did during lockdown

On 20th March 2020, we closed our doors due the Coronavirus pandemic and the enforced national lockdown. Alongside other homeless organisations in London, we worked intensively throughout lockdown to ensure that nobody was left behind. From March to July 2020:

  • Our Employment Academy team were in contact with over 100 people who had previously completed one of our Employment Preparation Programmes to provide practical help and a listening ear
  • We gave extra support to 40 Barnabas graduates through crisis care packages, employment support, benefits advice and applications, support to maintain or secure housing, debt advice and emotional support
  • We were there for people through the intense disappointment of job offers that never materialised and the uncertainties of furlough and redundancies
  • We supplied and set up twelve Barnabas graduates with digital equipment and connectivity

How has Covid-19 affected Barnabas graduates?

We have looked at the situations of the 40 Barnabas graduates who had extra support from us during lockdown. Half of those who were happily employed in February 2020 now find themselves out of work or their jobs are formally at risk (that’s 12 out of 24 people).

Although most redundancies were in hospitality, people working in tourism, construction and facilities have also been affected. Of the 12 who still have jobs, half are either on zero contracts or fully furloughed, mostly in hospitality. This means that 75% of employed Barnabas graduates getting additional support during lockdown are now unemployed, at risk, furloughed or on zero hours contracts.

We have found that amongst our working graduates, the safest jobs are in mental health, homelessness support and debt advice. These are mostly roles funded through contracts which have not yet been affected by Covid-19.

All forty Barnabas graduates experienced multiple serious challenges including financial hardship, anxiety related directly to Covid-19 or its impact, loneliness and isolation, mental health crises, benefits complexity and housing challenges including two people whose housing broke down completely and with our support moved into secure homes. Without this support it is likely that they would once again have become homeless.

What have we learnt?

The resilience and life experience of Barnabas graduates and the staff and mentors who support them is deeply moving, and we have learnt so much from each other during this time.

  • We have experienced the retreat of essential services, with GP appointments scarce, housing and benefits departments scaled back, and foodbanks overwhelmed.
  • We saw the digital divide get very much wider and deeper overnight. Digital became the only way of accessing services, which means completing multiple complex forms on mobile phones. Friends, family and even pub quizzes quickly moved on-line. The closure of libraries with their free tech, connectivity and advice in effect cut people off from the world. This cut our graduates off not only from the practical support they needed but also from the critical emotional connection that many of us relied on through online connections with family through lockdown.
  • We understand only too well the stories behind the statistics. Lower earners have been affected by Covid-19 far more than higher earners. This plays out in reduced hours, in furloughing and the level of redundancies faced by Barnabas graduates*.

In the midst of crisis, good employers have stepped up.

The Wolseley in Piccadilly stayed in regular contact with staff, including weekly emails sent to all furloughed employees updating them on what was happening, and offering advice and support.  Barnabas graduate Helen has retained her job at the Wolseley and continues to proudly serve as their first female door person.

Feast catering, a small independent employer partner, topped up their furloughed employees to 100% pay. The company has shown compassionate care towards their Barnabas graduate who started work with them shortly before lockdown, and they are looking forward to welcoming her back into the kitchens next month.

Good work matters now more than ever

This means paying London Living Wage, providing opportunities for progression, and nurturing a positive working environment.

  • Service charges in hospitality are all too often used to top up inadequate salaries and this really bites when business is slow or closed. During lockdown we removed service charge in our club and instead, all staff are guaranteed at least the London Living Wage and can rely on a consistent and fair income.
  • We are making new partnerships with London Living Wage employers in sectors which offer secure employment so we can not only match unemployed Barnabas graduates with job opportunities but will also have job offers for participants when they complete our new Autumn 2020 programme.
  • We are providing all employment programme participants with IT hardware and connectivity to ensure that they can stay in touch with loved ones, develop new supportive networks and get hold of the services they need.

We want to thank you for being part of the House of St Barnabas community as together we will champion good work, secure homes and supportive networks to end cycles of homelessness.

As we prepare for the challenging winter ahead and further Government restrictions, we hope that lessons will be learnt from the first time around.