Lockdown has been a financial challenge for many of us, but the self-employed have often been particularly hard hit. Jane is one of them: a self-employed music tutor and single mother of a daughter with a serious mental health condition. Balancing these two roles has always been difficult; lockdown has made them feel impossible at times.
Because of lockdown, Jane is now teaching a quarter of the number of pupils she normally teaches, causing an 80% fall in her income. In response, Jane has been renegotiating her bills and is considering new income streams and drawing income from her pension. These difficulties are compounded by the fact that Jane provides financial support to her daughter at university.
Before the pandemic Jane “had finally started earning enough to pay all bills, eat, subsidise my daughter at uni and pay off an historic credit card debt.” But the pandemic has thrown her off course; Jane describes how she has “learnt how fragile my finances are”. This is severely affecting her wellbeing: “My mental health has been affected, I am far more anxious and do worry about the medium term future in terms of income and ability to pay my mortgage and bills.”
These worries are compounded by the difficulty of moving her work online. Whilst the move to online working has been easy for some of us, Jane describes how teaching piano digitally is very challenging. As a result, many of her lessons have been cancelled and she is concerned that fewer pupils will take up lessons when schools return in September. Indeed, it is the uncertainty about not knowing what will happen in just a few months’ time that is so difficult to deal with; “not knowing how school will work is a huge concern.”
Jane has also had to spend several hundred pounds to move her tutoring work online, buying a refurbished computer and webcam, providing additional stress on her finances at an already challenging time.
Notwithstanding the above, Jane recognises she is lucky to have a home with a garden and her piano. Moreover, despite the financial challenges faced, she describes how the real personal hardship she has faced has been not being able to see her daughter, friends and colleagues: “It was almost unendurable not to be able to see my daughter and support her emotionally in person.”
Throughout this period she has “learnt how important friends are, and how valuable my network of mates is”; an important reminder of the importance of social networks and community in difficult times. Even though she hasn’t been able to see them face-to-face, her friends have been acting as a vital support network when the state’s formal safety net appears to be letting her down.
Jane’s story reminds us of how fragile millions of people’s finances are in Britain today, particularly the self-employed. It also reminds us that many of us are balancing these pressures with the duties of caring for family members. As we consider how to build a better Britain after lockdown, a new deal for the self-employed and carers must be at its heart.