'My brain is exploding': Women reveal stress of losing jobs during coronavirus as studies show they're more likely to be laid off

'I was laid off on the anniversary of my best friend's death. I literally got the message at his memorial so it was a double crappy day' 

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
@mayaoppenheim
Thursday 30 July 2020 18:00
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A study by University of Exeter’s Business School found women are almost twice as likely as men to have lost their job during the pandemic
A study by University of Exeter’s Business School found women are almost twice as likely as men to have lost their job during the pandemic

“I have lost five kilos in the last three or four weeks because of stress and because work has been so hostile,” Lottie Pope tells The Independent. “I feel like it is bullying. I go to bed at 11pm and wake up at 3am and can’t go back to sleep because my brain is frantic. It is exploding with stress.”

Ms Pope, a former social media manager for an insurance firm, was recently laid off from her job during the public health emergency and believes she was discriminated against for being a mother.

A spate of recent studies have suggested the coronavirus crisis is exacerbating gender inequality - with a report by the University of Exeter finding women are almost twice as likely as men to have lost their job during the pandemic. Researchers found seven per cent of women have been made redundant during the lockdown in comparison to four per cent of men.

While a report by PwC, published in May, found 78 per cent of those who had already lost their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 emergency were women.

“At the beginning of the lockdown, we were asked to take a 20 per cent pay cut,” Ms Pope, who lives in Tunbridge Wells, says. “I said: 'I can’t afford that because I’ve got childcare to pay for'. And then they said: 'You have a choice to be put on furlough or be made redundant'. It was a punishment. I also asked them if could I reduce my hours by 20 per cent because I was homeschooling but they expected me to still be full-time.”

The 30-year-old, who is a single parent, said hours earlier she had been told she was “critical” to the company and would be working throughout the crisis. But her bosses attitude changed dramatically when she did not agree to take the pay cut, she added.

“Social media is a critical, vital thing which can definitely be done from home,“ the mother-of-one adds. ”I had a junior person below me and they kept the junior person. She doesn’t have kids. I feel like it was a case of them discriminating against me because I have a child. I was homeschooling and working full time from home at the beginning of the lockdown. It was so stressful. Now I’m not sleeping at all. I feel really highly strung and I’m very worried about money. I’ve filed a grievance. I can’t take them to an employment tribunal because I worked there for under two years.”

A recent London School of Economics study found women are more likely than men to lose their jobs in the forthcoming recession because a greater proportion work in sectors that are forecast to be most badly affected. More women work in hospitality, leisure, tourism and the arts — industries where thousands of workers have already been furloughed or made redundant.

Jamie Bird, who lives in West London and previously worked in the education sector, was furloughed in March before being laid off in June.

“I was laid off on the anniversary of my best friend's death,” the 38-year-old adds. "I literally got the message at his memorial so it was a double crappy day. I've been feeling pretty down since losing the job. I don't have any kids but it's affected my mental health a lot. I've lost a job and a relationship so it's been hard dealing with both. I don't sleep as well because obviously I'm worried about finding another job and how I'm going to pay for bills and other expenses.”

Ms Bird said the current job market is “awful” and she fears she is being discriminated against due to her age - adding that it feels like employers are taking on apprentices due to them being cheaper than someone who has more experience.

“I applied for universal credit but was denied any for reasons they haven't explained so I'm out of a job with no income and no help and that's tough,” she adds. “I think that it's atrocious that women are more likely to lose their job in the pandemic than men, we work equally as hard and sometimes even harder and yet we still don't seem to have bridged that gap between being treated as equally in the workplace environment.”

Gemma Hirst, who lives in Newcastle, has been forced to start claiming universal credit since losing her job in retail during the coronavirus crisis.

“I worked for the clothes company for five years and got promoted,” the 25-year-old says. “During lockdown, I got furloughed. A couple of months down the line, the shop I was at was closing down but they said I could be moved to another store. But they cut my hours and demoted me so I was no longer a supervisor. I didn’t want that so they made me redundant”.

Ms Hirst said she had never lost a job before or been without work but she lucky enough to live with her parents - adding that if she was living alone, the universal credit would not be enough to live on.

“It would be a tough existence,” she says. “It is scary because there are hardly any jobs out there. When I apply for jobs I get emails saying that the application is on pause due to the pandemic. I have no idea what would happen if I didn't have family. It doesn’t bear thinking about. I think I would be homeless. I have good days and bad days. There are some days where I think ‘what am I going to do?’ and I am anxious about the future and worried about what is to come.”

She said her best friend, who has three children, had been catapulted into a state of panic since being laid off from her job in a care home for the elderly.

“She was struggling to get childcare and her employer said we don’t want you,” Ms Hirst adds. “She was crying. She is a wreck because she has three children to look after on her own.”

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