Sheffield’s ‘excluded’ self employed community describe lack of Government help as ‘soul destroying’, ‘disgraceful and humiliating’

The self-employed community across Sheffield and Derbyshire have spoken out about feeling ‘excluded’ throughout the pandemic and want to raise awareness of the financial and mental struggles they are still facing.

Tuesday, 15th December 2020, 4:45 pm

It has been estimated that up to three million people have ‘fallen through the cracks’ when it comes to receiving financial support from the Government - many have been unable to claim grants, universal credit or job seekers allowance due to not meeting the eligibility criteria.

The situation has left those affected - including freelancers, job changers, furlough refusees, limited company directors amongst others - under a great amount of stress, especially those who have ‘fallen through every single crack’.

Eleanor Gaywood, a freelancer, said: “It’s making people aware. The Government is pretending we don’t exist. We’re not qualified for anything at all.”

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James McKay, a zoologist.

She, along with many others, ‘just want to be heard’.

Eleanor added: “We would like to be acknowledged - people through no fault of their own are struggling.”

The 28-year-old worked part-time at Sheffield Council before becoming fully self employed in October 2018.

As a result of more than half her income coming from being an employee compared to that earned through being self employed in 2018, she is not eligible to claim for any financial help this year, as of yet.

Eleanor Gaywood, a freelancer who teaches dance and fitness classes.

She questions why this is part of the deciding criteria when she is not in the same situation now as she was then and the expectant mother fears that this will affect her rights to maternity pay.

She said: “If I hadn't had the support from my family, and the dance school taking out memberships, I don’t know what I’d do.”

Eleanor, who lives in Dronfield, was saving up for a deposit for a new house but is now having to live off that money instead.

Cheryl Jones, a Rotherham based ex-servicewoman who served 22 years in the British Army.

She added: “It’s scary seeing it dwindling and not knowing how long it can go on for.”

Although Eleanor has still managed to hold some classes online during lockdown and her partner’s job is okay, others are having to make the choice of whether to have the lights or heating on.

On learning about another Government grant, Eleanor said: “It’s a long time to go with no income. I found out I didn’t qualify - it was soul destroying.”

The stress of the past year has taken its toll on people’s mental health especially, with some devastating consequences.

Eleanor added: “People have taken their own lives.”

The self employed community have felt so excluded by the Government that they have created their own support network, ExcludedUK, a grassroots volunteer-run not-for-profit organisation which is hoping to bring more equality to the current Covid-19 financial support system.

Other ‘excluded’ members in the South Yorkshire region include Deb Howe - a Sheffield entrepreneur whose story was told by The Star earlier this month - and Cheryl Jones - a Rotherham based ex-servicewoman who served 22 years in the British Army.

Cheryl left the Army ten years ago and became a self-employed pet sitter and dog walker to supplement her pension, as it was insufficient to maintain all her living costs.

As a result of coronavirus restrictions, Cheryl’s business ‘closed down overnight’.

She was denied any help from the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme because of her Army pension.

Cheryl said: “This should never have happened. I am devastated. I have cried uncontrollably many times as I feel worthless, let down and abandoned by my own Government in my hour of need. I

" feel that my efforts to serve my Queen and Country and the sacrifices I have faced over 22 years of Service to maintain our freedom now appear to be insignificant and disregarded. This is not through any fault of my own.”

She has described the experience as ‘disgraceful and humiliating’ and it has ‘battered’ her mental health, but she is still trying to maintain some positivity through the voluntary work she is doing in her community.

She said: “I just don’t understand what I have done wrong for the Government to just disregard me and 3 million others.”

Cheryl has ‘always strived for parity and equal opportunity’ and would like to see the Government offer some sort of compensation package to the ‘excluded’.

James McKay, a zoologist-based in Derbyshire, and whose work credits include that of Harry Potter is another member of the ‘excluded’ community.

He usually works with schools and the media, among others, but has not worked since March 6.

Like Cheryl, James’ pension meant he has also not been eligible for any financial support and is ‘racking up borrowings on various credit cards’ as a result.

James said: “I do not know how I will be able to repay these, and this is a constant worry.”

His wife is still in work but the couple have still had to make sacrifices with hot water and central heating, are buying the cheapest food possible, have cancelled various subscriptions and declared SORN on their cars.

James has been advised to ‘simply get rid’ of his animals, but has described this as an ‘unthinkable’ option as they are very dear to him.

He has started several fundraisers but admits it is ‘a struggle’.

James said: “I simply want the Government to give us parity with those furloughed - nothing more and nothing less.

"We should not have extra criteria to meet in order to justify being helped in the exact same manner as those working for businesses.”

Eleanor, Cheryl, Deb and James, are just a few of the millions of people who have been left to ‘fend for themselves’. They just want their voices to be heard and for the Government to take notice.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.