In late July, weeks after the first coronavirus lockdown was lifted, Manchester was thrust back into fresh restrictions – and there it has remained for the last three months.
As university students returned to cities and punters were encouraged to drink in pubs, Greater Manchester and the wider north-west saw a sharp rise in coronavirus cases, finding itself one of the UK’s coronavirus hotspots.
Lockdown misery was compounded when, on Tuesday, the region was forced by the government to move into the tier 3 category, a move that would see bars and pubs that don’t serve food close, along with casinos.
There’s other Whitehall decisions that are leaving people fearful. The national furlough scheme is set to be replaced with the new job retention scheme at the end of this month – which would mean those out of work due to the virus would be paid only 67% of their wages compared with the 80% they were afforded when the country first went into lockdown.
Many residents are worried this will only lead to more pain and suffering in the region, a point acknowledged by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham during a press conference as news of tier 3 broke. “Most people, myself included, on more middle income jobs, could live on two-thirds of their income,” he said, but the lower paid could not.
For one 20-year-old hospitality worker, who preferred not to be named, having access to two-thirds of her wages means she won’t be able to pay her bills.
“I’ve been on furlough for six months,” she told HuffPost UK. “I’ve gone from earning £1,250 a month to £800 on the 80% furlough scheme. That’s a huge difference for me, it’s just enough to cover my bills, which come in at just under £790 every month.”
One of her main concerns is that the tier 3 lockdown will last for an extended amount of time, mainly because of a turbulent home life.
Her mother is suffering with mental health problems and can’t work, so she is the main breadwinner and is responsible for paying the bills. Being stuck at home, unable to work, and with no disposable income to see friends, her mental health has also suffered. “Living here is like hell. It’s draining for both my pocket and my mental health,” she says. “And during lockdown it’s been worse.”
She is also aware that she can’t get a second job to make ends meet, because if she makes up enough hours to cover her bills, she would lose furlough at her current job, leaving her with even less.
David, a Spanish chef working in Salford, says that, although he’d rather live under the restrictions in England than in his home country, he is worried about having to be put on the job retention scheme. He says: “I am worried what is going to happen with my job. A lot of businesses can’t keep going with this, and a lot are going to close.”
David is worried that the restaurant he works in will close if things go on for much longer. “I would obviously rather have the 80% that we got in the first lockdown, because with 67%, I will struggle to pay my bills,” he says, but adds that he does understand if that isn’t possible.
The hospitality industry has undeniably suffered nationwide due to the pandemic. Despite venues doing much to remain safe for customers and to control the spread of the virus, these businesses will be disproportionately affected, with most of the industry’s low-paid workers paying the price.
As well as low-paid workers, Burnham was hoping to negotiate a deal with the government that would protect self-employed people, who slipped through the cracks of the last government furlough scheme.
Kate Whapples, a personal trainer in Manchester city centre, feels extremely let down by the government.
“Throughout lockdown it’s been quite clear that people who work multiple jobs haven’t been as well looked after or even considered as people in ‘typical’ jobs, which is concerning as I earn my income through three jobs,” she said.
Kate is paid half of her wages by her employer and makes up the rest with her self-employed income generated by clients.
“While I am aware how lucky I have been firstly to work for a gym that puts the well-being of their staff before profits and secondly because I have amazing clients that have supported me throughout the pandemic, the fear of the virus has resulted in lots of people cancelling their sessions,” Kate tells HuffPost UK.
“This combined with only receiving a potential 67% of my wages on furlough is quite a scary thought.”
Greater Manchester’s main frustration with being forced into a tier 3 lockdown is that the tier system proposed by Downing Street isn’t backed by science, the region’s leaders say.
Burnham has suggested that the government is using Greater Manchester as the “guinea pig” or a “sacrificial lamb” and doesn’t feel the economic suffering that tier 3 would cause is worth the risk.
Kate agrees: “It seems clear that very little of what we are doing is founded in science, which I find really worrying. In my opinion, the government needs to listen to the concerns of the people in Greater Manchester and hear from the bars and pubs that will simply have to close their doors forever if the right support is not attained.
“There is always plenty of money for nuclear weapons, war ships and pay rises for parliament, but the people who have put blood sweat and tears into their livelihoods aren’t supported in the same breath.”