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One year on: how lockdown has affected me

  • 14/05/2021

Céilí Fisher, Co-production Partner at Turn2us, writes about her experience of lockdown.

Woman's face, smiling at the camera

I’m Céilí and I’m 31, from Bournemouth. I’ve lived around the South coast all my life. I love the seaside and am lucky to have been born here. As a teenager I wanted to study the social sciences. So I went to the University of Plymouth where I read Sociology with Criminology. Doing social and psychological sciences changed my thinking forever. I got a lower grade than expected and spent the next few years wondering what was wrong with me. I graduated with an honours; however, when I did so back in 2011 jobs were scarce. There were, on average, 70- 100 applicants per post.  I remember at that time I applied for 100 jobs in just over a week! 


It was at this point I first accessed the JobCentre and benefits, away from an education setting. I earned Job Seekers Allowance weekly but the amount I received was only enough to buy a bit of food for the week. I had to stay with my father, despite feeling ready to fly the nest, as I had already done with university. In this period, I worked many bar and retail jobs. My living and work situations changed so often, as being unemployed for even a brief time meant living with the stigma that comes from not working. To make it worse, claiming benefits just to get by means many people consider you to be lazy or ignorant.


One happy job was when I worked for the Olympics, placed in the sailing village, but it didn’t go without its stresses. I fell into childcare within nursery settings with a view to retrain and work my way up to management levels. I thought to myself, this is the final job I will do. This was a bumpy ride, just as my working life had been until then. Lack of funds, poor management and my low self-worth lead to me losing hours and being treated badly. Zero-hour contracts were all I could seem to get, hence ruining my self-esteem.


Fast forward a few years to the end of 2019 - I was living in a house share with some people who I didn’t get on with, especially one flatmate whose boyfriend caused tension for all. Whilst living there, I was bullied and harassed, until I had to get the police involved. With support from my family and counselling I was able to take control of my life and move on.


When the March 2020 lockdown happened my Mum kindly offered me her spare room. It was around then I got in contact with Turn2us, asking for information on grants to help me with all the sudden changes to my living situation and life.


My mum owns several businesses and her work dried up with all of them once the lockdown started. She wasn’t eligible for any support, despite her having no income or relief from council tax. By June 2020 we were having to rethink everything to somehow get by! She had payment holidays and access to credit cards, but it will now take her nearly 2 years to recover financially from her losses.


It makes me sick that no matter what we did she got hardly anywhere. By this point I had been on Universal Credit for a few years and it had kind of worked. It enabled me to live in modest accommodation and covered the losses of having zero hours from my employer. This was mainly while I was staying in the shared house and working a nursery job in term time and a children’s day camp job in summer time.


When I moved in with my mum this changed. The benefits assessors made the assumption that, as I was living ‘at home’, I therefore wouldn’t require my normal amount of Universal Credit income. This was devastating. After an appeal where I asked to be classified as a lodger and with the vital £20 uplift I could finally I could pay more towards the flat to help my mother out. Around this time I had also been told not to return to my house and was unfairly given a section 21. It all happened at the right time though as it gave me a push to continue to improve things.


Now I have moved to Bournemouth and have a lovely flat. Having felt the difference myself, I believe the uplift needs to be kept to help people to have more than just an existence but some sort of life in which they have choice, hope and certainty.


I am currently off work so I can manage my mental health. This happened just before lockdown when I wasn’t coping due all the challenges faced in all aspects of my life. I now have access to peer support and have started to see not all this was my fault and that I deserve more. I am working on my self-esteem too. Before, on a bad day I would get so upset that I was not wanted anywhere and think of ending it all; now I have more good days than bad. When Pip (Head of Insight and Impact at Turn2us) and Abby (Co-production and Participation Officer at Turn2us) reached out to me about opportunities to collaborate with the charity and made me aware of Turn2us grants, I was delighted. A year on, I have contributed to external and internal projects with the charity. I have now been on television, radio and in print. Plus I have helped redesign the benefits calculator, launching this month. Because of all this, I can now imagine working again in the near future.


If you are struggling with the aftermath of coronavirus on your finances please do what I did and just contact this charity. Even if it is a change, like I mentioned, unrelated to the virus - everyone deserves information and support without judgment. I am using my voice and experience for positive change and hope others can join me along the way. This is how we fight for better government support and tackle benefit stigma.


Get Support

Use our free and easy-to-use Benefit Calculator to ensure you are receiving all the financial support available to you

Check our coronavirus information pages for the latest updates 

Make your voice heard

Write to your MP about keeping the Universal Credit £20 uplift


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