Rhona* has been with Drive Forward for some time now and we have watched her move through various stages of life, from volunteering with kids, to interning in a global charity, to completing a Master’s degree and successfully moving into employment. It hasn’t always been a comfortable journey.
Earlier this year, Rhona nailed a full-time job as an HR Administrator with a global communications agency in London. Having gone through some rough patches, Rhona was on housing benefits as well as receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), providing her with about £57 a week to cover utilities, food, clothing and so on. While the benefits system is designed to hep people transition into work as smoothly as possible, it doesn’t always work out that way. In Rhona’s case, she was led to believe that all of her benefits would stop from the day she started work; leaving her a month behind on her rent and council tax. But, she was starting a new job so she would be okay, right?
Given that her first day on the job was on the 13th of the month and that payday fell on the 26th, Rhona realised she was facing a fortnight with no money. In fact, due to payroll cut-off dates at her new company, she soon realised that in fact she would actually only get paid for three days work. Having explained her situation to her employers they very generously gave her an advance on her wages.
This was a hugely worrying time for Rhona and so we offered to looked into her situation for her. You can imagine how she felt when it turned out she actually met all the criteria to continue receiving housing benefits throughout the first month of employment. Rhona is now reclaiming her lost benefits for that month but the process is lengthy and it will be some weeks before she is back on track. Rhona is clear that the current system hinders people to move into work:
“On ESA you are stuck; if you come of it you get nothing. I was lucky I got paid after two weeks but you might be in the situation where you don’t get paid till the end of the month. This means you have nothing for the following month to buy food, clothes, bus pass etc. There is nothing to support you within this gap.
“When you start work your expenses increase. You need travel money, lunch each day, new clothes, bags, shoes and accessories. First impressions do count! It is very hard to do this when you have to wait a whole month in work to get paid. Therefore, the process needs to be more flexible to encourage people to get into work, especially when you don’t have a family; there is no one there to give you a little bit of help to cover you.
If you would like to help young people like Rhona, you can donate to our Close the Gap fund, which provides interim financial support to help care leavers transition from benefits into work.
*Names have been changed to protect identities