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ExcludedUK: Many fear homelessness after a year without support

The three million people missing out on financial support during the pandemic have now been waiting for help for one year. ExcludedUK member Martin Jacobs tells The Big Issue how the pandemic has turned his life upside down

Martin Jacobs sold two cars in the last year. With the country locked down and life on hold, there wasn’t much demand for the commercial car dealer from Basildon, in Essex. His limited company earned just £7,000 through the pandemic and he racked up £8,000 in rent arrears. Without furlough or other support, he faces losing the flat he calls home. 

Martin, 42, is one of the most vocal members of ExcludedUK, a pressure group set up for the three million people who have been left out of state support.

What started as a grassroots group fighting the corner for self-employed workers, small business owners, and those who didn’t fit the criteria to receive furlough or other support is now a powerful movement. 

As ExcludedUK turns one year old, he now fears a homelessness crisis is on the horizon for thousands of the group’s members.

If it wasn’t for my children and my obligation to them I don’t know where I would beExcludedUK member Martin Jacobs

ExcludedUK member Martin Jacobs

He has voiced his anger at Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Prime Minister Boris Johnson on social media throughout the pandemic and shared stories of the mental health struggle and anguish that so many in his position have felt.

“For the first time in my whole life I got to such a low point at Christmas time that I contacted the Samaritans and my doctor. I’m now on antidepressants and I’m trying to find ways to manage and cope,” he said.

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“If it wasn’t for my children and my obligation to them I don’t know where I would be. I hit such a dark place. But every time I had those dark thoughts I thought of my children, I thought: ‘I’m a dad, they can’t be without me’.

“When I see stories of people struggling because they are excluded it puts a lump in the back of my throat because I can relate to that. I know what people are feeling – it’s difficult, it’s difficult to talk about.”  

The dad-of-four’s commercial car sales firm has been laying largely dormant since the start of the pandemic.

Martin told The Big Issue his firm had sold two cars in the last year for £7,000 – a total he hoped to achieve each month before the pandemic.

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Unable to go on furlough, Martin has seen the door slammed in his face when trying to access the UK Government’s bounce-back loans. He also faced repeated knockbacks when trying to apply for business bank accounts, affecting his credit score. 

The small business owner has also been unable to receive local authority grants as he does not have rateable premises, he told The Big Issue. The meagre turnover was enough to cover the small storage area where he keeps his fleet of cars but left him nothing to take home after. 

“I went to the council and said I can’t afford where I live. I can’t access support, from the council or for a national level, I’ve got no savings so I don’t have a pot of money I can use to dwindle away,” said Martin.

“The council’s reaction is I’m not homeless until I’m evicted. I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I don’t want to leave the house – I would have loved to have stayed here – but with the way the work has gone and accessing support I have no choice.”

Local authorities are going to be inundated with families turning up with their bags after being evicted, asking for helpExcludedUK member Martin Jacobs

ExcludedUK member Martin Jacobs

The only support Martin receives is £550-a-month in housing benefit. He lives alone and looks after two of his children part-time. The cash has not been enough to cover the £1,100 rent for his flat in Basildon, Essex.

He has now racked up more than £8,000 in rent arrears and faced an eviction hearing in March. With the pause on evictions in England ending on May 31, Martin fears homelessness will follow and it is taking a mental toll.

The group marked their one-year anniversary with an open letter to Jesse Norman, the financial secretary to the treasury, on Friday. 

In the letter, the group laid out why furlough, the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) and other measures have failed to include everyone.

The letter also warned why the true consequences are still yet to come, even as Covid-19 measures are lifted.

The ExcludedUK letter reads: “We have heard time and again that the schemes were intended to reach those who needed support most.

“What has resulted is a huge swathe of society, people who were largely self-sufficient yet not necessarily well-off, plunged into debt and poverty and who will remain a burden on the state and who will face a personal debt crisis for years to come.

“We all want to see the economy reopened, but the damage that has been caused by over a year of little to no support for so many is so far-reaching with severe consequences.”

Members of ExcludedUK claim 19 people around the country have lost their lives while being excluded from support.

And as the group moves into its second year the fear now is how 12 months of slashed incomes will manifest once Covid-19 protections lift this summer.

“This financial situation we’re in is not over, it’s far from over.” added Martin. “And the biggest crisis that we are going to have happen next is the hundreds of thousands of families that are going to be homeless come June and July when the eviction ban is lifted.

“Local authorities are going to be inundated with families turning up with their bags after being evicted, asking for help. We can see it coming but it doesn’t have to be that way. Something has to be done.”

Call Samaritans for free on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org for useful resources and advice on coping during this difficult time.

The Big Issue is offering free training and job search help to anyone who needs it with our new RORA Jobs and Training Toolkit. Sign up to receive a free three-month digital subscription to The Big Issue, access to dozens of free or discounted online training courses and the ability to search hundreds of thousands of jobs.

If you are out of work or worried about work and looking for immediate, practical advice call The Big Issue Jobs helpline on 0204 534 2810 or email RORAhelp@momentagroup.com

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