Left out in the Cold: Excluded at Christmas

“Sadiq Khan said to me: ‘I understand you teach empathy and compassion training, I could really do with you taking it to Parliament’.”

Melody Schroeder, 40, spoke to the London Mayor on a video call for non-profit organisation ExcludedUK after she lost 98% of her work in one day. 

Having not worked since March because of COVID-19, she is one of 2.9 million people who have fallen through the cracks due to failing to meet any eligibility criteria of the financial schemes set up by the treasury.

As a result, they have received no government support during the pandemic. 

Melody said: “Honestly, I’m looking at my bank balance and freaking out. Christmas is a nightmare generally, and I’m trying desperately to get seasonal jobs but there is nothing out there. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

At this time of year, Melody would normally be singing at Hamley’s or working in the Victorian Christmas Grotto at Hever Castle.

CHRISTMAS ELF: Melody would normally be singing for children at this time of year. Credit: Melody Schroeder

She said: “I used to love making the experience really magical for the children.  

“That’s what I loved most about the singing as well. Giving them that real sense of innocence and magic. I used to love seeing their faces.”

After saying that she has felt every emotion imaginable over the last few months, Melody had a message for the Chancellor.

She said: “I would like to put a challenge down to the Chancellor to come and talk to me. 

“It’s the fact that he refuses to engage or be compassionate or fix the problem. It would be so easy to fix.”

ExcludedUK are a grassroots volunteer-run organisation working towards bringing about an end to the exclusions in the UK Government’s Covid-19 financial support measures across all employment statuses, circumstances, professions and industries.  

They state that these exclusions have led to significant disparities within the support offered, resulting in unfairness, injustice, discrimination and severe hardship for those affected or “excluded”.

They are hoping to help propel affected individuals and businesses forward in the face of adversity, while equally working together in seeking to help each other emerge from this crisis.

FAIRY GODMOTHER: Panto season is usually busy for Rebecca Godden.
Credit: Rebecca Godden

Rebecca Godden, 29, runs panto workshops in theatres and West End workshops for shows such as ‘The Lion King’, ‘Wicked’ and ‘The Woman in Black’.

She said: “It was such a shock when all of my work got taken away from me. This was within 48 hours of lockdown being announced. 

“This wasn’t just work for next week, it was work for the whole year coming up.” 

Last year Rebecca appeared in pantomime in Dulwich, playing Fairy Godmother and one of the Ugly Sisters in a production of ‘The Glass Slipper’.

She also switches on Christmas lights dressed up as a beauty or an ice princess during the festive season, but that work has also been cancelled.

Being in such a desperate situation made Rebecca decide to take action. 

She said: “I’m on the committee for Equity after joining a few months ago.

“I felt a calling to do more during the pandemic to support fellow artists that were in a similar situation.”

Aron Padley, founder of ExcludedUK, claims that the lack of support has provoked a ‘huge mental health crisis’ with almost one in five people they surveyed experiencing panic attacks or phobias that they were not experiencing before lockdown.

He explained: “We are now heading to eight months of no support and we are still in the exact same position as we were back in March. 

“The eligibility criteria remains the same meaning those that were excluded initially remain in that same precarious position. People are desperate and don’t see a way out.”

Tim Pravda, 44, has worked in live events full time for 11 years and would ordinarily be working at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park on the run up to Christmas. 

He said: “Winter Wonderland is the end of my year, after I do the festival season. 

“I usually get paid £600 per week. I used to work 12-14 hour days, six days a week.”

Tim used to live in Kilburn before the pandemic forced him to move back in with his mother in West Sussex.

He explained : “I found out because I’m a PAYE freelancer that you’re only under contract when you’re on assignment. So say I’m working at Winter Wonderland, once I’m finished, I’m off. I’m not under contract.

“So I fall between both of the schemes. I can’t go self-employed because I don’t do tax returns. I’m PAYE but I can’t get furloughed because I’m not contracted full time.”

EXCLUDED: Tim falls between Government schemes
Credit: Tim Pravda

Tim added that he’d heard some really heartbreaking stories, but that’s what gives him the drive to push the message home.

He said: “On the day the Chancellor announced his spending review, was the same day one of our Excluded members went to a funeral. When they met the family, the parents turned around and said ‘please don’t give up in memory of our daughter.’

“Hopefully we can get light at the end of the tunnel soon, we have just got to keep pushing the message home, even after nearly nine months.”

To raise funds, ExcludedUK and We Make Events have joined forces for the Silent Nights sleep out on 18th December.

The event encourages people to “Sleep out to help out” by staying in their gardens or outside their places of work to raise awareness and funds for those who have been excluded due to the coronavirus pandemic and for the homeless.

For more information, click here.

Featured image credit: Ray Burn

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