I’m going to start this with a disclaimer that should be able to go unsaid, but I know that it can’t, so here it is: This article is not describing every male and female. It is not describing every family. I acknowledge that equal schemes including Shared Parental Leave exist. What I’m going to talk about here is partly a representation of the majority of UK society, but mostly my own experience. OK? Cool.
Right now, the global economy is in shreds. Oil is being sold in minus figures. Entire industries have collapsed, and thousands of people are looking at the loss of their jobs. The last time anything similar happened in my memory was 2008, around the time I was finishing university. Graduate schemes were pulled from under my feet, and finding part time work was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
This time though, it feels different. It could be because there’s a fricking global pandemic going on, I mean, that would make sense, wouldn’t it? It feels like people’s thoughts are so tied up with staying healthy, and hoping everyone they know stays healthy, and staying sane during lockdown, that there’s not an awful lot of mental capacity to worry about the economy too. So, if we’re not in an industry directly affected, we’re just kind of, not.
That’s not to say there aren’t economic worries, but for my own situation at least, they have mostly passed (note I don’t say resolved). While I spent the start of lockdown waiting with bated breath to hear what the government was planning to offer the self-employed, I saw clients postpone work out of fear of the unknown. The government, initially at least, seemed to be trying to be helpful. A furlough scheme of 80% of people’s salaries took many by surprise, appearing at a level of generosity beyond what was expected at the time. It gave us hope we would be looked after too.
And then it came. 80% of your average income over the last three years, not including the most recent tax year, as long as no more than 50% was from PAYE. Fuck. Three years ago I was on maternity leave, I earned about 10% of my normal income that year. The following year my daughter started a private nursery, and the monthly fees offset any confidence I had around making my own money, so I took a PAYE contract for a while to cover the most expensive year of my life to date. Goodbye, majority-self-employed pay for that period. Goodbye any shot of government help.
The ridiculous thing is, I’m far from being alone in this situation. The number of posts I joined in with in community groups only backed this up. Women were being screwed over for the thing we’re constantly screwed over for, and this time our mortgages were on the line.
I won’t dwell over the next few stages. Let’s just sum them up as revolving a lot around tears, wine, a great lack of sleep, and more tears and wine.
But move on a few stages and we’re where we are now. A period of slow acceptance, the ‘new normal’, being a favourite phrase of the moment. We’re used to lockdown, the shock of the whole situation is dissolving, and we’re picking ourselves up to get on with it. Because what else can we do? What’s come with this stage is a myriad of positives. The projects that were postponed got restarted, new ones were added. My inbox gradually filled up and I’m back to my old quantity of work, with one key difference. Everyone commissioning new work is female. Along with an influx of #womensupportingwomen posts on social media, there’s a real sense of community in those that are paying others for their skills in the self-employed community currently. There’s an endless number of people having been left behind, and they’re overwhelmingly women, and further, mums.
Even before we knew what coronavirus was, there had always been a ‘make do and mend’ attitude towards our careers as women. When the glass ceiling was given reinforcements while we were at home having babies, we carved out success on our own terms. This isn’t the first time we’ve been left behind; this is the current version stuck on the end of a million other examples. Those of us with resources, energy and gut have fought the fight in court rooms and in the press, but many of us have settled into a quieter version of rebellion – one that begins with a computer in the spare room.
The magical thing about this is that it creates an economy all on its own. For every woman behind their e-commerce store there’ll be the need for a marketeer, and for every marketeer there’ll be the need for a designer, and a fulfilment centre for the entrepreneur, and a copywriter for the recruiter, a baker for the PR, an ad specialist for the seller, and on and on and on. We need an economy. We need to be a part of the bigger picture, but in the times where it shuns us, we’ll keep on going anyway.
So while the stock markets crash and we take notice or we don’t, we’ll be there in the background, knowing it doesn’t all apply to us. We’re creating our own economy that’s borne out of shared experience. We don’t need oil to be drilled to keep us going, we just need to pay one another, and not give up.