‘Hustle economy’ hit hard by lockdown

Families who rely on hustles to make ends meet have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, an activist warned yesterday.

Gina Spence, a community worker, said she had been inundated with calls from people desperate for help.

Ms Spence said: “People have slipped between the cracks.

“We haven’t looked at it strategically enough to make sure every aspect of our community is accounted for.”

She said that, in addition to traditional businesses, the shelter-in-place regulations had halted the “hustle economy” of short-term work.

Ms Spence added: “There are many low-income earners who, once their Government taxes and health insurance is deducted from their paycheques, take home $250 to $300 a week, sometimes less depending on how many hours they work.

“This harsh reality can become a living hell when they have no work at all and still have the same responsibilities and bills to pay, including rent, food and Belco.

“These are basic essentials in order for people to survive.”

Ms Spence added many Bermudians who had kept their heads above water through occasional work had now fallen behind on bills.

She said: “The reality is that there are people who are not just living paycheque to paycheque, they’re living day to day.

“When they get a paycheque, they are thinking about if it is going to pay for their medicine or to pay their rent. They rely on that second or third job.”

Ms Spence added she had referred callers to the right agencies, but she was still concerned about how they would weather the economic storm.

She said: “If this ends on Monday, there will be people who will be behind by two weeks.

“It will be very difficult to catch up unless we have people like landlords who offer them relief.”

Ms Spence praised the work of David Burt, the Premier, and the Government to stem the spread of the virus, but said that the shelter-in-place order had also created other problems for some.

She said that on Monday she got a call from a senior who had been unable to do laundry since the regulations came into force.

She said: “There’s no way for her or her husband to wash their clothes. She was worried about the hygiene issue.

“If the laundromats were open, they wouldn’t have a problem, but I don’t believe there’s anywhere a senior can go right now to wash their clothes.”

Lovitta Foggo, the Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sport, said the Government was aware some struggling Bermudian workers were not covered by the emergency relief scheme.

She added: “We recognise some of these individuals are struggling financially and we are currently looking at ways to assist them. For those who are not eligible for the unemployment relief, there are a number of options available that are under our consideration.

“This government’s intention is that no one will go hungry.”

Rachel Dill, director of client services for the Coalition for the Protection of Children, agreed many families struggled to meet basic needs.

Ms Dill said: “Many working parents have been laid off and are now facing a household with no income.

“For those who were actively seeking employment, it has become evident that the chances of finding full-time employment has decreased tremendously.

“These are major setbacks for our clients who were doing their best to manage prior to Covid-19.”

She added the biggest problem faced by the charity’s clients was groceries, but the need to cover other household expenses had also become a worry.

Ms Dill said: “Families are worried about how they will be able to pay the next Belco bill and rent, so we hope there will be some relief from landlords who are getting breaks on their mortgage.”

Kelly Hunt, the executive director of the coalition, added that the charity has also seen an influx of new clients.

She said: “People who have the means to provide for their families are stressed, so imagine the toll on those who were already living hand to mouth.

“Outside of the current situation, a big concern is the aftermath for our more vulnerable families.

“Once things have settled down, the recovery time for people without savings will be further prolonged.”

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