Monday, 8 June 2009

Credit Crunch - Surviving Redundancy whilst Pregnant

I'm degree educated and experienced to a senior level in what I do - after all, I've been doing it professionally for over 8 years!

So I took on a challenge for a smaller company, I turned around their online marketing strategy and improved their best ever month from £2,000 to £15,000 with the smallest budget I had ever had to play with and the smallest team I've ever had - Just me and a part time work experience student.

Here I am, proving how successful the brand could be, I'd just had the next 6 month marketing budget approved and have several on and off line campaigns in full swing, including printed ads in Vogue and online campaigns with sheerluxe and quintessentially to name a few, and the success of a printed brochure.

Things are looking good, some parts of the company are not doing so well thanks to the credit crunch, but the brand I'm working on is doing well and my campaigns are showing great results.

I'm at my happiest - I've just found out I'm pregnant with my first baby and off to New York for a week to celebrate my first wedding anniversary.

On the Monday that I returned to work from New York, I walk into a terrified office - what on earth could have happened in a week! Turns out - an awful lot! The company shares were no longer trading and emergency administrators were in the building, by lunch time, half the company had been sent home on "gardening leave" whilst the rest of us tried to carry on as normal. We hadn't been told anything officially but via the receptionist, I hear rumours of the company being in administration, I work closely with one of the company's directors - who informs me that if we are, no one has told her.

The next morning I walk into the office, start up my computer and read my emails - I find out through the Drapers website that we are in fact in administration - what does this mean? no one knows, no one has been told by anyone in the company - is it true? it doesn't seem right that we should find out from Drapers and not by anyone in the company.

Without warning, my company website is taken down - The Director I report to still hasn't been told anything officially so we decide as a precaution to cancel and refund any outstanding orders and prepare for the worst.

At 5pm, everyone in the company is called into the meeting room and by everyone, I mean everyone from Directors to Cleaners there are about 70 of us from 6 brands. Three people we have never seen before introduce themselves as administrators, inform us all that we are in fact in administration, the company no longer exists and we are all redundant with immediate effect. We're given a form to fill in for redundancy from the insolvency agency - we're told that we will not get paid at the end of the month by the company but will receive money from the insolvency agency, however this is capped at a low rate so no one will actually get paid for what they have already earned and are owed. We are then told to hand in our security passes and that we can no longer access the building.
I'm 12 weeks pregnant and in a real state - a week ago I was at my happiest and under the impression that all was well with my job.

What do I do now?! I was told to sign on as unemployed - which I did - this takes almost 3 weeks to sort out and by "signing on" you go through a soul shattering experience, how hard it is to fight off depression and not allow yourself to hit rock bottom. The Job Centre isn't familiar with online marketing and want to pigeon hole me as "IT support" I'm also advised to go for a junior office administration role...

I'm starting to show, I have a neat little bump and I'm really determined - I've never been unemployed before - in fact with my experience I'm often poached by head hunters!

However - How different the world is when you are pregnant - the expression on the face of the interviewers when they clock your bump is one of pure disappointment. Having worked closely with recruitment agencies before - both to find work and also to find staff, I'm shocked at how many tell me in confidence that it will be near impossible to find something now I look pregnant.

I ended up being on contribution based job seekers allowance - which is very tough as you are not entitled to other benefits such as a reduction in council tax, cheaper education or sure start pregnancy grants, which you get if your are on income based jobseekers allowance.

I've gone from a very good salary to just under £60 a week, It wasn't something I had foreseen so I have no savings, every penny I was earning was paying off debts, I put myself through university and was paying off a whopping £20k debt, also in debt from our recent wedding and we bought a house - a neglected house as that was what we could afford - everything I had was going into re-plastering, replacing mouldy carpets, sorting out damp etc... As much as my salary was, I wasn't living a life of luxury as every penny was claimed for, I don't even own a designer handbag.

Now my income wasn't even enough to cover my basic bills, the pressure on my husband was unbearable and shattering as it means him working ridiculously long shifts and hours, often having at most one day off a week and working 14 hour days. I felt such bad guilt over something I couldn't control, felt nervous of how we were going to survive - what if we couldn't pay our mortgage, How are we going to buy things for the baby - there go my dreams of doing pregnancy yoga and the things I was looking forward to in pregnancy.

This went on for so long, I was forced to swap to maternity allowance - which on one hand is great because at least it's more than job seekers allowance but on the other hand is hard as you are forced to take it at 26 weeks - that's just over half way through your pregnancy and a lot earlier than I would have been starting it had I been employed - It makes you feel like you are officially useless and unfit to work in the eyes of the government. Maternity allowance (MA), by the way, takes about 6 weeks to sort out! You get paid a backlog in one go of what's owed to you and I also applied for the health in pregnancy grant (Hip), which takes about 5 weeks to sort out - it's worth £190 and it's available to almost all pregnant ladies in the UK. (And that is how we went from a moldy carpet in the baby's room to a brand new one!)

On one hand I've had to do everything I can to fight off depression, deal with being broke beyond broke building up even more debt, felt the guilt of adding extra pressure to my husband, given up the dreams of doing things for a happy pregnancy such as the yoga classes and pregnancy massage and buying the things I wanted to provide for my baby - I had to save up £6 to buy the hungry caterpiller book to read to my unborn baby. Some days are so soul shattering that I would curl up in a ball and cry my eyes out.

But on the other hand, I've had a fairly easy pregnancy and been able to rest as much as I've needed too and get things done in the house and prepare for the baby to arrive. My husband has been a fantastic support and I'm so grateful to have him as a partner. I'm not sure my pregnancy would have been as straight forward had I still been in a high pressured job, with it's hour long commute on a packed train and office hours which often run over way beyond the half five clocking out time. Constantly being monitored on my performance and reporting to the board.

It's tough to survive redundancy at the best of times, let alone when you are pregnant - but it can be done, if you find yourself in the same situation - Chin up, keep positive and try to see the good side to the situation.

Emma in Bromley

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Emma x