This piece is a contribution from Zoë Badder, co-founder of the New Starter Justice movement.
On March 20th, as the country went into lockdown to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a financial support package for businesses and employees. Despite his promise that no-one would be left behind, a staggering number of new starters — with signed contracts, offer letters and even payslips — were excluded from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). This is because they had started jobs — or were due to start jobs, having signed contracts — after February 28th, the scheme cut-off date. While their colleagues were eligible for 80% of their wages under the scheme, they were left with nothing.
When I found myself ineligible for furlough, I felt like I’d already been forgotten — and that I had to accept it. But on the morning of 28 March, I searched Twitter and found a group of people in similar situations. We quickly realised that we were not just unlucky — there were potentially many more like us. So, I set up a Facebook group to bring us all together.
It has only been a month — but New Starter Justice has come a long way. Like everyone else, we’ve been staying home, so most of our action has taken place online—usually in concentrated bursts of social media activity, targeting politicians and public figures. Through these virtual protests, we’ve trended on Twitter, gained national attention without even leaving our homes, and grown from hundreds to thousands of members. Our open letter to the Chancellor was signed by thousands more, leading to MPs and public figures now championing our cause — but we’re not done yet.
We are hard-working people. We were successful in getting our new jobs because we are proactive and skilled — the top candidates in our applications. That’s 9,000 proactive, skilled people, all working towards a common goal: for the arbitrary cut-off date to be removed from the CJRS and to be able to submit contractual proof of our employment so our jobs can be retained — like everyone else.
Lockdown is hard for everyone, especially those who are naturally industrious. Imagine finding yourself excluded from the support systems offered through work. This campaign has given us all a common purpose and something to hope for. Those of us organising the campaign come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds – from pre-construction managers to head chefs. It has been amazing to witness how a few people, who live miles apart and have never met in person, somehow pull together a nationwide campaign without any previous experience in the field, yet perfectly able to rally support from unions, manage the press, and build traction on social media .
There are thousands of group members contributing to the effort and New Starter Justice would be nothing without them. Together, our voices will be heard, and the essential changes will be made. And together, we will be able to support each other emotionally, which is just as important — beneath our optimism and enthusiasm lie some very desperate circumstances.
So far, the government has made minor legislative change to the cut-off date, which has helped around 5% of our members — and that has to be celebrated. But for that group of new starters now eligible for furlough—able to pay their bills and feed their families — there are still so many left without.
This campaign has made me realise how amazing it feels to know you’re not alone in a particular situation. I’ve seen so many people saying they’re reassured that it’s not just them. If someone in the group is having a bad day, they feel confident to post about it, and all our members jump into the comments and give them so much support — support they may not be able to get from elsewhere. We know that the lockdown itself is severely affecting people’s mental health, and financial ruin has a massive impact on mental health too, so for the new starters, times are doubly tough on the mind. Campaigning aside, this is an amazing support system for us new starters.
One month on, we are not alone, we are not forgotten — and we will succeed.
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