British workers at the end of their leave: “Will it be Amazon, nursing homes or driving a van?” | UK leave scheme


Since March 2020, 11.6 million UK workers have been put on leave by their employees as a result of the Covid pandemic, with the government paying up to 80% of their wages in order to keep jobs open.

At the height of the program in May 2020, 8.9 million workers – almost a third of the UK workforce – were being paid to stay at home; by the end of July this year, that number had fallen to 1.6 million.

The impact on individuals has been varied: some have found new interests, new lifestyles, and even new jobs while on leave. Others struggle with mental health issues, including loss of identity and feelings of worthlessness. At the end of the program, we spoke to five people on leave since the start of the pandemic.


40s, creates content for an online publisher, North West England
I have a job that can be done anywhere, so when the pandemic hit I expected to continue – but at home rather than in the office. Instead, I was told I was on leave – but to continue working normally. I told them it was fraud. Their response was: do you want us to sink? They said they would make up the extra 20% of my salary. So for me nothing changed – except that the government was paying most of my salary.

I felt irritated and a little vulnerable. I felt that if I didn’t accept it, I would be fired.

I’m a single parent so that was it in terms of family income. It’s very easy to tell yourself that you don’t need to get involved in business finances.

My main difficulty is not what my company chose to do, but the cultural perception that people on leave have spent 18 months lazy and it’s time to get back to work.

When it ends at the end of this month, I expect to continue in my work. The company is not talking about layoffs. But they want everyone to come back to the office.

I have lost respect for my employers. Now I’d like something in return to keep my mouth shut on what they’ve been up to – I’d like them to be flexible to continue working from home. But I don’t think that will happen.

John cooper

45, manager of sports complex operations, East Sussex
Overall, the experience opened my eyes and made me realize that life could be good inside your four walls and with your loved ones.

I was put on leave in March 2020, but my wife continued to work full time and we were spending less, so there was never a struggle for money. After a few weeks, I asked my employers for permission to take another job, which was fine with them as long as the hours didn’t overlap with my normal working hours. I found a job to fill the shelves of a supermarket, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., three evenings a week. It was a godsend for my sanity. With the salary of 80% of my normal job, that meant we were slightly better off in terms of household income.

I also returned to golf after 20 years, and we moved out of town. I golf four or five times a week, made new friends, and lost weight. I am now debt free for the first time in my life. The pace of life has slowed down, and I realized that you don’t have to be chasing things and doing things all the time.

I met my employers last week and they agreed that I could work part time for them and continue my job at the supermarket. I will be working 43 hours a week in total, but hours that suit me. Before, I was afraid of doing nothing – every weekend I was packed and ready to go. Now I grab some water and a banana and head for the golf course.


50 years old, teaches English as a foreign language, Oxfordshire
I was immediately put on leave and was really grateful for it, including whenever it was extended. Now that this is coming to an end, there is very little hope of getting my job back anytime soon (I teach people who come from abroad at a language school).

My boss says there are no plans to reopen this year but he hasn’t said what will happen to the people who work there. We all have mortgages, families and mouths to feed. We have been left in the dark without knowing whether or not we will have jobs in two weeks.

I would be on my ass if I hadn’t accumulated savings before the pandemic. My savings have decreased by £ 300-400 per month since March 2020. I applied for driver jobs and other roles but as soon as you mention the leave they are probably thinking ‘forget it’. I now expect to be fired, like hundreds of thousands of others.

I’m mad at people like [Tory MP] Andrea Leadsom says people on leave are just lazy and having fun, which for me just isn’t. I am also angry when I hear people say that workers on leave are robbing the state. I have been paying taxes non-stop for over 30 years and I did not organize the pandemic.

At least I haven’t lost my house yet, I still have some savings and I still have a car that I can sell. When the plan ends and I lose my job, I can at least tell employers that I’m not on dreaded leave. Maybe then I can find another type of job.

There appear to be three jobs available: Driving, Amazon, and Nursing Homes. Everything is poorly paid and nothing will be enough to cover the mortgage and the bills. So I go from a good job of over £ 30,000 to a job of £ 8.91 an hour instead. It’s okay for six months but catastrophic when the savings run out.

‘It’s been crazy 18 months but I took advantage of my leave’ … Charlotte Daniel. Photography: Sonja Horsman / The Observer

Charlotte daniel

28 years old, data analyst for a villa vacation company, Canterbury
It was a mixture of emotions at different stages – emptiness, lack of purpose, loneliness, days mingling with each other, desire for progress. A year and a half without a career development at my age, it’s hard. I love my job and my business so I didn’t want to pursue another career. I returned to work briefly when offered a secondment, but it was a huge shock to the system after not working so long and ridiculously stressful to be in a new role, working 12 hours a day from home. me with terrible wifi. So I chose to take the leave again.

I am currently on the 405th day of learning Spanish online and have started strength training in a bikini, working out five days a week. In May of this year, my partner and I started a business together – a brand of sportswear for women. We were also successful in buying our first home after two failed sales due to the pandemic.

It has been a crazy 18 months but I took advantage of my leave. Now, I can’t wait to reprise my role next month and see my colleagues again.

Pierre, Manchester.
Pierre, Manchester. Photography: Courtesy of Peter


39, Events Administrator, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
I have been on leave for a year and a half. Since my job is to organize concerts, I have nothing to do. Fortunately, the college supplemented my salary throughout the time.

But my mental health suffered a lot. I was under the constant stress of thinking that my work could be interrupted at any time. Being stuck inside with a lot of uncertainty made me feel depressed.

The only saving grace for me was that my first child was born earlier this year. The leave allowed me to spend time with him that I never would have had if things were normal. I bonded with him more than if I had only seen him at bedtime, and my partner and I shared custody of the children. For that, I was incredibly lucky.

I returned to my full-time job this month, mixing home and office work. And we have a pretty busy schedule of concerts for the fall. Things are therefore getting better.

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