“On our normal wage in London, we had a comfortable lifestyle. We were going to nice bars, eating out every week. We weren’t struggling financially. But with the tronc taken off, our wages were closer to 50-60% [of our monthly pay],” Griffiths said.
This left Griffiths and David short by £1,400 each month. They immediately knew they were going to struggle with rent and contacted their landlord to request an affordable payment plan, but this was refused.
“When two-thirds of your wage in London is going on your rent, losing that much money just makes it impossible to survive,” said Griffiths.
“[The landlord] didn’t give us any leeway at all.”
On the streets
Other hospitality workers are facing similar difficulties. Ever since the nation’s bars and restaurants first closed their doors last March, Anna Sebastian has been helping to feed and clothe the growing numbers of fellow hospitality workers who have been made homeless. Sebastian, who is normally a bar manager at the Langham Hotel in London, volunteers with Under One Sky, a charity that has been supporting homeless people in central London throughout the pandemic.
“We just saw a huge rise in homelessness,” said Sebastian. “So many new faces came onto the streets.”
Sebastian estimates that 30% of homeless people she has met during the pandemic are former hospitality workers. While the furlough scheme has undoubtedly been a “lifeline”, she thinks that these numbers can be partially attributed to the exclusion of tronc payments.
“I would meet so many people that were getting furloughed but were only getting around £400 in furlough a month, and they just couldn’t afford to pay rent,” Sebastian said. “So whilst they still had a small amount of money they were living on the streets because they had nowhere else to go.”
When asked by openDemocracy about the exclusion of tronc payments, a Treasury spokesperson said that tips were ineligible for furlough support, as they were discretionary payments, unlike contractual overtime or commission. “The objective of the scheme is to enable employers to keep people in employment,” said the spokesperson.
“The objective of the scheme is to enable employers to keep people in employment. To achieve this, the grants compensate employers for the payments that they are contractually obliged to make in order to avoid the need for redundancies.”
For Griffiths, this is little consolation. “The government has completely thrown hospitality under the bus during this pandemic,” she said. “Hospitality is the third biggest employer in the UK and they’ve screwed us over.”