Coping with Covid-19 by Chloe Combi, part 3: Money

Illustration shows a young person sat by a money tree, next to a sign which says ‘Do not touch the money tree’

Lots of people are struggling with money during lockdown

One of the inevitable fallouts from this pandemic is going to be a fairly horrible wallop to our economy – an economy that was already pretty fragile and more to the point not working very well for younger generations. The fallout from the economic crash of 2008 is still felt most painfully by the poorest and youngest in UK – bitterly ironic of course because these were precisely the people least responsible for it. Many of you reading will have been small children than and not exactly playing a reckless game with our finances in 2008.

In 2020, there are arguably fewer more obvious culprits to blame if our economy goes into freefall – it’s not very satisfying to make pithy signs to protest the virus like we did the bankers – but it doesn’t make the effects any less painful. Moreover, those without savings (so, most young people), renters, students, gig-workers, new recruits in workforces being made redundant, and those who already struggling to make ends meet in the face of rising prices and inflation, are the most vulnerable when economic hardship comes knocking.

Money worries can lead to taking risks

The Mix have done some fantastic work on money management and tenancy rights but I also wanted to address some of the choices many make when their backs are to wall financially. That nauseating, dull nagging that serious money worries brings can wear us down into seeking out solutions that can have far-reaching consequences. It is not overly-dramatic to say that real financial hardship – going hungry, choosing which bill to pay this month, sofa-surfing, sleeping rough, being threatened with evictions, receiving CCJ’s and threatening texts and letters – are not now things suffered by a tiny minority, but things many young people experience, and so it makes sense to be real about some of the ‘fixes’ increasing numbers of young people are being drawn to.

Dodgy lending

Payday lenders are a blight on society, and it should offend us all they were ever given any legitimacy. It doesn’t matter how many cute puppets or pleasant suburban houses they feature in their adverts, they prey on and exploit the poorest and most vulnerable by offering them small loans they can’t get from the bank at sky-high interest rates (10,000% APR, anyone?). They know very well that people who borrow from them generally can’t pay them back immediately and so will end up paying exponentially more than they borrowed. Loan sharks actually operate in similar ways to payday lenders (though are rarely FCA approved) – offering loans to poor and vulnerable people at exorbitant rates – but their rates will often come with the added horror of threats and violence if you can’t/don’t pay back on time. Avoid them at all costs.

Jason, 21, borrowed from a loan shark who operated from his estate – £750 – to cover rent and a bill he couldn’t afford. As he reports “it launched me into a nightmare of intimidation, threats, hundreds of texts at 4am and a scary bloke called Terry hanging around outside my work. It was the worst, scariest period of my life and in total I paid back over three grand. For £750.”

If you are seriously considering/have used a payday lender or – worse- a loan shark, immediately call your Citizens Advice Bureau immediately. They can advise you on getting out of immediate financial hardship and can also discuss your options on managing this debt. And if you have been threatened by anyone who has lent you money, if you can, report it to the police. Loan sharks rarely operate within the bounds of the law, and you are entitled to the protection of that law.

Read The Mix’s articles on debt here and contact Step Change for specialist support and advice on helping you clear your debt in a manageable way.

Sex work

Every time one of our mid-market ‘family’ newspapers reports on some ex-Love Islander’s ‘Only Fans’ account my heart sinks. This is not to sex-work-shame – lots of people choose to have ‘Only Fans’ accounts and it works for them. But casually legitimising modern sex work/selling, without a real understanding of either the nature or the potential consequences, is irresponsible in the extreme.

I have met and heard from thousands of young people who either doing or are considering sex-work, whether it’s sites like ‘Only Fans’ (where you post nude/semi-nude/sexual photos and videos for paid subscribers), Camming (where you perform on the internet for strangers), Sugar Daddy sites (where you receive money and/or gifts for a sex or relationship transaction with an older and wealthier person) or escorting (getting paid for sex or sex acts.)

Two sides to the story

Though many argue sex work is a wide-spectrum and there is a big difference between say posting pics on ‘Only Fans’ and having sex for money, I would argue the insistence on distinction (“one is more acceptable than the other”) mentality is being misleading about the nature of sex work.

As Jessica (19) who has lucrative ‘Only Fans’ and webcam accounts admits, “I don’t think my parents or future employers would see much difference in what I do. Nobody ever touches me, but I’m still selling sex and I’d be mortified if anyone found out.”

Again – this is not to sex-work shame – but Jessica’s point is a salient one. When the photogenic people in the Daily Mail articles insist cam or ‘Only Fans’ work is not sex work, and this gets glibly printed, it’s misleading for the thousands of young people who are considering it out of genuine economic hardship. Yes, it can make good money fast, but there a myriad of risks – the emotional and mental toll, the possible risk that the people in your life – parents, family, friends, colleagues – could find out and might react negatively, the possible perceptions of future employers if what you post now comes up later (remember, the internet is forever), and the fact it can expose you to some really dodgy and dangerous people.

Katie (19) is very open about her Only Fans account with her friends and parents and sees what she calls her “side-hustle” as entrepreneurial rather than anything to hide. However, she does admit that the constant demand from ‘fans’ to post new and racier content can weigh on her and admits balancing her demanding fandom with her university degree can be tricky to manage. As she states, “lots of fans will absolutely try find you ‘in real life’ and on other platforms – which isn’t hard at all – and try to strike up a relationship with you. That juggling act I find the hardest.”

The point being, in economically troubled times, exchanging a few sexy pics or videos for money might not seem like a big deal, but the potential cost and consequences can be.

If you are involved in sex work and you need support, contact Ugly Mugs, who provide greater access to justice and protection for sex workers.

Crime

Whoever said “crime doesn’t pay” obviously never experienced any real financial hardship. One of the things that the media often fails to mention when reporting young people and crime is the fact that economic hardship is the biggest driver. It probably generates more headlines to suggest that young people commit crime for the gold, Yeezy trainers, or the flash but loads of young people who commit crime do it to survive and put food on the table. Periods of economic deprivation often trigger rises in crime, and inevitably those struggling with real deprivation might be drawn to breaking the law.

Firstly, it’s important to state, if you break the law there is a strong likelihood you’ll get caught and go to prison/have to pay a fine/get a criminal record. But the other critical factor that often gets overlooked in when examining young people who commit crime is how easy it is to get trapped and difficult it becomes to escape – even if you want to. Solly (17) has discovered this at great personal cost: “I was drawn into dealing because I wanted to make money fast and was being pressured to by my Dad. What I wasn’t told was I had to buy what I sell, which put me in debt my dealer. It’s maximum risk to me, I can’t stop, I’m not even making much money and I’m scared.”

If you are involved in crime and you don’t know how to get support, know that you’re not alone and there is help out there. Crimestoppers help young people involved in crime to seek support in a safe and anonymous way.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help

If your economic situation has gotten to the point where you are considering extreme, dangerous, illegal, or potentially damaging solutions, it’s absolutely reached the point where you need help. There is no shame in admitting that your finances are out of your control – a huge portion of the population are reaching out for public/governmental financial help right now – and so should you.

If you don’t feel like you can discuss your financial situation with a caring parent, carer or relative, there are organisations that can offer fast advice and support. The temptation to make fast cash can be tempting, particularly if it seems lots of other people are doing it but do remember the cost to you can often be far more than just financial.

The Mix are always there for any young person who needs support and remember that no topic is out of bounds. You can speak to their team about absolutely anything and their support services are free and confidential.

Turn2Us is a useful support service offering advice and information to young people on their rights to financial support.

Fincap offer support and advice on helping young people manage their money.

Next Steps

  • StepChange offers free advice on your debt problems, basing it round what's right for you. 0800 138 1111
  • National Debtline offers you free, confidential and independent advice on debt issues. Visit the website or call on 0808 808 4000.
  • The Money Advice Service offers free, unbiased and independent advice about all financial matters. 0800 138 7777
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 01-May-2020