‘I’m knackered’: people forced to take second jobs amid cost of living crisis

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With households braced for the biggest fall in living standards since records began, as food prices continue to soar and many struggle to pay their energy direct debits this winter, four people share why they are taking on a second job.

‘I’m no better off than when I was on £7,000 a year’

Jo Thompson, a single mother of two from Lincolnshire, usually works a 45-hour week as an NHS senior analyst and team leader by day, earning a salary of £41,000.

By night, she is a pizza delivery driver, a job she took on at the end of August.

“I now work around 60 hours per week,” the 44-year-old says. “I felt having a pizza delivery job was embarrassing initially, but I’m grateful I’ve got the opportunity to do something to improve my financial situation. I have two teenage children, and every month I ended up deep in overdraft. But when my boiler broke, my car broke down, my daughter needed a new mattress and her bicycle was stolen, I decided I had to give a second job a go.”

View image in fullscreenJo Thompson works in the Lincolnshire NHS and has a second job for a local pizza delivery company. Photograph: Fabio de Paola/The Guardian

Thompson says the extra income helps reduce worries about her finances, but is still not enough. After paying her mortgage of £599 and £70 ground rent, utility bills amounting to £374, £240 for petrol, £150 for her children’s travel to school, £120 for life, home, car and dental cover insurance, her £20 union fee, a £35 contribution to charity and £170 towards her credit card bill, she has £527 left for food and everything else.

“I’ll soon be earning £43,000 in my main job, but this won’t touch the sides. Another driver at the pizza place is quitting soon and I’ll ask for their shifts, so I’ll be doing around 75 hours per week. It is a massive stretch, I’m knackered.

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“My children are very understanding, but our lives now have to be organised with military precision. I’m also the only child of an elderly parent, and have to take my mum shopping and to appointments.

“This really isn’t how I was expecting my 40s to be. It’s crazy. I thought I’d be comfortable and able to provide adequately for my family, but, absurdly, I’m no better off financially now than I was when I was earning £7,000 a year and getting help with housing and other costs.”

‘I could not pay the mortgage without a second job’

Even people whose household incomes are significantly above average say they have no other option but to take on second jobs.

Caleb*, 46, a divorced father of three children under 13, lives in Surrey and worked as a full-time project manager in financial services regulation when he decided he had to take on a second full-time gig in the same field about a year ago.

“I had to take on a second job to keep my head above water, when the cost of living began spiralling out of control,” he says.

“It’s very similar to what I do in my main job. Due to the fact that I can work from home, I’ve been able to take on a second client’s project, so I ping-pong between the two all day. Historically I used to work 40 hours a week. Now I work 80.”

Saving two hours of commuting time by working remotely does not protect him from having to work late into the night.

“My work now erodes all family and personal time. It depletes you. But because the going day rate for projects in my sector has been shrinking steadily since Brexit – as much of the work has moved to Europe – I’d be in financial difficulty without my second job. I could not pay the mortgage.”

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Juggling the two jobs simultaneously, Caleb says, cannot work in the long term. He is considering downsizing to a smaller property that is less of a financial burden.

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“The two jobs are an interim measure so I can build up a financial buffer that’ll allow me to work just one job again, and focus on my family. I’m currently squirrelling away about £500 a month. But when that buffer will have run out, after six months perhaps, I’ll have to revert to taking on a second job again.

“I don’t know what the way out is. It’s very worrying, but needs must.”

‘I use what I make from my Saturday job to pay for unforeseen costs’

View image in fullscreenJames Oldham, 34, from Shropshire, is supplementing his income with a weekend job. Photograph: James Oldham/Guardian Community

James Oldham, a horticultural buyer from Shropshire, works 50 hours a week at a busy plant nursery and has had to take on Saturday shifts of eight hours in a large private garden he helps re-landscape to support his family.

“Until we are entitled to claim government childcare support when our twin girls turn three our only option is for my wife to stay at home. If she went back to work her entire pay would go on nursery fees,” Oldham, 34, says.

“My £1,800 main income after tax just about covers our living costs, including mortgage, fuel, groceries, bills and council tax. I use the £600 a month that I make from my Saturday job to pay for unforeseen costs, such as car repair.

“Without it, I’d find myself having to put fuel on the credit card in some months, and we try to put some of it aside for a rainy day, although we don’t manage to do that every month.”

“We’re the perfect example of what the average family with young kids has to do just to get by.”

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‘I have to accept every additional shift I’m offered’

Sarah, 58, a supervisor in a secondary school in Cornwall, works as a swimming coach and lifeguard on the side to make ends meet.

The youngest of her seven children still lives at home, while some of the others occasionally stay for shorter periods of time.

“Last school year I was working 42 and a half hours a week during term time and then gave swimming lessons two evenings a week,” Sarah says. “I have since switched to the school my son attends, to see him occasionally, where I now work 32 and a half hours a week, then either teach swimming for a further two hours or do an evening shift as a lifeguard or receptionist. I have to accept every additional shift I’m offered; some days I’m working 13 hours.

“My children’s father hasn’t paid a penny in child maintenance in five years, even though he’s supposed to. I rent, and if I didn’t have the second job I’d have to apply for universal credit to get help with housing costs.”

The long work days have taken their toll on both her mental and physical health, Sarah says.

“I still can’t afford to eat properly, which isn’t helping. I can’t afford to put much diesel in my van so cycle to work whenever possible, which helps with my mental health, but not with my fatigue.

“I sometimes feel that I can’t cope, that I can’t do it on my own. I’m not going to be able to afford to retire.”

*This name has been changed

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