COVID-19: The key worker diaries - Justyna

25th Jun 2020

As a social care support worker, like many other key workers, Justyna has continued to do a job she loves throughout the outbreak, despite the worry of contracting the virus and bringing it home to her children.

Justyna is a single parent who lives in Taunton, Somerset. She has lived in the UK for 12 years after moving from Poland. Caught in poverty before the pandemic began, she earns £10 an hour, and has been juggling her job with raising her four children, aged 5, 10, 14 and 20.

Diary

Tuesday 7th April

I feel really tired after a 7 hour shift today but I’m grateful for the work which now amounts to 30 hours per week. I had no idea what lay ahead of me when I started the job two months ago. I worked in McDonald’s before so it’s been quite a change but I really enjoy it despite the challenges.

I support clients who have conditions, such as autism, with independent living in a house. For the last three weeks, I’ve been working with a face screen which makes it hard to breathe and means I need more breaks. The work feels quite challenging now but I’ve got to keep smiling.

Friday 10th April

It was really hard leaving for work today. We lost one of our clients to Covid yesterday and my ten year-old son has also been watching a lot of news on the television. He is getting very anxious about me going to work. He begs me: “Mum please don’t go to work. Stay home so you won’t get sick.” I tell him I will be fine and need to support the family but it breaks my heart to think he is worried. Eventually, he gives me a hug and just says: “I love you mum. Be safe.” It brings a tear to my eye.

When I get home I see the children have decorated the front door ready for Easter. My eldest daughter does a wonderful job of taking care of her younger brothers and sister while I work. She is studying psychology and criminology at the local college so she has a lot to juggle herself and I’m really grateful for her support. We are getting through this as a family.

Sunday 12th April

It’s Easter Sunday today. We are a Catholic family and would normally be in Church but it is closed, so we make the most of the family time together at home around my 5-hour shift.

In Poland, there is a tradition of cracking eggs on this day so we have some fun doing that and it reminds me of the country I left behind 12 years ago.

When I came to Britain I was determined to immerse myself in the culture and build a life here. Some people send a lot of money back home and even build houses back in Poland but I’ve worked hard to earn here and I invest everything back in the economy here. For me, it was never about being on a holiday for a couple of years - I came to make a life here during good times and bad times.

It has felt strange living through the Brexit years. My children were scared we would have to leave the UK and they would never see their friends again. At the moment, it seems I am needed here as a worker but the future still feels uncertain. My parents want to come and see us when all the restrictions are lifted but they are worried they will begin to need special permissions.

Monday 13th April

It’s my first day off for what feels like a long time and it feels so good to do some fun things with the children. We splash around in the paddling pool and we have a little BBQ. My food shopping bill is currently very high because the children are at home more, eating more.

I made the mistake of watching the news later and saw the figures related to hospital and care home deaths. I think way more people are dying than the government are saying and that scared me.

I don’t want the children to see I’m scared so I smile and carry on with our day.

Thursday 16th April

I’ve been at work today and my younger children have been to school which is such a blessing. It gives them structure and it’s a huge weight off my mind although the pick up time can be tricky. I’m so lucky to have my elder daughter to help out.

We are also receiving free school meal vouchers which amount to around £40 per week and this is a huge help.

We all joined Clap for Carers tonight and have done so from the beginning. It makes me really proud of my children when they say: “Mum, we clap for you for all your hard work.” Of course I’d prefer a pay rise but I know this won’t happen.

Friday 17th April

I overheard something on the news about a care badge which the government has announced but there have been no official instructions about how to get it and I doubt there ever will. I’m not complaining because NHS staff must come first but I don’t have any privileges or discounts as a carer. In fact, it feels like the opposite.

I took one of my customers to the supermarket and asked if we could skip the queue because he is autistic and was wearing a special lanyard but I was told “no” and asked to return between 8 - 9am the next day. I explained I wouldn’t be working during those hours, but still no joy. Today feels like a struggle.

Sunday 19th April

Another five-hour shift before I finally have some more time with the children. My eldest daughter has made a wonderful roast dinner for us all and afterwards we enjoyed playing Pictionary. The pandemic is making it clear what is precious in my life, and my family means everything to me. It’s for them that I work so hard and carry on.

In the evening, we have a Skype conversation with my parents in Poland. So far there are 17062 Covid cases in Poland and 847 deaths but thankfully no cases in the town where my parents live. They are very worried about me and the children because of the situation in the UK.