By Raluca Enescu - 25 November 2020
"You know, I just bought a school uniform for my daughter. With two sweaters and shoes…!", exclaimed Minodora, a woman I had been working with since January at our Manchester Employability Clinic.* When we had first met, Minodora was battling unemployment, poverty, and an abusive relationship with her landlord. Six months later she was working in a factory, about to enroll her daughter in school, and supporting her family while her husband had been laid off from his job. This is the story of her journey.
Minodora was born in a small Romanian village, in a scenic valley famous for its vineyards. She grew up in the care system, where she met her best friend. She left school at 14, for reasons that were beyond her control. But she got by, and fell in love with a boy from her village. By the age of 19 she had her first child, a daughter. This was the daughter she was now buying the uniform for, ready to give her the high school education Minodora had never had a chance to complete.
In their hometown, Minodora and her husband worked sporadically in agriculture: he as a shepherd, she as a gardener and housekeeper. A factory job in a nearby town was short-lived. This is when the prospect of working abroad arose. Her best friend from the orphanage was in a relationship with a man who worked in Manchester. At their encouragement, Minodora and her husband came to the UK to seek work.
Friends who become patrons
At the time we met, Minodora and her family were staying in a flat rented by her best friend’s partner - let’s call him Liviu. Despite the fact that the two households were never housemates, and Liviu never lived at that address, it was his name that showed up on the lease and all bills. That, he had falsely told Minodora, was necessary because her partner only had a Romanian ID card, not a passport, and “the authorities” would not allow him to rent property in the UK. Like so many recent migrants who look up to the help of friends, Minodora never questioned it. She paid the rent and bills from her own bank account, straight into Liviu’s.
Minodora found a job in a garment factory for a while, and proved herself a tidy and conscientious worker. However, as her short-term contract with the agency ran out, she tried applying for Universal Credit to make ends meet while looking for work. This is when one problem spiraled into more.
Minodora’s confusing and precarious renting situation prevented her from evidencing her living costs. Her difficulties with IT skills made it harder to find work during the lockdown, as she was used to relying entirely on word of mouth. What's more, her financial difficulties led to her mobile phone being cut off for a while, making it harder for potential job offers to reach her. As she spoke little English and did not know how to use the internet, she depended on Liviu, who used his power over her to abuse her trust.
The slow climb back
Minodora had initially come to the Work Rights Centre for advice on her Universal Credit and UK Settled Status and weeks later, she disclosed Liviu’s abusive behaviour. We referred her to Victim Support and to Europia, a local charity for EU Citizens, where advisors helped her transfer her rental agreement, bills and council tax on to her and her husband’s name, and to access Universal Credit.
In the meantime, Minodora enrolled in our Employability Clinic, funded by the European Social Fund through the Workers’ Educational Association. Over the course of multiple sessions I showed her how to use a job-hunting website and send the CV we had drafted together. She was a fast learner once we got started, but her experience with Liviu had left ugly marks on her self-confidence.
Just like when things started looking up for Minodora, her husband was also let go from his job. So he, too, joined our employability clinic. Minodora found gainful employment soon enough through an agency, but he struggled - to the extent that he considered returning to Romania without his partner and children. He too was vulnerable to being taken advantage of. A scammer had contacted him with a proposal to “sell” his National Insurance Number upon leaving the country. Already wiser and savvier, Minodora could immediately tell that something was wrong. Before he could consider the internet stranger’s offer she contacted me, and I confirmed it: “Definitely illegal. Most likely a scam. Whatever you want to do, don’t get involved with it”.
He didn’t. Weeks later, he was able to find a job in a recycling plant, and the family stayed together.
A little help and a lot of resilience
Minodora and her husband are two people who have been through a lot. The challenges of poverty, migration, abuse and lack of educational opportunities aren’t easy to shake off. But it is humbling to see how, with a little professional help and a great deal of their own resilience, they rose through it all.
At the time of our last call, I reached out to Minodora to collect the type of data our funders need in order to capture the impact of our work. "Wait... how do I make sure my data is safe?” Minodora asked me. I smiled to myself. I reassured her that "our data is encrypted, which means even if someone were to steal my laptop they couldn't get to [her] information". As I'm explaining it all to her I realise that I am incredibly proud of her; as proud as she was of her daughter getting ready for the school year..
At the Work Rights Centre, there’s nothing more inspiring than seeing our beneficiaries teach us the lessons we taught them.
*Minodora (not her real name) consented to sharing her story to raise awareness of the pitfalls of exploitative acquaintances, and the help available at the Work Rights Centre.← Case Studies