For some people, it's Blue Monday every day

By Emma McClelland - 17 January 2022

Blue Monday is a day originally created by a travel company (probably to help sell flights) to highlight the feelings of malaise many people experience after the Christmas break. During January, the combination of wet weather, work drudgery and the effects of December's overspending are said to contribute to feelings of low mood. We're sympathetic to people struggling with the tedium of the month. And yet, for so many others, blue Monday is a 365-day-a-year reality.  

Mental health struggles, from our perspective, are not a seasonal trend. They are the result of work that is insecure and isolating, such as on farms where you have to ask for permission to even access healthcare. They stem from feeling disempowered, such as when losing your job during Covid, as thousands of people did. And they are also the result of a deficit of justice, entrenched by cuts to legal aid and to key services like translation. This post highlights some of them. We'll be publishing a more in-depth report on this in March (to stay informed, please sign up to our newsletter). 

Imagine working on a farm in January

A 2020 review found that migrant workers experience anxiety, depression and alcohol/substance abuse due to marginalisation and strenuous work. At the Work Rights Centre, we see this across multiple sectors but particularly in farms where workers are employed on temporary visas. We've heard from dozens of migrant farm workers who live in cold and drafty caravans with no privacy. Isolated from the facilities of towns and dependent on their employer for transport, they have to ask for permission to do things as simple as shopping for food, or getting medical help. At work, they're pressured by managers who hurl insults with impunity, knowing that temporary visa holders are often too afraid to lose their right to work in the UK to raise a complaint. In the worst cases, migrants have paid hundreds to travel to the UK on the promise of regular farm work, only to be asked to wait weeks on end with nothing to do - or in one case, to fix a manager's private residence. None of this is right - in fact, it's outright unlawful. But it's the reality of many workers' long Blue Monday.

Imagine being unemployed during the pandemic

Thousands of workers with precarious employment contracts found themselves unemployed overnight during the pandemic, and migrant workers were disproportionately affected. This was a cause of fear and stress for many, who worried how they would make ends meet. In one of the 27 interviews we conducted for our upcoming report, one of our beneficiaries described lockdown with the following: "I suffered enormously… I had to get food, to pay my rent so I wouldn't end up on the streets, it was very hard." In addition to financial concerns, those left without work described feeling immobilised and struggling with their sense of self-worth. One interviewee recalled: "Every day, I had the same routine. Wake up, coffee, cigarette, wash the dishes, wash clothes if you need to, clean, cook. At one point, I [said] 'I can’t do it anymore.' It finished me psychologically."

Imagine having no access to welfare or medical support

The UK's hostile environment policies have created a situation where migrant workers struggle to understand and access their entitlements. Take welfare for example. If you're a recent EEA migrant who holds pre-settled status and had the misfortune of losing your job, you'd have to jump through serious hoops to prove your entitlement to Universal Credit. Or take healthcare. For those classed as not 'ordinarily resident' in the UK, such as farm workers on temporary visas, non-urgent care comes with a cost. Even for the 'ordinarily resident', immigration status checks can cause delays, as people struggle to complete or even find the relevant paperwork.

A survey conducted by Doctors of the World in June 2021 revealed that, amongst the EU citizens asked to prove their immigration status when accessing hospital care, 22% were unable to receive treatment due to issues in verifying their status. 

One of our beneficiaries, a Bulgarian woman with a young son, was turned away by her local council for help with accommodation after receiving an eviction notice at the home she sub-let. As there was no translator available for their conversations, her young son had to translate everything; a significant mental and emotional burden for someone of his age. 

Now imagine change

For those living at the intersection where precarious work and poverty collide with barriers of language and bureaucracy, mental health can become a daily, pervasive struggle. It doesn't always have to be this way, and the government should take clear steps to address it. 

Adequate mental health services equipped with interpreters would provide invaluable help to migrant workers struggling with isolation or unemployment. Changing the administration of Universal Credit to account for informal living situations and provide migrant claimants with translators would ensure that the burden does not fall on children and young people. A shift from hostility to openness, in turn, would give migrants the lifelines of welfare benefits and medical attention they so desperately need, and relieve benefits and health administrators of the pressure to conduct onerous immigration checks. Finally, we can't understate the impact of good work, and of well resourced labour right enforcement, particularly within industries like farming where precarity is rife. 

We'll cover this in more depth in our upcoming Covid report, so subscribe to our newsletter. And please consider making a donation to our clinic. 


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