The Coronavirus pandemic brought multiple insults with it. With reflexologists like myself not only losing their income overnight, but losing our identity too.
Reflexology is one of the complementary therapies most likely to be used by women, and to be provided by women. Choosing to be a reflexologist often springs from a drive to help others and a desire to explore ways to support health when traditional methods may not have been enough.
Being a self-employed reflexologist provides the flexibility for the unseen and unrewarded roles so critical to society such as being a parent or caring for elderly relatives. Roles that in many cases are taken up by women. Many also have another, potentially low–paid, part–time job. Most reflexologists are not high earners, they do not hit the 40% tax bracket, they simply work to help provide for themselves and their families in a job they love. It is a job they are emotionally attached to and one where clients rely on them.
Reflexologists work alongside NHS staff in clinics, hospices and within the NHS, helping to take the pressure off mainstream medical care. But despite us delivering an important service, the Government’s Covid-19 legislation branded us as ‘massage parlours or holistic places’ – a category which was instructed to remain close for much of the past year. When complimentary therapists were eventually permitted to return to work, the guidance was riddled with ambiguity about working procedures which made an already stressful situation untenable for some: overwhelmed by confusion and anxiety, some therapists felt unable to return to work.
When it came to financial support, many reflexologists were not eligible because as parents and carers who require flexibility they had a part-time job, or another small income, or had only recently started their business as their children grew up. These are not people anywhere near hitting that £50K ceiling of support but who simply missed out due to being part-time workers and fulfilling that unappreciated caring role in our communities. Of those that have been able to claim the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant, the lastest delay on February payment means that many are now running on empty.
Sole traders are broken, famillies have suffered, bills are not being paid and the mental health of our unsupported industry – one that strives to serve our community – has deteriorated.
Despite billions spent in business support scheme, the Government has sadly missed a strata of the self-employment world; that of the sole trader whose businesses are mainly run by women for women. The Govenrment’s lack of understanding of our profession did not only mean we were excluded from vital financial support, but also fostered a feeling of overwhelming invalidation.
In this bleak situation, I am grateful for the support and solidarity I found with Community’s self-employed section. Together, we are campaigning for the support we deserve and re-shaping the conversation about self-employment in this country.
We have achieved a lot in the past year, but we are far from securing the fair deal self-employed workers deserve. If you are self-employed and want to support our fight then I implore you to join us in Community. When we stand together, there is so much we can achieve.
Tracey is a member of our Self Employed section and Head of Reflexology Support and Research at the Association of Reflexologists.
To join Community, visit www.community-tu.org/join.