A New Start for a New Year

Our blog is from the inspirational Nelly Khawaja.  If you’re thinking about a fresh start for 2020 here’s a story that will give you heart that, regardless of the obstacles along the way, you too can achieve.

On the 26th November 2019, I was called to the Bar of England and Wales by the Honourable Society of Lincolns Inn. During the ceremony, I gazed in space and embraced my surrounding. I took a moment to myself and thought about my journey.

I emigrated from Norway aged 9 without any prior knowledge of the English language. To avoid the extensive details, I was mistreated and I experienced a distressing upbringing by the hands of my father. As a witness, I felt lost in a system where the legal professionals were unrelatable and at times, condescending. I really thought there was no escape, I convinced myself ‘this is my life now, and it will never end’.

I turned to education and started finding peace in studying. I told myself I will study until I can be that voice for the most vulnerable members of our society! Just reading alone made me feel stronger. It’s true what they say ‘knowledge is power’.

I had many obstacles along the way, and one of the main ones was being questionable of my own abilities. I didn’t achieve the required grades to get into college. I had to do BTEC’s and NVQ’s. My journey to become a barrister started to feel impossible. I started to self-pity and blaming everything around me. That didn’t get me far. As much as I wanted someone to feel sorry for me and help me escape, no one was able to do that except me!

Despite the adversity, I did a year’s access course to get into University. I then completed my three years Law with Criminology degree and graduated in 2018.

Things were starting to look up and life started feeling meaningful. I was getting more independent and I had a better understanding of my rights. Being able to discover that in itself made me feel so much happier! I felt like no one could touch me now!

So, here I am today, having been called to the Bar. It truly is my biggest achievement to date.

I feel the importance to encourage people to stop thinking you can’t do something because of your past. Coming from a broken family or a deprived background doesn’t make you any less capable! Find your determination in the negative things that happen in your life, never allow yourself to relive it!

 

A Pregnant Pause

We’ve teamed up with Eastbourne CAB to help raise awareness of women’s workplace rights when pregnant.  Here’s some insights from  Karen Costello-McFeat, who was heavily involved in researching the issue.

Amid all the preparations and excitement of an anticipated birth, it is easy to forget to take a little time out to ensure that all is in order for your maternity leave and subsequent return to work.

At Citizens Advice, we see the consequences of this omission. We have had cases where clients have been treated prejudicially, lost hours of work and even been dismissed or asked to resign.

Due to the frequency of these cases, we decided to create a survey to get a better sense of what is happening in the workplace. The results were disappointing. Almost half felt that they had been treated unfairly or faced discrimination; an equal number felt that their employers didn’t follow guidelines on health or offer suitable work alternatives and a staggering number had not been given adequate information about their maternity rights.

Those fortunate enough to work in larger organisations or those with good HR teams were generally fine; however, those working for small businesses, on temporary or zero-hour contracts were the most vulnerable.

But it should not matter who you work for to ensure that you receive the help you need. Here, knowledge is going to be the best way to protect your rights. And the good news is that it is readily and freely available to everyone.

The best place to start is the GOV.UK site (put maternity in the search box). Here you will find everything you could possibly want to know about your rights and responsibilities. You can guide your employer to the site also if he/she seems a little bewildered by all the legislation.

They will no doubt be delighted to hear that they can reclaim 92% of your Statutory Maternity Pay and up to 103% if they qualify as a small business. (Search: Statutory Maternity Pay and the Small Employers’ Relief Fund.) If you are self-employed or do not qualify for SMP, you may be entitled to Maternity Allowance instead.

 

We would also recommend that you get your employer’s name and a written contract or statement of terms and particulars before you go on maternity leave. (It’s best to put any requests for these in writing, ideally via email). This way, should you feel that legal action is required at a later date, you will have all the information you need.

Whatever happens, you need not feel alone. There is excellent advice available at www.maternityaction.org.uk and of course, from your local Citizens Advice.

Hopefully, you won’t need us, and can instead focus on keeping well at work and looking forward to and enjoying the new arrival. All the best!

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