Money and finances
We don’t yet know the full effect of the pandemic on the economy and individual finances, but we do know that many people have lost their jobs, while many more who were already facing difficulties like debt, have been forced into further hardship.
Here we share how charities providing support on money, debt, and benefits are responding to Covid-19 and what they are learning; whilst dealing with unprecedented demand and moving to new ways of working.
How is the community and voluntary sector responding?
Demand for both general advice and specific support to help individuals with debt and benefits is increasing. Igniting Lives North East CIC in Tyne and Wear told us, "we have been inundated with contacts from people concerned with their finances."
Providing direct support and grant funding to people in crisis.
- Across the Scottish Borders region, a group of local radio station charities known as Cash for Kids are making micro grants of £34 per child available to struggling families.
- Radio Clyde Cash for Kids is providing food vouchers for families in crisis across Glasgow. They are re-purposing their Mission Christmas online portal to enable teachers, health professionals and community groups to apply on behalf of families they support.
- In Northern Ireland On Street Community Youth group are delivering resource packs to families in Derry/Londonderry, including essential food items and educational resources, as well as helping families with electric and heating costs.
Increasing capacity to respond to high levels of demand for advice and support.
- We’ve funded the Sahara Advice Centre in Preston to expand from a weekday service to seven days a week by helping them to cover around 150 additional hours of support worker time and additional telephone costs.
- Manage Money Wales have received funding for additional staff to support their clients with prioritising and managing debt, ensuring they receive all the income they are entitled to, reducing their expenditure and increasing awareness of scams.
- Migrant Workers Community Sefton is responding to the “explosion” of people seeking help and advice with debt, welfare benefits and settlement status. They are bringing in additional staff and volunteers to prepare debt plans and apply for benefits as their clients often don’t speak English and have low confidence and literacy levels.
Providing ongoing intensive support.
In Scotland Parentline, which provides practical and emotional support, including money advice, for parents and carers, has seen a 180% increase in contacts to its website and a 150% increase in calls to its helpline from families.
Its advisors provide one-to-one support by telephone, covering finance, welfare, and debt management. They help families create a tailored action plan to cope with reduced income or unemployment, aiming for financial stability.
Our learning about supporting people around money, debt and benefits
Provide the right support, at the right time
We know that being less well-off costs more; people have less choice about how they pay their bills and borrow money and often turn to high-cost credit through necessity.
Through the Improving Financial Confidence (IFC) programme we learned that people need help to be aware of and navigate the benefits system and their options to deal with debt. Problem debt becomes a cycle that makes people feel helpless, with some feeling like they’ve lost control of their lives. Support groups can add value by ensuring people are aware of all their options.
- Introducing new forms of support. The Just Finance Foundation have held webinars to quickly inform people on what benefit options they have and where they can get other help, along with their own online coronavirus help hub.
- Taking on and training new volunteers. Cumbernauld Poverty Action are using their funding to train and roll out four new volunteer advisors and increase existing staff time. They're anticipating further demand for support and representation for people new to the benefits system, as a number of those furloughed will be made redundant and a backlog of benefits claims is likely to build up.
Provide targeted, intensive support
Taking intensive support online isn’t simple. Grantholders tell us of the pressure this puts on staff and volunteers. Delivering remotely isn’t the same as being in a room with a client, and staff need to adapt how they work. Technology can also be a problem. Cheetham Hill Advice Centre in Manchester found that many of their staff, often with their own lived experience of financial issues, don’t have access to the technology required. So there’s a need to remember pastoral and technical support for staff and volunteers when responding to this crisis.
Signposting services can only go so far, and many people need one-to-one support to deal with their financial difficulties. In crisis, it's not unusual for people to ignore bills and let financial issues build up. Money issues are often linked with poor mental health. IFC projects found that they spent more time working with participants on a one-to-one basis than anticipated, as they needed more intensive support to move forward with their personal finances.
From previous work on financial exclusion we've seen that face-to-face conversations can be critical to giving clients motivation and confidence to begin to make positive changes. The Sherriff Centre, a debt advice service supporting people in the London Boroughs of Camden, Brent and Westminster, told us that clients are frustrated with online signposting and are requesting face-to-face meetings, which the organisation plans to increase when restrictions lift.
However, grantholders are testing and adapting how they work to provide new models of remote intensive support by:
- Offering online sessions as part of wider support. Melissa UK, works with the Orthodox Jewish community in North London and is trialling shortened one-to-one financial coaching via Zoom. This is in place of their usual six face-to-face sessions and will, “ensure they have a plan in place to deal with what will undoubtedly be a months-long crisis.”
The coaching sits alongside other support which includes telephone and social media signposting, webinars on different aspects of managing finances and future-focused video guides that prompt people to be pro-active.
- Targeting previous clients who may be at risk. Manage Money Wales works in Rhondda Cynon Taf, an area with high levels of existing poverty, providing financial and welfare support. They contacted previous clients and found that those feeling the most negative impact from the crisis had been financially affected. They’re now rolling out bespoke support informed by this.
Provide financial help within a wider support offer
Finance and debt is a difficult subject to talk about. One applicant described how money issues cause stress and anxiety and that people, “are ashamed to admit to family or friends the situation in which they find themselves, [when they] have exhausted all possibilities to get out of debt through their own efforts.” It’s important to provide a safe environment, where people can talk about money without any judgement.
People experiencing financial crises will often be dealing with multiple issues. And because people often put off dealing with their finances, making them aware of help is important. Offering finance and welfare support as part of a broader offer can have a ‘normalising’ effect, making it easier to ask for help. This can help groups to reach more people.
Here’s how three groups are pitching money support within a wider offer:
- Home Start in Corby convened 45 volunteers to put together 60 care packages for families over Easter. Each one contained Easter eggs, Frisbees and a football, along with details of the local services to help with debt-relief.
- Vineyard Compassion in Northern Ireland integrates their debt centre with a food bank, social supermarket and counselling, to provide a hub for those at a point of crisis.
- Parentline is providing help with finances alongside emotional and practical advice. This one-stop-shop approach minimises stress that could be caused to families by, “knocking on multiple doors to get the support they urgently need.” Addressing money alongside emotional and other needs, means helping to improve wellbeing and financial management skills.
Remove barriers and equip people with the skills they need
One Help Through Crisis project told us that 250 of their 350 clients don’t have access to the internet. This can create real challenges, for example in claiming benefits which is now done online.
- Improving digital access and skills. Igniting Lives North East CIC has set up a new project in response to Covid-19 called Keeping Hebburn Connected. They are running digital skills courses and providing support with using the internet, alongside advice on dealing with debts and managing household finances.
Group Recovery Aftercare Community Enterprise (GRACE) in Scotland supports people experiencing complex issues like substance misuse, homelessness, unemployment and debt. Most of their clients don't have access to technology, so they are providing phones, laptops and tablets along with training in how to use them.
- Overcoming language barriers. People who have little or no English face additional barriers to accessing support. Race Equality First in Cardiff and Newport are targeting workers from Black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities in jobs affected by the crisis, such as taxi-drivers and restaurant owners, with advice and guidance in community languages.
Cheetham Hill Advice Centre in Manchester already provide advice in 10 languages but have arranged translation services to meet additional demand.
Migrant Workers Community Sefton work with volunteers from eight countries so their helpline can respond to most clients in their first language.
- Dealing with cash. For some older people, or those who don’t have a bank account (or equivalent), the lockdown means issues accessing cash. Ambition for Ageing in Manchester have collated information on a range of alternatives to cash for older isolated people. Some others promote cashless transactions or sanitise coins and notes.
Looking beyond the crisis, it’s important to promote financial awareness and provide people with the skills to manage their money. Manage Money Wales found that the "ability to be financially resilient," was one of the top three client needs from a recent survey via social media.
As we move through this situation, the various time-limited support measures will end and people’s situations will change. Charities will need to work in different ways to effectively reach those most in need. So how can they be proactive beyond crisis management?
Talk about finances at home
People may need help to get to grips with their new situation and pride can be a barrier to seeking help. This may be especially relevant to those seeking help for the first time. Talking about money matters can build awareness and skills. Learning from work in Wales on financial awareness in families - Talk, Learn, Do - has highlighted the importance of talking about finances with children from a young age. Not only does this better prepare them for the future, but it improves parents' financial capability too.
Frame support positively
Using accessible and positive language can help frame financial support in a way which brings people in. The IFC project in Hull found that, “learning, teaching and budgeting are turn offs. We now market from a rights-based approach and promote 'saving money'. These are more positive than 'helping you budget or manage' which have negative connotations.”
Ignite, a partnership in Coventry working to improve children’s and housing services, found that the tone and complexity of language used when communicating with their clients made a real difference in how they engaged with the service. Arranging a meeting with tenants to discuss any issues was more effective than sending a formal or threatening letter.
Give people control to rebuild their lives
West Yorkshire Fulfilling Lives (Wy-Fi), provides support to vulnerable people. They have found that giving people the financial skills to manage their lives makes a big difference to their recovery. In turn, people with experience of financial difficulty can help others; we know how powerful lived experience can be in reaching and supporting vulnerable people.
Money Savvy Southwark successfully trained 70 community members, many with lived experience, as peer mentors and ambassadors to promote awareness and signpost people to help. “Ultimately, they have helped us reach people who would not have otherwise engaged with the project,” said one staff member.
Work across different sectors
Working with a range of partners can help reach and support a wider range of people. Some IFC projects run by housing associations trained frontline workers to identify and refer vulnerable people. Money Savvy Southwark trained 1,245 frontline staff who felt more able to support those in need. As one said, “I feel I will be able to impart this information to people in the community that will benefit greatly[…] It will be good for my job role as I work with residents so will be able to give them advice and support.”
Macmillan supports people affected by cancer, including helping with its financial and welfare impact. They have researched the help people need when dealing with reduced income through illness and have called for the banking and finance sectors to make their staff aware of how to support people living with cancer by implementing policies flexibly. This learning will be relevant and adaptable as we come through the Covid-19 crisis.
We’re making sense of what we’re seeing and hearing from our grantholders at pace, so there’ll be things we’ve missed, haven’t noticed yet or, perhaps, misinterpreted.
We welcome comments or challenge, so that we can continuously improve and develop, and make this work practical and useful.
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This page was last updated: 12 May 2020.