Keep warm and well
Things get pretty basic in winter. Cold is the enemy, along with its minion the dark, and people who scraped through in summer, can lose their lives to hypothermia, pneumonia or flu.
There are degrees of threat, as always, from the cold of a doorway for a homeless person to the choice between eating and using the heating for those with a roof over their head. (Some can't afford either.)
People need advice, but it needs to be carefully targeted, or it can appear patronising. Older people usually know how to cook a cheap meal or knit a jumper; people with a disability may not be able to go for a brisk run to make them feel better. The groups who need most help, may not be obvious. As we discovered in our 2014 Quids In! Reader Survey, those most likely to miss meals or shiver rather than turn the heating on, are people of working age not in full-time work.
As cuts bite, an increasing number of people have to rely on local initiatives and charities, and they will need to be directed to projects they can reach without spending money on transport. More than ever, clients need to be warned away from high-interest loans to 'get them by' over the winter.
Cold Weather Plan
The Government has produced a leaflet called Keep Warm, Keep Well aimed at the over 60s, low-income families and people living with a disability. It is part of Public Health England’s Cold Weather Plan, which aims to protect people’s health and reduce harm from severe cold. The plan recommends a series of steps to reduce the risks to health from cold weather for:
Condensation is a thorny problem, it can make a home damp, and if the moisture is not mopped up, black mould can get a grip and cause health problems. People frequently blame their landlords for the damp, but condensation is frequently caused by things we do every day such as cooking or drying clothes. Advice can be contradictory, too, as we tell people to use draught excluders to keep a home warm, but open the windows to keep it well ventilated. The National House Building Council has produced a comprehensive, if dry, leaflet about managing the problem called Condensation in Homes.
Quick tips include:
Keep warm at home
Some simple, low cost tips to cope with those extra-cold days:
Reminiscing makes you warmer
It's recognised that company and laughter can help people feel better. Research has also shown that nostalgia is good for us. Reminiscing helps us feel better about the present and more hopeful about our future, and can help us feel physically warmer. Organising social events for clients will do more than keep them warm for a short time. See if you can encourage them to get together with friends and neighbours for games evenings or a chat about the old days.
A bed for the night
Night shelters are essential for people who slip through the net - often including divorced men of middle age, wondering how on earth they got there. And they are not grim places - the people who come are happy to be there. If your company has an organised volunteering scheme to help at a local shelter, people are more likely to get involved than if they are left to think about volunteering alone. They will learn a lot, and will probably enjoy it. Clients who are not homeless can also come and help - and may enjoy the warmth, food and company.
Housing Justice supports churches and other groups to set up, run and develop winter night shelters. Its Shelter in a Pack is a toolkit for churches setting up new shelters. This is now provided as part of a package of support to new shelter projects.
Kids wish list
Kidsco runs a Child Poverty Busting Programme in London, Bristol and Liverpool. It aims to get the basics in place, allowing young people to feel empowered to improve their lives. Some children lack a bed or warm clothes, and are surviving their childhood without food in their homes. The organisation gathers items such as furniture or new clothing, or raises funds. Those wishing to donate can buy items from a John Lewis wish list.
Why don't you wrap up?
Local charities all over the UK are appealing for warm clothing and bedding to help the poorest in their communities. Should you arrange a collection in your workplace for clients? November is also the time to start a 'shoebox' campaign, encouraging members of staff to fill a shoe box with items such as toiletries and small gifts to life the spirits of clients in need.
Eat on the cheap
Pubs and cafe can be persuaded to run a regular lunch club for older or disabled people, offering a tasty, if basic meal for an affordable price if you can gurantee the numbers. This may mean a rota of drivers to bring less mobile people along. The local WI or Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator may be able to provide this.
Who can help?
Click on the image to download a comprehensive directory of schemes set up to help people struggling to pay their bills. Organised by region and supplier it is produced by Auriga.
Quids In! magazine: the winter issue has lots of tips about staying warm and healthy over the cold months.
Click for more.
See the benefit Make sure clients know they will get cold weather payments if they are on certain benefits. Details here.
NetMums writes about the benefits a parent can claim to help keep their children well fed and healthy.
Five ways to stay healthy this winter, listed on the NHS website.
Flu jabs who should have them, when and where click here.
Relationships can be tested over Christmas and the New Year, and on throughout the cold grey months of winter. Relate can give support, advice and mediation.
For those with mental illness, the dark and the cold, can challenge their resilience. See advice from the mental health charity Mind.