Even the announcement that there will be no eviction proceedings for three months could, (will, we think), become a ticking time-bomb for people who choose to de-prioritise rent. We are focusing on people's financial wellbeing during this crisis but already thinking about their financial resilience going forward. High unemployment and recession are likely outcomes from the current situation and families affected by poverty were already struggling to keep their heads above water.
On Monday 23rd March, a reported 105,000 people tried to claim Universal Credit. This is more in one day than the whole of January. The Sun newspaper reported: “Many people are complaining that they are having to wait in queues of up to 30,000 people just to get on to the website.
“The DWP is offering some applicants telephone appointments, where a work coach will call you at an agreed time, but many people are complaining that the next available slot isn't for another few months, some as far as June.”
Clean Slate, (now including the Quids in! staff), has a small, dynamic, dedicated and, importantly, can-do-minded team. What started as a business continuity plan soon became an opportunity to step forward, not backwards, for the benefit of hard-pressed and vulnerable communities. For Quids in! readers and our partners nationwide, we launched a FAQs page and web enquiry form for people frightened or anxious about their money, now work is drying up for millions. The whole team is pitching in to field the questions, posting responses online and emailing back to individuals.
In areas where we’ve opened Quids In Centres in East London, Bath and Gloucestershire, we’re taking calls and emails direct. Our teams of professionals and peer support workers were previously offering community-based drop-ins, training and support to guide people through their money worries and employment aspirations. Now they’re all working remotely. Already streamlined and operating from cloud-based information sharing systems and a virtual switchboard, those systems have come into their own. Next, I’m piloting a training webinar to bring new advisors on-stream.
To be fair, there’s been a good response across the advice sector around the financial impact of Covid-19. But, as ever, Quids in! fills a gap for people who feel somewhat alienated from mainstream institutions, official statements and even the super-informed but broad-ranging internet bloggers and TV pundits. Some things need taking slow. Breaking down. Walking through. Not everyone is confident with the internet, great at reading or resilient enough to keep banging on a door that seems permanently closed, like the Universal Credit helpline right now.
Our work on the frontline helps us stay alert to the unintended consequences of hastily drawn up responses from government. When we heard workers assumed they could voluntarily down tools and wait for the state to pay them 80 per cent of their wages, for example, we raised the question on our FAQs page. 'STOP! That’s not how this works,' is the message. One of the problems with isolation is public understanding of policy won’t spread as fast as the virus. Although, strangely, misinformation will.
As ever, the team here is a source of inspiration. We’ve never been busier, despite having effectively closed our doors. The one concern I have is for their wellbeing as calls come in from increasingly desperate, anxious and isolated people. We’ve heard mentions of suicidal thoughts and safeguarding options are pretty limited in the current climate. And while, yes, we’re scouting round for funding to help us scale up our response, some of that has to be channelled into additional care for the teams.
The knock-on effect of Coronavirus will be huge. There will undoubtedly be positives to take from the resilience communities showed in many ways beyond the direct health crisis but negatives too. The impact on people’s mental health and the fear of this all happening again will take a toll. But the financial fall-out, from the government needing to replenish the magic money tree, (it did exist!), to renters in arrears and under pressure to repay will be huge. And that’s before a spike in unemployment, redundancies and business failures and a likely global recession.
We may be battening down the hatches now but, when it comes to financial guidance, we need to be playing the long game. Who knows, unlike ten years ago, maybe we really will be in it together this time! We’ll see.
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