We quickly realised the cohort needing guidance on money and work had suddenly exploded. It includes the self-employed, those on zero hours contracts and newly redundant people. By comparison, working age people not in full-time employment who we usually work with are relatively well-equipped; used to living on next-to-nothing, navigating a tricky welfare system and knowing where to look for additional support. Workers who never expected to be on benefits are experiencing a severe culture shock.
With this new group in mind, Clean Slate (now formally merged with Quids in!) published a 'Corona-Finance' edition of its Universal Credit guide. (See the QIPRO news story here.) Unlike before, the guide's only available in digital format and we've toned down content about having an appropriate bank account and being online. We've focused instead on surviving on less and accessing the support that's available, (that most people don't know is there). We’re offering it in bulk to our usual customers (landlords, authorities and support agencies) but also professional business services (like accountants), enterprise networks and trade unions, who will be in contact with many of the people affected. In areas where we have a Quids In Centre, (East London, Bath and Gloucestershire), we're offering the guide for free to smaller charities and partners wanting to work with us, and the offer of help by phone or email.
We're hearing, however, that the public are stoically holding back from turning to community support. The community hubs set up in all authority areas are primarily dealing with enquiries about accessing food and health services. This is consistent with news reports that cancer screenings have halved. But in terms of money and work, we're concerned there will be a tsunami of crisis enquiries to follow the earthquake that is the pandemic.
Our Corona-Finance service offers anyone in the UK a FAQs section and a web enquiry facility at quidsinmagazine.com/coronafinance. There's been some take-up and we've been updating it with accessible details on the latest government announcements. Again, in areas where we have local teams, we can also field enquiries from local residents by phone and email. Monthly emails from the Quids In Readers Club are pretty much now dedicated to lockdown-related money guidance. We'll be promoting this all via social media.
My biggest fear is people suffering in silence. There's no need and it's only kicking the can down the road for us to pick up later. Of course, as with all money worries, they'll be all the worse by then. There is capacity in the system right now but the public only hear about the crisis in the NHS and assume that unless they're at death's door, they're better off waiting until after lockdown. There's no nuance to media coverage either, so hard-pressed householders hear that evictions are suspended for three months and many are almost certainly taking that as a green light for de-prioritising rent payments. They don’t realise the stress that is going to cause later on. Public messaging is going to have to change or more people will be dying unnecessarily of non-covid conditions, and living with the fall-out of homelessness, debt and mental ill-health, because they'd rather just 'dig in' right now.
Brave new world, indeed. In the distance we can see what it might look like. It might be worth diverting some resources to change direction. Clean Slate, for one, is on tsunami watch. It’s time to build the defences.