Javier García Via Unsplash

Blog: Reflecting on Summer Holidays and the new normal

Coping when Covid-19 support is withdrawn – a webinar with Policy in Practice

Cassius cropped

A blog by Cassius Francis

I was grateful to have the opportunity to sit in on this webinar organised by Policy in Practice to hear about how a local authority – in this case Redbridge Council in north east London - are preparing for the post-Covid world, but it was also sobering the hear some of the statistics reflecting lives of individuals and families.

An aspect of the Covid Cash Recovery course that we have promoted since we began delivering the sessions last year has been the excellent Benefits and Budgeting calculator that Policy in Practice runs. We have found this to be a very useful tool for anyone unfamiliar with the benefits system and their entitlements, and particularly for those who will be switching on to Universal Credit (UC). We recommend that before people change or are moved on to UC they use the calculator to get some indication of how their budget will be affected in order to help them prepare for the financial changes to their income. Some of the numberspresented in the webinar included –

• Universal Credit claimants doubled during the pandemic from 3 million to 6 million

• Nearly 12 million jobs from 1.3 million employers were furloughed

• Latest unemployment rate for January to March, when most of the restrictions were still in place, was 4.8%

• 1 in 20 people who want a job can't find one

As most families are now getting ready for the summer holiday period if children are not already off from school, the pressures on many will be extremely challenging.
FareShare Midlands recently wrote,

For many children and families the long summer holidays can be a difficult time, finding things to keep kids occupied and finding extra food to keep them well fed while they are away from the classroom.

So, there are organisations that are working to ensure that no family is hungry over the summer – alongside FareShare these include Trussell Trust, Black Country Foodbank, the Food Aid Network with many local organisations as well. Thanks to lobbying from Marcus Rashford MBE and others the government has made provision through holiday activities and food programmes, but parents need to check locally and book on to these schemes early to ensure their child/ren get places.

There are some organisations like moneysavingexpert.com offering information on cheap days out and lower cost travel with National Rail ticket members able to get 2 for 1 theme park tickets over the summer. However, be on the lookout for scams – even for holiday offers criminals are keen to exploit those keen to get away over the summer, so make sure that any link that you click on is genuine.

Many of the government’s temporary measures to help people through Covid are coming to an end soon –

1. Self Employment Income Support Scheme and Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough): ends in September 2021

2. £20 uplift to Universal Credit payments: phased out in September and October 2021

3. Protective grace period for benefit cap: Many new Universal Credit claimants will see this phased out from now

4. End of the eviction ban: happened in May 2021 and is starting to hit

When polled during the webinar, most of the delegates (61% from memory) agreed that the phasing out of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit is likely to have the most devastating impact. Policy in Practice’s own evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group on removing the £20 uplift to Universal Credit found -

• 683,000 households (824,000 children) will not be able to meet their essential costs (April 2021)

• This includes an additional 224,000 households, (229,000 children) who are currently able to make ends meet, and 458,000 households (595,000 children) who would otherwise be deeper in poverty

• Black and minority ethnic households, those on lower incomes and those with children are the highest level of concern for homelessness following the end of the eviction ban

Influential voices are calling for change – the government’s own Social Mobility Commission have said that a third of children are in households living in poverty and inequality is due to rise following the pandemic. In addition, at the time of writing Christians Against Poverty have warned millions of benefit claimants could find themselves on a 'sinking ship’. While their strapline, ‘always hope’ is very much aligned with ours at Transforming Communities Together we recognise that we also need to be honest and real about the seriousness of the current situation. However, one thing that has not changed in terms of our key message in training is stressing the importance of seeking help early. If you do know individuals and families who may be struggling financially please point them to free, credible and updated sources of help – the earlier the better. Organisations like Citizens Advice and the Money Helper (Money Advice Service) are good places to start, alongside Christians Against Poverty and Community Money Advice. You can also check about local debt advice here.

If you are concerned about the situation in your local area please –

• use your social media and networks positively to share information about helpful organisations (above) and those who you know are doing good work in your community

• do write to your MP about your concerns – they need to have an accurate and truthful picture of life on the ground for ordinary families

• try to steer people away from loan sharks or illegal money lenders, and remember that you can report anonymously 0300 555 2222

So, it seems clear that the ‘new normal’ will be different things to different people, but my hope is that those who are most at risk of experiencing poverty and debt will not simply be overlooked as we try to move beyond the financial impact of the pandemic and enjoy ‘freedom’ over the summer holidays. Please let us know if the picture in your area is different to the one presented in this blog or about how you are working in your community to prepare for the new financial normal in your community.

Revd Cassius Francis is the Finance Development Worker with Transforming Communities Together (in the Diocese of Lichfield) and he is a minister with the Wesleyan Holiness Church.

Published: 23rd July 2021

📷 Image Credit: Javier García Via Unsplash