According to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF):
“We know that living in poverty for long periods is especially damaging.”
“We also know that the deeper poverty becomes the worse its effects, risking pushing people into destitution.”
Using a new universally accepted measure of poverty it showed that:
- nearly half of people locked in poverty are disabled themselves or live in a family with someone who is; and
- one in eight people in the UK is in persistent poverty: they are in poverty now and have been in poverty in at least two of the previous three years. Persistent poverty is highest for those in workless families and disabled families.
That was in 2018. Since then, the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have made things much worse. When things get bad for the less well off it is always worst for those who are disabled.
The link between money, or a lack of it, and mental health is very well established. According to the charity Mind, “Poor mental health can make earning and managing money harder. And worrying about money can make your mental health worse. It can start to feel like a vicious cycle.”
Further research by Citizens Advice quantified the link between having financial control and a person’s psychological wellbeing – moving individuals from a low level of financial capability to an average one increases their wellbeing by almost 6%. It also increases their reported life satisfaction by 2.4% and reduces the probability of an individual suffering a health problem related to anxiety or depression by 15%.
The main causes of relative poverty in the UK are:
- Inequality in wages – low skilled workers stuck in low paid jobs
- Unemployment and long-term economic inactivity – no wage income, reliant on benefits
- High renting costs
- Debt and debt repayments
Taking the second of these, which refers to a reliance on benefits, it follows that the suspension, reduction or loss of benefits can be a significant cause of absolute poverty.
JRF forecast in February 2022 that 400,000 people could be pulled into poverty by a real-terms cut to benefits in April that year based on the consequences of the Government’s decision to uprate benefits by just 3.1% in April, when inflation was then forecast to hit 7%. It represented a real-terms cut to the incomes of some of the poorest families in the country and came less than six months on from the £20 per week cut to Universal Credit.
The Consumer Price Index actually peaked at 11.1% in October 2022, remained at over 10% from November 2022 through to March 2023 and since then has remained unexpectedly high at 8.7%. Meanwhile, the annual inflation rate of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose to 19.2% in March 2023. Is it any wonder food banks have reported a continuing increase in demand? 90% of food banks surveyed reported increased demand in December 2022 and January 2023 compared with a year earlier. Half of the 85 organisations running 154 food banks that responded said if demand rose further they would either have to cut support or turn people away.
The Impact of DAS
DAS helps some people who are in, or approaching, the most dire of circumstances and our work helps to prevent self-harm and suicide. It’s a record we’re proud of but short-term rescue is not by any means all that we do. Our interventions are also aimed at preventing the need for critical help or a repeat of the one we’re already managing. We provide top quality benefits advice with the proportion of cases going to tribunal having reduced 2020-2022 in relation to the overall numbers we advise (2020: 75 out of 1,086 went to appeal; in 2022 it was 40 out of 2,182). With those cases that do go on to appeal we have achieved a 100% success rate for three consecutive years 2020-22. Usually, we are successful appealing before a tribunal becomes necessary. We know the anxiety felt by clients in this environment where they are being “judged”. We know the hardship and worse that results from benefits being stopped pending a tribunal outcome, so the competency of our core advice service is critical in reducing these ill effects for those least able to cope with them.
Helping people in circumstances of destitution with very practical solutions is a key factor in improving our clients’ lives. It is an important integral part of the jigsaw alongside the healthcare sector. This has been recognised by our selection for participation in the Equity In Mind initiative “…for projects that will support people’s mental wellbeing and the further development of our new Suffolk community mental health model”.
Clients often arrive at our door due to some level of failure of, or an inability to access, the care support system. Some cannot establish a productive relationship with their GP but they can with us. What we provide is not just short-term hardship grants, although they can be vital, but also our full background check on welfare benefits, pensions and pension credit entitlement, water rates, energy tariff and council tax. This puts clients in a position to cope much better in the medium/long term too.
There is a great deal of continuity in our support, in particular in the cases that go to tribunal appeal; and also through our Listening Service which checks up on how clients are doing on at least an annual basis. Above all, our team provide empathetic, compassionate and non-judgemental help. Over half are themselves disabled and/or are carers and several are previous beneficiaries. As a result, some clients come to regard us as a safe haven and are regular visitors. It is very rare for us to just see a client once and never again – clients very much think of us as a long-term support service. In her own words, this is how a team member describes it, “We have the same regular staff and volunteers, so clients feel safe that they know us, trust us and don’t mind talking to us about very personal issues and also, they don’t have to repeat their life story to everyone they see. We also give everyone a holistic approach that clients think of us as more friends or like a family GP and want to return over and over.”
Here is a testimonial from one client: ‘Thank you for all the help you’ve given over the past 12 years for our son, in helping him to receive DLA and PIP. We had an open garden with tea and cakes and raised £100.
Typical Case Study – Jan 2023 – Perfect example of how we “catch” clients to prevent them going into a crisis.
A family of 4, with a baby, came to us in July 2022 requesting help with a PIP application that had been refused twice. We completed a new PIP application in September 2022. In the time before a decision outcome, the family were living on a small amount of UC and the wife was on Maternity Pay, which was due to end soon. The wife said they were really struggling for money since her Maternity Pay was ending.
Crisis team intervened after we gave them a full Benefit Check with our Duty Team. We helped this family with £500 in Tesco supermarket vouchers over a 5-week period in August-September. This ensured they could get food as well as nappies, wipes, and formula for their new baby.
Following this, we were able to help with their energy bill as we were donated £100 to help someone in need. We credited their OVO account with £50 to ensure they could heat their home for their new baby.
Furthermore, we made an application for an external funding pot (National Benevolent Charity) and secured a further £300 in Tesco supermarket vouchers in November 2022.
The father of the family was eventually awarded Enhanced Rate PIP on both parts with a back pay of £4000 in January 2023. We have now ended our crisis work with this family as they are more financially stable with their positive PIP outcome.