According to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation:
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.
DAS helps some people who are in 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”.
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%.
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.”