In the run up to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Coordinated Community Support (CCS) programme was working hard with our pilot areas (Oldham, Tower Hamlets, Swansea and Norfolk) to establish effective and locally led initiatives to support improved coordination of support for those experiencing financial crisis. Working with our partners, we devised some exciting programmes which sought to better join the dots between voluntary agencies and statutory bodies, to both improve access to emergency support and reduce repeat instances of financial crisis.
With the onset of Covid-19, everything changed. Social distancing meant some of our plans had to be postponed, and at the same time new – urgent - priorities emerged.
We have had to respond quickly to this strange, deeply troubling, new world. We worked with our partners across the four areas to firstly, understand their key concerns and priorities and, secondly, to establish what interventions might help to address them. A few key themes emerged:
Firstly – we heard concerns about emergency need among children and families affected by school closures. Families who may be squeezed by a combination of reduced incomes, and increased costs of supporting children who have to remain at home.
To respond to this, in Tower Hamlets we are supporting the development of an emergency response to Covid-19 being delivered by the Mulberry School in Poplar. This ensures that over 300 families, identified as in immediate need, are able to access food, household essentials and early year’s packs. Alongside this work we are formalising the relationship between the school and key advice and guidance providers in the borough. To ensure that families in need are able to access quality welfare, debt and employment advice quickly.
Secondly, we heard major concerns about victims of domestic violence, who may be trapped in their homes as a result of the lockdown, facing even greater barriers than usual – including the need for emergency financial support - which keep them from escaping abusive relationships.
In Swansea, we are supporting a new partnership between Swansea Women’s Aid and Swansea University Law Clinic to develop an online legal clinic for Women’s Aid clients.
Thirdly, we heard widespread concerns about families with No Recourse to Public Funds who are unable to access financial support through the mainstream benefits system.
To respond to this – and with emergency support received from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation – in Norfolk, we are working with the Norfolk Integration Partnership to support changes in their delivery model to better support families with No Recourse to Public Funds - including advice, online ESOL Lessons and support around community engagement. In Oldham, we are working with the Support and Action Women’s Network to ensure they’re able to provide vulnerable clients, including those with No Recourse to Public Funds, with essential furniture, data and or credit top-ups and essential items. We are also working with a range of community organisations throughout Swansea who provide emergency funds for their clients in the migrant community to access food, fuel, clothing and other emergency needs.
Finally, we heard about the urgent and ongoing need for better coordination between different agencies, and to ensure that information about available services is disseminated across communities.
To respond to this, we are working with Action Together in Oldham to map the altered range of support available to those experiencing crisis during the pandemic, and disseminating this information to provide clarity and raise awareness. We are also continuing to work with the Norfolk Community Advice Network to support the development and promotion of their existing online referral platform.
There is much that the CCS programme can and is doing in order to support those at risk of financial crisis through the course of this pandemic, however, we also know that many issues affecting the provision of emergency financial support require systemic change, including at a national level.
To respond to this, we have been working with a range of partners to identify issues raised by Coronavirus affecting providers of emergency financial support, and to share these insights with key decision makers. We used evidence from the CCS programme in oral evidence The Children’s Society gave to the Work and Pensions Select Committee.
We are continuing to collect evidence on the impact of Covid-19 on the provision of emergency financial support – you can find the evidence collection form here
Covid-19 has highlighted, more than ever before, the need for agencies to coordinate their support for vulnerable families and individuals, and the profound challenges faced in doing so at this time.
But it has also been profoundly uplifting to see the way in which communities across the country have started to rise to this challenge – coming together to seek to ensure that those put at risk of financial crisis by the pandemic are able to access the support they need. It has been a huge privilege for the CCS programme to be able to play a part.