Sadly, we are powerless to do anything to prevent these changes. But what we can do is to make sure we help ensure that the people who will be most adversely affected are aware of what’s happening – and that they’re as ready and well-prepared as they can be. This is where outreach workers can play a vital role, families being ‘financially literate’ is so important for families to be able to manage as their income reduces.
Many of the people we work with are in receipt of benefit. Lots of the women our Pregnancy Outreach Workers support claim housing benefit and a large number of our Health Trainer clients are people living with long and short term health conditions, who are supported by the Disability Living Allowance. There are major changes planned to both of these benefits along with the overall benefit cap that will affect all working age claimants.
These are national issues that are due to be phased in area by area over the coming months but here local people will also have to contend with a proposed reduction to Council Tax benefit. In real terms what this means is that many people will have to learn how to live with less.
So where do we come in? Firstly we recognise that many people are currently unaware of what these changes will mean to them and their families, many don’t even know that changes are afoot. So where we begin is by helping them see and understand what this means to them. We are in a unique position, our support staff go into people’s homes, they develop a strong bond with their clients and they are trusted – so who better to help? Over the coming weeks we will be ensuring all our staff have a sound basic understanding of the changes so they can start the conversation, many already help their clients look at basic budgeting so this is a very practical way of them identifying how the essentials will still be afforded.
The second step will be to effectively signpost people for further support. This is about knowing the best organisation to help that person with their specific needs. For example: benefits advice, financial guidance, debt management and how to manage on a low income. The quality and timeliness of advice will be vital so we are pleased to be a partner in the local bid to the Advice Transition Fund (led by Birmingham CAB) which looks at improving the co-ordination of advice in the city, recognising that the advice and guidance sector has already been harshly affected by cuts.
So much of what we do is about improving health and the wider determinants of health, that we see this as a perfect fit. We know that for people to make difficult lifestyle changes – all the pieces matter. How can we tackle the things we need to, like support a pregnant woman stop smoking? or help someone lose weight so they are able to have their operation? when they have to cope with such stressful situations like their income being reduced which makes their already difficult circumstances even worse.
We realise this is just the start of a long term plan. This isn’t something that will be fixed quickly and it will take a range of approaches but we feel by starting now, while there is still time to plan we will help the people we know to at least prepare.