From April, the government will begin making significant changes to the benefit system. Our work is to reduce inequalities and we are concerned that these reforms will further deepen the divide.
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.
This is exactly what GFS should be doing. Tackling financial literacy and helping people to make the best of what they have gives us a much better chance of achieving long term health improvements. The thing that unifies them for me is that they are both about helping people take control of their lives. That is what GFS is all about.
I am writing in regards to your organisation Gateway Families. I have worked with varies client groups in the social sector amnd as such, I an interested in services for children and families. I have had previous experiance working for Homestart Children Cenrtre based in Wolverhampton and Haven womens hostel as well as working with young people as a board member for the Youth Offending Board.
ITherefore I feel that my experiance will be of great value to you as a organisation and would like to become a Gateway volunteer. However, I have notice from your website that there appears to be no mention of a neighbouring office based in Wolverhampton. It would be most helpful if there is any links to Gateway Families to enable me to join this forward thinking organisation. Equally, I qualifed to degree level in Social Policy/Social Care and Family Policy as one of my modules.
I await your urgent response,
Louise Morgan (Mrs) BA
I’ve been forwarded your details by Katherine Hewitt following your response to her blog on our web site. I am the Programme Manager for Gateway Family Service’s Volunteering programme and probably the best person to respond to you.
You mention that you are interested in volunteering with us but could not find mention of an office in Wolverhampton. Gateway doesn’t currently operate in Wolverhampton, we’re currently available only within the Birmingham wards, though we may expand some services outside of this boundary as increased demand and our capacity to cope with that increase develop.
Gateway’s volunteering service includes supporting clients with a range of needs, referred to us by outside agencies and self-referral, as well as offering additional support to clients of other Gateway services. We are currently constrained by the level of funding and income we can generate, as we are expanding services which were originally based only in south Birmingham across the whole city. We also have to maintain the quality of services which is why we cannot simply offer services across the region without sufficient support frameworks, which will unfortunately take time to achieve.
Depending on the time you have available and the type of volunteering you would like to undertake, and your ability to travel, would you consider volunteering within Birmingham? We would be delighted if you volunteer with us, as your knowledge and experience would be ideal for supporting some of the range of clients referred to us.
If you would like to discuss the options for volunteering in more detail I would be happy to meet with you to explore how we could support you as a volunteer, and for you to support Gateway’s clients.
Please feel free to contact me at any time and I will do my best to answer your questions and issues around our services. I will look forward to hearing from you.
5th Floor, Chamber of Commerce House, 75 Harborne Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 3DH
Registered in England and Wales, Company Registration No. 5705815.
Hi Louise. Good to hear from you and thanks for your offer of help. Currently our services are largely Birmingham focused but we have previously worked in Sandwell, Solihull and other surrounding areas. We are always looking at chances to expand as we feel that what we offer would work equally well in new areas. If it’s ok I’ll email you directly and we can talk a bit more about the opportunities we have available.