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How will the pandemic affect the UK’s poorest?

calendar30 March 2020

Marianne Clough's avatar Marianne Clough

How will the pandemic affect the UK’s poorest?

Everyone is trying to get their heads around what coronavirus, social distancing or isolation measures mean for them. It’s a surreal level of upheaval on many fronts. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking, ‘Is that headache I’ve got a symptom of stress or have I actually caught this virus?’ - it’s enough to give you a stressy headache. Whatever our own discomfort, it’s vital we look beyond, and remember how this will be for the most vulnerable in our society. So here, for prayer and consideration in your neighbourhood, is a rundown of the major issues we at Christians Against Poverty believe people will be facing. Once we all understand the issues better, we can begin to help more effectively.

Vulnerable people really need face-to-face contact 

The key issue will be support. Usually, people can call on friends or family or access face-to-face support from charities and organisations but this has been cut off due to social distancing. We’re concerned that people who are offline and very vulnerable will be even more under the radar than usual. Someone to hold your hand or give you a hug is more powerful than it sounds and an uplifting invite to church or an event can’t be replaced.

One in five of our clients have no access to the internet, either at home or on a phone. For them, there’s no Facebook or Whatsapp community to cheer them along. Loneliness is no small issue and we expect the Government to focus on this in the coming weeks. We’re hopeful that the amazing army of NHS volunteers and those neighbourly groups will be able to zero in on this group. We’re absolutely certain that the Church will be doing what the Church does best in all this - love and care. 

More than seven million people in the UK are functionally illiterate. Letters that arrive can be frightening and confusing. It’s a face-to-face encounter that brings much-needed clarity and peace… which brings us on to:

Accessing help

We’re glad that the Government and suppliers have made provisions for people in need but these rely on them knowing what’s on offer and how they can access it. Our experience tells us that instructions like ‘call your energy supplier’ will be difficult on several levels to frightened people whose trust of such companies might not be very high. Will they be able to hold the line and wait for the information and help they need? Again, reassurance from those on the ground is important.

While official help may be difficult, loan sharks and fraudsters might find this situation an easy market. Action Fraud is reporting a spike in people taking advantage of genuine need via false offers of help. Ensure the vulnerable people you know are aware of the dangers.

Poor mental health

This is commonplace among those we help and these clients especially, rely on face-to-face support and healthy distractions to keep them going. For many with poor mental health, day-to-day living was already fragile and full of anxiety, long before the coronavirus pandemic began.

Our experience at CAP tells us that people who are very stressed, or unwell don’t cope with extra admin tasks easily, finding it hard to open letters and fill in forms. All we can do as a society to support by phone, or practically where it is safe, will be invaluable. 

It’s also worth saying that it will be a testing time for those fighting addictions, without the accountability of supportive friends. Again, knowing this means we can ensure we can give people special attention.

Poor physical health

Many of our debt clients are likely to be self-isolating. Not many are over 70, but there are a large number of carers and a fifth of our clients are either seriously or terminally ill. We’re very concerned for our typically vulnerable clients with multiple complex needs. Nearly nine in ten were already socially isolated before CAP’s help and now, we can’t see them face-to-face. We know they will be finding this time hard.

Housing

Self-isolation is miserable but for many, a garden and comfortable home surroundings can bring comfort. Not so for the families in emergency accommodation with no cooking facilities or poor housing situations with no carpets, curtains or safe outside space. For families or for those in volatile relationships, these weeks will be very hard indeed. We are glad there will be no evictions for non-payment of rent over the next three months but we’re concerned there could be a wave of them after that.

Families

Being at home for longer periods with children to feed means more energy is required to heat and cook, more water is needed for essential hand-washing, etc. This will cause greater expenditure, while income will likely dry up because for many, no childcare means no paid work.

More than a quarter of our debt clients are single parents and without support or respite, the days and nights will seem unrelenting. Do you know a mum or dad at home alone? Give them a ring and let them know you’re thinking of them.

Work and income

Our experience at CAP is that low income coupled with an unexpected change in someone’s circumstances is what usually causes much of the debt we see. Now large proportions of people will be experiencing exactly that. 

Job loss or a reduction in working hours; companies folding; unstable temporary work; all this coupled with a likely global economic downturn, will mean charities like ours are going to be even more vital in the future.

What about the future?

It’s a sad fact that coronavirus is going to be making us very busy at CAP.  We fully intend to carry on bringing hope and restoration through our church-based service, helping people know they are loved in the tough months and years ahead. If you can help to support our work by regular giving, that would be absolutely wonderful. capuk.org/donate

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