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Credit Union Awareness Month

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By Beck Golubows, South Manchester Credit Union
Sound Pound logo for GM Poverty Action
This October, the eight community credit unions of Greater Manchester, collectively known as Sound Pound, will be launching our first-ever Credit Union Awareness Month; getting people talking about one of the finance industry’s best-kept secrets.

Credit unions are financial institutions that are owned and controlled by our members; like community banks, aiming to bring financial inclusion back to the city region. We build the wealth of local people by providing low-interest loans and convenient savings accounts with a community-first ethos.

In Greater Manchester, there are 65,000 credit union members, some borrowing to afford their dream car, some setting up businesses, some saving for retirement, and some on low income who use credit unions services to pay for vital energy and food. In 2020, borrowers from the Sound Pound credit unions saved £13m in interest and charges, making them better off than they would have otherwise been. The vast majority of those who borrowed also spent their money locally, creating a financially resilient eco-system by driving the local economy.

The Covid-19 pandemic has altered people’s lives. For some, their bank balance has been hit hard due to reduced pay or redundancy. Credit unions have stood by those experiencing financial hardship, offering a friendly and human approach to provide financial help as well as referring people for additional support. Others have had time to focus on personal ventures and started something new for themselves. Credit unions have backed entrepreneurial opportunities and given them a fresh career path.

Throughout the pandemic, so much changed. People came together for support bringing positive energy. Sound Pound’s credit unions are determined to continue with this energy whilst building back fairer and giving more people in our communities better life chances through safe and honest lending, fair rates of interest and dedicated time to listen and understand their current circumstances.

Whilst the country focuses on levelling up, our key messages need to be amplified. In this spirit, our #HowsYourBalance challenge will be launched as part of Credit Union Awareness Month this October.HowsYourBalance for GM Poverty Action

The campaign challenges people to balance something on their body, take a picture and post it on social media – nominating three friends to do the same along with the hashtags #HowsYourBalance and #CreditUnionAwareness.  This has a fun double meaning; whilst asking you to balance something on your body, #HowsYourBalance also asks people to reflect on the state of their finances.

If you’d like to join in the fun, why not start it off yourself? Get the funniest, most challenging object you can find, balance it your body and take a picture, then post it on social media including the hashtags and challenging three friends to do the same. Alternatively, any time soon you could receive your nomination and get to show off your skills.

The Sound Pound credit unions will also be very active on social media over the month, sharing facts and statements about credit unions that you may have previously not known. Watch out for these and share them, you could be helping someone in need of credit find the cheapest and most sustainable option.

Happy balancing Greater Manchester!

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Employer views on UC

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New research project seeks employer views and experiences of Universal Credit
By Katy Jones, Research Fellow in the Centre for Decent Work and Productivity at Manchester Metropolitan University

Research and policymaking has largely ignored employer views and experiences of Universal Credit – the main benefit for people who are out of work or on a low income. As job creators, and those ultimately in control of the job opportunities claimants are seeking to access, this is an important gap. Exploring how employers engage (or could engage) with local employment services like Jobcentre Plus is also critical given ongoing recruitment struggles in key industries.

In a similar way to legacy benefits including Jobseekers Allowance, Universal Credit requires claimants who are out of work to engage in job seeking and other work-related activities. It is underpinned by the UK’s long-established ‘Work First’ approach, which requires claimants to make a high number of applications and move into work as quickly as possible.

Critically though, Universal Credit is also an in-work benefit (it replaces working tax credits), and in an unprecedented move, may involve the introduction of “in-work conditionality” (IWC). This may mean that claimants who are in work must continue to engage with the Jobcentre and demonstrate ongoing efforts to increase their earnings (e.g. through increasing their hours/earnings in their current place of work or by taking up additional or alternative jobs elsewhere).

Employers and the opportunities they offer are critical to the outcomes of such policies, and associated programmes like Kickstart and Restart. And while job-search expectations are applied to claimants, Universal Credit may have implications for the way employers recruit, manage, retain and progress their staff. Do employers see agencies like Jobcentre Plus as a recruitment channel? Does the Work First approach help them to get the right candidates?

Now more than ever, we need to understand how our welfare system interacts with the labour market. More than 6 million people now claim Universal Credit, and areas like Greater Manchester have relatively high numbers of Universal Credit claimants compared to other Districts (326,978 in April 2021).

As the UK faces high unemployment, and new programmes such as Kickstart and Restart are introduced, it is critical that we consult with employers about how policies impact on their businesses and their important role in helping people to enter and progress in work .

A new research project will do just that. Led by Dr Katy Jones from Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School and supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), this important project will gather employer views of UC, how expectations placed on UC claimants may (or may not) impact on businesses, and how employment agencies like Jobcentre Plus can best work with the business community.

How can employers get involved?

The research team are currently looking for Employers (anyone with influence/power over recruitment and line management including Owner-Managers, HR managers, line managers) operating in Greater Manchester who are willing to take part in a confidential interview (face-to-face or online).

Employers from any sector can take part but they are particularly interested in speaking to employers in Retail, Hospitality and Social Care. Employers do not need to know anything about Universal Credit to take part – the researchers are interested in their insights and expertise as business owners and managers.

If you are interested in taking part, can help us to connect with local business communities, or simply want to find out more about the project, please contact Dr Katy Jones or Dr Calum Carson You can also follow the project on Twitter @UC_Employers

All responses will help towards a research paper which will be submitted to the government alongside suggestions for changes to the Universal Credit system.

 

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Universal Credit cut – Insult to injury

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NICs increase ‘adds insult to injury’ for families facing devastating cut to Universal Credit

New JRF analysis estimates that around 2 million families on low incomes who receive Universal Credit (UC) or Working Tax Credit (WTC) will pay on average around an extra £100 per year in National Insurance contributions under the Government’s proposed changes.

Peter Matejic, Deputy Director of Evidence & Impact at JRF said: “With inflation rising, the cost of living going up and an energy price rise coming in October, many struggling families are wondering how on earth they will be expected to make ends meet from next month.  Any MP who is concerned about families on low incomes must urge the Prime Minister and Chancellor to reverse this damaging cut to Universal Credit, which will have an immediate and devastating impact on their constituents’ living standards in just a few weeks time.”

Only three weeks ago 100 organisations across the UK, including GMPA, joined together in an open letter to the Prime Minister urging the Government not to go ahead with the planned £20-a-week cut to UC and WTC Credit.

JRF’s latest analysis shows the number and proportion of families who will be impacted by the cut to UC and WTC in each UK parliamentary constituency. See below the figures for the GM constituencies:

JRF Constituency data for GM Poverty Action

 

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Addressing digital exclusion

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By Erica Roscoe, Senior Research Fellow, IPPR North

Digital access is essential to our everyday lives. But our recent research into digital exclusion highlighted the barriers that many face to accessing online resources, and the challenges they encounter as a result.

Our research, which focussed on the North East but had nationally relevant findings and recommendations, found that the reasons for digital exclusion are complex and varied, and that digital exclusion often exists on a sliding scale. In our work we characterised digital exclusion as a lack of connectivity, access to appropriate devices, lack of skills and confidence and a lack of online accessibility. This broad definition encompasses individuals who, for example, may be able to use their smartphone to check social media but not have the device or appropriate skills to complete routine tasks through a laptop or desktop computer.

Our work further found that groups often disproportionately affected by digital exclusion are those who are already marginalised, including groups such as disabled people, asylum seekers, people living in rural locations and people experiencing poverty and for many, digital exclusion exacerbates this broader marginalisation. For many living in poverty, digital exclusion is often a matter of affordability; both of devices and of connection. But things are compounded by the fact that being digitally excluded often reduces access to things like job opportunities and precludes you from accessing the full marketplace when needing to make purchases, meaning it’s not possible to find the cheapest deal.

While work has been done throughout the pandemic to combat digital exclusion, we argue that a more coordinated, long-term approach now needs to be adopted to support anyone at risk of digital exclusion. Given the broad range of reasons that someone might experience digital exclusion, we can’t rely on a one size fits all approach to resolving the issue, but need to support people in a range of scenarios. Key recommendations include the need for a minimum standard of access available to all, as well as coordinated signposting and a safety net for anyone identified as being at risk of digital exclusion through access to other public services. We suggest that support should be offered in a range of environments, from one-stop physical digital support hubs, to ongoing support from employers and outreach opportunities to communities most at risk. We also put forward that digital inclusion must be at the heart of other strategies focussed on poverty reduction. Without this, those living in poverty who are facing digital exclusion will continue to face restrictions in access to things like job opportunities, skills development and access to the marketplace.

Eradicating digital exclusion won’t happen overnight and it can’t be done without a joined-up approach. We call on government at the national, regional and local level, alongside VCSE organisations and the private sector to prioritise this agenda and affect change.

To read our report in full click here.

 

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GMHP Newsletter

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Greater Manchester Housing Providers Newsletter : Focussing on Food

Motiv8 is a Greater Manchester programme to help unemployed people aged 25 and over.

Hazel Clarke, Head of Jigsaw Support, the lead housing provider for Motiv8, said: “Food donations make a huge difference to some of our clients. We are there to provide support to help them get back on track – but sometimes this involves tackling the most basic of human needs that are a barrier to people being able to progress, such as food and housing. These can be a big part of the tailored support we provide to help our participants move forward with their lives during their Motiv8 journey.”

Recent evaluation found that most of Motiv8s participants are most focussed on receiving support for barriers they are facing in day-to-day life such as housing or mental health needs and with confidence and motivation. This helps them to ‘move on’. Without this, opportunities around education, training or employment can seem unattainable, or unreachable.  Further information about Motiv8 can be found here.

Urban Outreach led a project to make and distribute packed lunches over the summer holidays. An army of local volunteers helped and the final total this year was a huge 67,050 lunches. Bolton Council, Bolton at Home, Seddon and Warburtons provided transport to get the lunches out to the 22 distribution sites across the borough.

GMPA’s food security referral tool pilot is profiled in the newsletter as well, which helps connect people using food banks to first identify suitable income maximisation advice has been set up. The Jigsaw Homes JET team and Action Together Tameside team have been supporting the development and use of the tool.

You can find out more about the project on GMPA’s website. ​

In partnership with Regenda Homes and Onward Housing, Family Action Food Clubs have been running a weekly food pantry out of St Chad’s Centre in Hollinwood, Oldham every Thursday for the local community since April of this year.

In line with Southway Housing Trust’s commitment to going green, external funding allowed them to purchase two new electric refrigerated vans for their ‘Quids In’ food clubs. This proved invaluable to facilitate the move during Covid to delivering food parcels to member’s homes

Last year Southway joined two fuel voucher schemes with other NW housing providers, one coordinated by One Manchester and one by the Housing Association’s Charitable Trust. The schemes helped prepayment customers affected by Covid who were struggling to afford energy top ups. £6,000 worth of vouchers each worth £28 or £49 were given out depending on need and size of household.

The system of purchasing vouchers online and issuing a code by text to recipients who then redeem them at PayPoint outlets, worked particularly well at a time when everyone was reliant on contacting customers remotely. Southway’s Advice Services Team is now using the same system, working with Charis Grants, to supply fuel and cash vouchers to Southway tenants in hardship who have no income. The system is working very well, providing emergency help speedily to many vulnerable tenants.

The Active Appetites project from Trafford Housing Trust is an on-going programme supporting families with food and activities during the school holidays. Launched in 2019, it provides much-needed lunches, hot meals, food hampers and vouchers throughout the year, and has so far awarded grants in excess of £220,000 to local community groups across nearly 50 different projects.

Larry Gold, CEO of Trafford Housing Trust, said: “This pandemic has resulted in an incredibly challenging 18 months for all of us, and particularly for those families struggling with children that have been regularly in and out of school. With the new term under way it’s vital that we continue to help families to access food and by providing grants and teaming up with great schools and organisations we hope to make this school year a little easier.”

The full GMHP newsletter is available here

 

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Resolution Foundation report

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Number of young people receiving benefits increases

A new report by the Resolution Foundation

Resolution Foundation logo for GM Poverty ActionThe proportion of young adults claiming income-related benefits increased from 9% to 15% during the Covid crisis – a larger increase than any other age group. This was part of the overall increase in claimants, highlighting the vital role that Universal Credit – including the £20 ‘uplift’ – has played during the pandemic, according to new research published by the Resolution Foundation in late August.

Nuffield Foundation logo for GM Poverty ActionThe report – Age-old or new-age – funded by the Nuffield Foundation, examines the shifts in the number of people receiving benefits during the crisis, and how this varied for different age-groups. There was a staggering surge in UC claims, with 1.3 million more families receiving the benefit in the first three months of the pandemic and a further 600,000 since then.

As a result, the total number of families receiving a working-age income-related benefit rose by 1.4 million in the space of 12 months to 7.5 million in February 2021 and reversed a long decline in benefit receipt.

In 2005, 72% of people lived in households that received at least one benefit, a figure that had fallen to 62% by the eve of the crisis. This fall was driven by the removal of Child Benefit from higher earners, the increase in the State Pension Age, and rising employment and earnings causing some families to no longer be entitled to welfare support. The Resolution Foundation estimates this figure has been partly reversed, with 64% of people now receiving benefit income in their household.

Focusing on which groups have been the main recipients of the pandemic benefit surge, the report notes that young adults (16 – 24 year olds) – the age group least likely to receive benefits – have seen the sharpest increases in support. The proportion of 25-29 has also increased sharply – from 17% to 24% per cent – while the share of 30 – 59 year olds claiming benefits has increased more slowly, from 22% to 27% per cent.

The Foundation believes that young adults have been hit hardest by the Covid-19 crisis and that it would have been far worse if not for the furlough scheme and while the number of families receiving benefits had dropped by some 130,000 by May of this year, the Office for Budget Responsibility expects the number of families receiving benefits to remain higher for the next two years than it was before the pandemic.

There has also been a potentially worrying rise in the number of older UC claimants, with 34,000 more people aged over 50 on the benefit since February 2021.

With record numbers of people now receiving UC, future decisions such as the future of the £20 a week uplift*, will have a bigger impact on family living standards across the country than ever before.

Alex Beer, Welfare Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said: “This research highlights the relevance of the benefits system to people of all ages, as well as the vital role it has played in supporting people and families through the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. However, it also shows that the level of support varies significantly across different age groups, and those differences should be taken into account by government when considering any changes to benefit rates.”

 

For information about how many people in the city region are in receipt of out-of-work benefits or in receipt of in-work support please go to the GMPA Poverty Monitor Social Security data.

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Fixing Lunch

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The case for expanding free school meals (FSM)

A new report by CPAG and Covid Realities

Child Poverty Action Group press release for GM Poverty ActionThe Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Covid Realties have released a new report, Fixing Lunch: The case for expanding free school meals. The report brings together findings from CPAG analysis and the Covid Realities research programme to highlight problems with existing FSM provision. It also draws on research carried out as part of CPAG and Children North East’s UK Cost of the School Day project.

Despite a rise in the number of children claiming FSMs between March 2020 and March 2021, there are still one million school-aged children in poverty who miss out on any form of FSM provision because of restrictive eligibility criteria. The proportion of children in poverty not getting free school meals varies a lot across the 4 nations, and is highest in Wales and England (where 42% and 37% of children in poverty miss out on free meals respectively). Rates are much lower in Scotland (17%) and Northern Ireland (22%).

Key recommendations, developed with Covid Realities participants, are:

•   Work towards the long-term goal of universal provision of FSM for all children across the UK.
•   In the short term, increase eligibility to every family on Universal Credit (or equivalent benefits).
•   Eligibility should also be extended to all families with no recourse to public funds.
•   Follow the Scottish Government’s lead, extend free school meals to all primary school children across the UK.
•   Support family finances throughout the year by addressing the inadequacy of the social security system.
•  As a first step, the planned £20 cut to universal credit must be abandoned.Covid Realities logo for GM Poverty Action

 

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Your Work Your Way

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By Jane Jacoby, Child Poverty Action Group

The number of families affected by in-work poverty is rising. Parents on low pay now need the equivalent of 1.5 earnings to keep their families out of poverty. In families where one parent works, a growing number of the non-working parents identify as being unemployed, yet while seeking work many of these potential second earners face barriers such as childcare, transport, skills and confidence. This important group also tend to be overlooked in Job Centre targets and by most employment support programmes; hard to reach out to and often requiring intensive but flexible support that recognises they may not be able to access many jobs due to family commitments and the challenges of juggling work and childcare with a partner.

In response Child Poverty Action Group are offering practical employment support to couples families in Bury. Your Work Your Way offers a year of in depth, individualised employment support to families who are living on low wages topped up by Universal Credit or Tax Credits. Participants will also have access to specialist welfare rights advice as well as access to a support budget which can be used to assist with work-related costs such as course fees, childcare and transport. Participants are also eligible to apply to Barclays’ Rebuilding Thriving Local Economies Fund which can provide financial assistance to people who have been adversely affected by Covid.

“When I was looking for a job after my child started school, I remember feeling confused about everything – jobs, money, childcare, the impact on family life – after being out of the world of work for a few years. There’s so much to think about! If someone had offered me the opportunity to sign up with a project like Your Work Your Way for tailored support and advice, I’d have jumped at the chance. It’s great to be able to help participants to really understand what it will mean for their family finances, including benefits, if both they and their partners work – so that any changes they make, they can have confidence in.” Dee Lynch – YWYW Welfare Rights Advisor

“We use a solution focused approach to really help participants explore work which is right for them and their families. It is great having time to support participants explore options around jobs, training and volunteering.” Jane Jacoby – YWYW Personal Support Coach

Your Work Your Way are seeing participants in a central Bury office location. They are happy to take referrals or be contacted for a friendly chat. The project is open to men or women who:

  • have a partner who is working
  • have children
  • are receiving Tax Credits or Universal Credit (or are entitled to them but not claiming)
  • live in Bury
Jane Jacoby for GM Poverty Action

Jane Jacoby

Your Work Your Way is funded by Barclays. Bury was selected as a location by Barclays as part of their commitment to Bury through their Thriving Local Economies initiative. Further details can be found here: Your Work, Your Way | CPAG on Bury Directory or on our Facebook page

Jane Jacoby

jjacoby@CPAG.org.uk   07985104986

 

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Community Savers

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Community Savers is a network of women-led savings groups which engage in regular peer support: sharing ideas, experiences and strategies for reducing poverty in their neighbourhoods, towns and cities. They have been learning from the approaches of a women-led movement called Shack/Slum Dwellers International since 2016 and work in alliance with Community-Led Action and Savings Support (CLASS).

Women have always played a critical role in community action in the UK (and across the world). Since the onset of austerity policies in 2010 which has reduced spending on public services and social support, women have been at the forefront of the battle to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable in our society. And now COVID.

The gendered nature of community action usually goes unrecognised. It is almost always unpaid, and the cost of activities are frequently shouldered by communities themselves.

This presents the Community Savers-CLASS alliance with a significant challenge. The Community Savers approach amplifies and builds upon the expertise and resilience of grassroots women leaders to make change happen. But this creates additional demands on women who are already shouldering many of their own community, family and work pressures.

Yet, being in the network also builds resilience and enables effective strategies to spread. Throughout the pandemic, savings group leaders have been able to fall back on their network for moral support, ideas and information, or just to offload when things get tough. Crisis resources have been shared between groups. Before COVID, groups were travelling to learn from each other’s projects and approaches, where a savings group set up in one place, a food project would replicate in another.

Women in the lead

Building on 30 years of SDI’s learning by doing, the Community Savers-CLASS alliance are attempting to build a genuinely alternative form of community-professional partnership.

Their work together is led by, for, and with grassroots women but protecting that principle requires constant dialogue, reflection and renegotiation. Where to find the time and space to have these discussions without needing to rush to school pick up, hospital appointments, food collections, or tonight’s campaign meeting?

In September, Community Savers & CLASS will be going on a 2-day rural retreat. They would like to enable four amazing women from each of the affiliate groups to attend but need to raise an additional £1,000.

If you can, consider helping them to reach their target by making a donation. You can also email for further
information.

 

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The Green Homes Grant

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By Ryan Tute, GMCA

Have you got the itch to make the switch and save money on your energy bills?

Residents in Greater Manchester could be missing out on grants of up to £10,000 on home improvements which could save money on energy bills.

The Green Homes Grant scheme aims to tackle fuel poverty by increasing low-income homes’ energy efficiency rating while reducing their energy bills. While also delivering cost effective carbon savings to progress the city-region’s eco ambitions.  The grants can be used towards the cost of installing insulation, including external wall, loft and cavity wall insulation, and low carbon heating systems, for example an air source heat pump.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) is working with energy provider E.ON to deliver the scheme, although residents do not need to be E.ON customers to apply.

How much can you get?  For owner occupiers, the grant will cover 100% of the cost of the improvements up to a maximum government contribution of £10,000.

Who is eligible for a Green Homes Grant?  You’re eligible for the Green Homes Grant and Local Authority Delivery Scheme if:

  • Your home has an EPC energy efficiency rating of E, F or G
  • Your household income is less than £30,000 or someone in your home receives benefits such as Universal Credit, Income Support, Disability Allowance and more.
  • Your property is in Greater Manchester
  • You own your own home (including long-leaseholders and shared ownership)
  • You own a park home on a residential site (including Gypsy or Traveller sites)

What energy efficiency measures are available? If eligible, the scheme provides money towards energy efficient measures, such as:

  • External wall insulation
  • Air Source Heat Pumps
  • Underfloor insulation
  • Room in roof insulation
  • Window replacements (single glazed)
  • Smart heating controls
  • Solar PV
  • Door replacements

If successful, what next? E.ON will find approved installers in your area to complete the work for you.

How do I apply for the Green Home Grant? Head online to the website  Call the Green Homes Grant team at E.ON on 0333 202 4820  or send an email.

 

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