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Mental Health at Christmas

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By Boris Mackey, Community Liaison Manager, rehab4addiction

‘Jolly’, ‘happy, and ‘fun’ are just a few of the words often used to describe Christmas. It is a time of year that is synonymous with festivities, parties, and spending time with friends and family.

However, some people would describe Christmas differently – stressful, exhausting, or strenuous, for example.

For these people, Christmas can be a challenging time of the year. It brings pressure to plan the perfect day, to buy the perfect gift, avoid social isolation, or even relieve potentially difficult past experiences. As a result, many people might suffer from mental health issues during the Christmas period. Studies have shown that stress, anxiety, and depression, can be particularly high during this season.

It is a time where finances can come under a lot of strain, and people can get into debt. Expectations for lots of gifts and fancy meals can cause some people a great deal of stress – particularly for those that are unemployed. (1)

Loneliness is also particularly prevalent at Christmas. Studies have shown that isolation can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.  Many people do not have family or friends they can spend time with, and some might be going through difficult family situations, such as divorce or bereavement. (2)

Christmas can also put a lot of pressure on people to join in with the festivities; this usually means eating and drinking a lot more than usual. For a lot of people, this can be a mental health trigger. Those suffering from alcohol dependency, for example, or those with eating disorders. (4)

Although these issues can seem overwhelming, there are some helpful coping tools readily available.

One of the most important things to remember is that you are not alone. Many people struggle with Christmas, and it is perfectly normal to find it a stressful experience. If you are feeling overwhelmed or that your mental health is suffering, it is a good idea to talk to someone – this could be friends or family.

However, if you are experiencing Christmas alone, there are medical professionals and local organisations that can help (see useful organisations below). It might also be worth trying to get involved in a local community project or volunteering. These will help combat isolation and provide a chance to connect with like-minded people. (3)

Another great coping tool is to plan and organise your Christmas. This will help minimise things or events that might be mental health triggers. This could also include planning a diet, exercise, or hobbies.

Make sure to take a break from social media too. Social media will contain lots of posts relating to Christmas and has the potential to trigger stress and anxiety. (2)

For more information about mental health issues and coping strategies at Christmas, see the infographic below:

 

Mental Health Infographic for GM Poverty ActionReferences

[1] Richardson, Thomas, Peter Elliott, Ron Roberts, and Megan Jansen. “A longitudinal study of financial difficulties and mental health in a national sample of British undergraduate students.” Community mental health journal 53, no. 3 (2017): 344-352.

[2] Wang, Jingyi, Farhana Mann, Brynmor Lloyd-Evans, Ruimin Ma, and Sonia Johnson. “Associations between loneliness and perceived social support and outcomes of mental health problems: a systematic review.” BMC Psychiatry 18, no. 1 (2018): 1-16.

[3] Yeung, Jerf WK, Zhuoni Zhang, and Tae Yeun Kim. “Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: cumulative effects and forms.” BMC public health 18, no. 1 (2018): 1-8.

[4] Learn more about stress and anxiety which is covered in the Alcohol Rehab Manchester guide.

 

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Turn2us report

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Unforeseen life events plunge over 15 million into financial insecurity

A new report from national poverty charity, Turn2us, reveals how over 15 million people in the UK have experienced at least one life event in the past two years that has left them struggling to cope financially.

The research shows that women, disabled people, certain minoritised ethnic groups and young people, are the worst affected by the financial impact of life events, such as bereavement, illness, a relationship breakdown, or unemployment.

64% of women have experienced financial insecurity following a life event, compared to just over half of men (55%). In ethnic groups the figure was 76%, for disabled it was 72% and for young people aged between 25 to 34   75%.  For people aged 55 and over the figure dropped to 46%.

The publication of the charity’s report comes just weeks after the Covid-19 furlough scheme ended, and the £20 Universal Credit uplift was cut. Its findings show how life events can plunge people into financial insecurity, particularly those who are already struggling to make ends meet, and that there are barriers to people accessing the support they need.

Thomas Lawson, Turn2us Chief Executive commented: “In the absence of long-term solutions that prevent people being plunged into financial insecurity, we urge the government to mandate Local Welfare Assistance schemes, with an additional £250m of ringfenced funding each year. This will enable councils to step in and help prevent families from having to make difficult choices between putting food on the table and paying their bills, because of life events that are beyond their control.”

Karen Isaacs, a Turn2us co-production partner with lived experience of financial insecurity, comments: “After a car crash left me unable to work, I had to quickly find ways to support myself financially. My initial claim for Universal Credit was not straightforward and caused a lot of stress at a time when I was under so much pressure from all sides. With no job and no money to support myself, while also being in a lot of pain, my mental health was absolutely at breaking point. I felt completely without any dignity, especially at my age – in my 60s – when I should have been receiving my pension.

“Now over three years later, I am still struggling and still trying to get a job. Recent cuts to Universal Credit have made matters worse and it is almost impossible to get help from anywhere for people in my position. This means yet another winter and Christmas struggling for money and worrying constantly.”

The survey findings also suggest that shame and stigma are a barrier to seeking support. It also reveals the coping behaviours people use to get by: almost 50% of those surveyed relied on a credit card to cover day-to day-spending after the financial impact; 23% took out a payday loan; more than one third (36%) missed bills or debt repayments with 14% reporting missing repayments more than twice; and 9% had used a payday loan or another form of high-cost credit more than twice.

44% of the people who found it difficult or impossible to cover the costs of the life event did not seek support at all.

The life events research was undertaken by Turn2us to better understand the impact of life events on people’s finances, how they cope, and what measures they need to support them. The survey and interviews explored a broad range of events that have an impact on people’s finances in the areas of health, work, family, housing and legal circumstances. Read the full report here.

 

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Levelling up from the ground up

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by Rose Grayston, a Senior Programme Manager at the New Economics Foundation

The ‘levelling up’ agenda is frequently discussed by politicians, policy makers and public commentators, particularly in the context of economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. But what does ‘levelling up’ actually mean? A report published by the New Economics Foundation argues that ‘levelling up’ must mean investment in both people and place, and the creation of initiatives that are guided by the needs of communities, with community ownership at the heart of regeneration.

Depending on where you live in England, there can be huge differences in your quality of life. This is down to some areas’ economic decline and low incomes, but also poor urban planning and underinvestment in social infrastructure. This government has made ​‘levelling up’ deprived areas a central part of this mission, but we haven’t yet seen any concrete plans for how they are going to do this.

The final report of the No Place Left Behind Commission into Prosperity and Placemaking has been launched. It’s the culmination of more than a year of work, which the New Economics Foundation (NEF) contributed to, exploring the role of place – the built and natural environment – in this government’s levelling up agenda, through the perspective of community-led projects to transform homes, high streets, parks and streets across the country.

At 270 pages, the report is packed with evidence and policy proposals on how to improve so-called ​‘left behind’ neighbourhoods and enable local people to thrive. But in essence, the Commission’s messages are simple:

• We don’t have to choose between investing in people or in place. We need both to support the country’s most deprived communities to recover from the pandemic, 11 years of austerity, and decades of economic and political neglect.

• Communities themselves must be at the heart of this government’s levelling up plans. Only they know what makes their place special, what their community needs to make the most of itself, and how to reach the people and the places that get missed out by top-down regeneration schemes.

 Community ownership of buildings and spaces must be the glue that makes new levelling up investment stick. If the community owns its homes, shops, parks and other buildings, then local people will always have affordable and tailored places to live, work, create and gather.

For people to feel they belong, there must be something to belong to. For so many places around the country, the community doesn’t have a college, a community centre, or a single public place where neighbours can come together to discuss shared challenges and organise shared solutions. But the report also shows the difference made to people’s lives when basic social and community infrastructure is rebuilt from the ground up:

• The Good Things Collective CIC in Morecambe are working to transform an empty and neglected building in local authority ownership into a community hub, enabling and showcasing local people’s businesses and creativity with bookable storage space, equipment, training rooms and workspaces.

•  Arches Local in Chatham have used their Big Local funding to paint murals, plant trees, provide meals and activities to local children, and inspire the community around a new Neighbourhood Plan to guide development in the ways residents want to see.

•  Hastings Commons have created an enclave of community-owned assets in the White Rock neighbourhood, demonstrating what can be done when homes, workspaces, parks and even caves are owned and managed in the community’s interest.

The only way for the government to achieve its levelling up aims is for it to transfer ownership of buildings and public spaces to community-led and owned bodies on a mass scale. The report backs the campaign for a £2bn Community Wealth Fund and recommends new grant funding, powers for local authorities to pass on low-cost borrowing to community groups, powers for civic groups to purchase land and assets at fair values – plus a raft of other improvements across taxation, planning, transport, housing and more.

This breadth of political hues hasn’t prevented the commission from recommending big, bold ideas: a one-off transfer of local government debt onto the national balance sheet, a £1.3bn fund to turn run-down homes for sale on the market into not-for-profit ownership, and a community right to buy registered assets of community value at an independently assessed fair value, to name a few. Read more from NEF here.

 

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Warm and Safe Homes this Winter

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In the Bleak Midwinter

By Lisa Pollitt, Project Development Coordinator, National Energy Action

October became a month of despair for thousands of low income and vulnerable households. While energy suppliers announced increasing energy prices, households were also impacted as Universal Credit uplifts were withdrawn and the cost of living rose.

For those living in fuel poverty without sufficient energy for warmth and comfort this winter this has had a detrimental impact on their quality of life. Additionally, households are having to make stark choices between heating or eating with children missing out on warm meals as well as struggling to provide hot water for bathing or laundry. Many households self-disconnect due to being unable to afford to top-up electricity or gas prepayment meters and cover the costs of both standing charges alongside their required energy use. This can result in the winter in cold, miserable homes blighted by condensation and damp with negative impacts on both physical and mental health.

NEA’s Warm and Safe Homes advice line takes hundreds of energy and income maximization referrals each month and often clients highlight both worry and the despair they feel about living in fuel poverty……..

‘I just want to feel normal, I would love to have a warm bath like other people do and just feel clean and normal’

‘I don’t have the money to top-up my meter’

‘We sit in the cold as I am scared to use the heating as it costs so much’

The advice line helps individuals to better manage their energy use and be more energy efficient, deal with bills and fuel debt as well as access a range of help and support. It also offers clients access to income maximization and claim support assistance.

We would always urge anyone who is struggling to contact their supplier or other advice agencies to check their tariff and ensure they register for additional support such as the Warm Home Discount Scheme and the Priority Service Register. As last week marked Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week 2021 #COAW21 we also highlight research which indicates that the factors which cause or expose households to the risk of fuel poverty can impact on the heating and servicing behaviors of households to elevate CO risk in homes.

One of the new avenues of support this winter is the local authority Household Support Fund. It was recently introduced by the government to provide small payments to eligible households to meet daily needs such as food, clothing, and utilities. Individuals can check their eligibility by contacting their local council or by looking online for further information. Despite this welcome initiative it does not go far enough to support fuel poor and vulnerable households and additional interventions are needed now in order to prevent needless cold-related deaths and illness this winter. National Energy Action is calling on the UK Government to take more action to directly reduce energy prices and for Ofgem (the gas and electricity markets regulator) to do more to protect fuel poor and vulnerable households. National Energy Action believes that everyone deserves to live in a warm and safe home.

Check that you are claiming all the benefits you are entitled to here

 

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New deal for workers

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We need a new deal for workers

By Paddy Lillis, General Secretary, Usdaw

The new Real Living Wage rate announced this week reflects the struggles that workers on low pay are facing to afford what they and their families need, amidst a cost-of-living crisis, and cuts to household incomes. In-work poverty is increasingly a reality for workers in low-pay sectors such as retail, but as USDAW General Secretary outlines, a new deal for workers, including a rise in the government’s National Minimum Wage, could immediately improve the lives of so many.

The retail sector is in crisis. The most recent figures show that we are experiencing the longest continuous drop in retail sales since records began in 1996. With Christmas trading just around the corner, the Government needs to urgently deliver a retail recovery plan.

This plan must go beyond supporting business and local government and focus on the people who work in shops, warehouse and distribution settings. This will help businesses recruit and retain staff and at the same time ensure staff are appropriately rewarded for the important work they do. If we want retail to prosper, we need to make sure that retail jobs are good jobs.

For too long retail jobs have been overlooked and considered unimportant, despite the fact that retail is the largest private sector employer in the UK. All too often, retail jobs have been characterised as low paid, insecure employment.

In this context, it is unsurprising that many retail workers are struggling to make ends meet. Usdaw has recently surveyed over 2,500 low paid workers on their experiences of low pay and insecure work. The results of this survey show that:

  • 69% have struggled to pay gas and electricity bills in the last year;
  • Over 1 in 3 have missed or been late with rent/mortgage/council tax payments;
  • In the past 12 months, 71% of respondents have had to rely on unsecured borrowing to pay everyday bills, and two-thirds of these are now struggling with the repayments;
  • Three-quarters reported that financial worries are affecting their mental health.

This is not sustainable, especially when so many retail workers have been at the forefront of our response to the Coronavirus pandemic and kept our country going through challenging times. Now, everyone understands the important role retail workers play.

We need the Government to introduce a new deal for workers, to tackle in-work poverty. Usdaw is calling for:

  • An immediate increase in the National Minimum Wage to at least £10 per hour for all workers;
  • A minimum contract of 16 hours per week for everyone who wants it;
  • A right to a ‘normal hours’ contract;
  • A ban on zero-hours contracts;
  • Improved sick pay;
  • Protection at work, through legislation to protect public facing workers which makes it a specific offence to assault them;
  • A proper social security system and a fundamental overhaul of Universal Credit;
  • A voice at work for all employees, through strengthened trade union rights.

It is time for the Government, employers and the public to recognise that retail workers have been undervalued for too long. They deserve a new deal. The provisions that Usdaw are calling for will lead to a substantial improvement in life experience for millions of workers across the economy and will help tackle the growing scandal of in-work poverty that blights our country.

Usdaw logo for GM Poverty ActionMore information about Usdaw.

 

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Linklaters and the Real Living Wage

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By Matthew Sparkes, Head of Sustainability at Linklaters

Linklaters is a global corporate law firm with 5,000 people working in 31 offices across the globe. Half of our people work in the UK, either in the London head office or in a support office in Colchester, Essex. On top of the direct workforce, key suppliers to the firm – in security, catering, front of house, cleaning and so on – employ a further 300 people indirectly across both sites.

The Real Living Wage has become something of which Linklaters has become hugely proud and even a little evangelical. We started paying in 2009 and joined the movement – run by Citizens UK – as a Principle Partner in 2011. That reflects the very real passion we have for paying the Real Living Wage, not only because it is the right thing to do but also because we have seen some tangible benefits. These include the impacts on job satisfaction (higher), willingness to be flexible (much higher) and staff turnover (much lower). Many of those we indirectly employ have been with us for 5 or 10 years plus and genuinely feel recognised and rewarded as equals. This matters as those benefitting are often those individuals that visitors first meet on entering the building and the warmth of that welcome is something of which we are rightly proud.

Alongside the Real Living Wage, we also provide access to the staff restaurant, gym and other ‘perks’ equally to both directly and indirectly employed staff. We also promote the local credit union so that as well as access to a fair wage, anyone can access fair borrowing and saving. This all creates an important sense of equality across the firm no matter whether directly or indirectly employed. That was demonstrated by the way we treated indirect staff so carefully during lockdown with no furlough and all roles retained. The Real Living Wage has brought to life a culture of respect and a real sense of collegiality no matter what role is performed.

Matthew Sparkes, Linklaters for GM Poverty Action

Matthew Sparkes

We now see the Real Living Wage as indicative of the firm we aspire to be. We are supporting the movement in Hong Kong, the US and Ireland, underlining our belief in its importance and our role in advocating in its adoption by City firms like ours. As a very successful business, it is hard to justify not sharing the rewards fairly and there’s no reason why that should only apply in the UK. Wherever you are, we believe that the benefits are clear, and I would urge anyone considering adopting the Real Living Wage to take that first step and join a movement that will bring advantage to your business as well as life-changing improvements to those who need it most.

More information about Linklaters.

 

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Local welfare safety nets

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The safety net beneath the safety net?

The North East Child Poverty Commission (NECPC) is calling for the Government to strengthen both the national and local welfare safety nets if it wants to build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic, after new analysis has revealed the dramatic decline in funding for ‘local welfare assistance’ in the North East over the last decade.

This new report from NECPC acknowledges and strongly echoes the recommendations made by GMPA on strengthening the role of local welfare assistance schemes (LWAS).

NECPC urges local authorities to use their full LWAS budgets each year and review how they communicate their LWAS. Also review the different routes for accessing their LWAS, with no scheme having online-only applications. To reconsider the practice of not providing cash awards, to promote dignity, choice and autonomy; to reverse the entrenchment of emergency food aid as a response to poverty and to consider working with other local councils to develop agreed minimum standards of LWAS. They also urge local authorities to undertake all of this work in ongoing partnership with VCSE organisations and local communities, particularly those with lived experience of socio-economic disadvantage, to co-design improvements to local welfare assistance schemes in the region.

To read the NECPC’s full report please go to the website

 

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Food insecurity

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Hunger and the welfare state

By Lisa Scullion, University of Salford & Ben Baumberg Geiger, University of Kent

A major new research report looks at food insecurity among benefits claimants during COVID-19, finding that half of Universal Credit (UC)claimants are insecure, and one-quarter severely food insecure – even before the removal of the £20/week uplift.

This is the conclusion of a new report by Welfare at a (Social) Distance, a major national research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19.

Using a large nationally representative survey of benefits claimants in May/June 2021 together with a survey of the general public, the Hunger and the welfare state report shows people claiming UC (which received the £20/week COVID-19 uplift) saw no rise in food insecurity during COVID-19. In contrast, those claiming ESA/JSA (which did not) saw sharply rising insecurity. This suggests the £20/week uplift helped reduce food insecurity.

The new Household Support Fund will not compensate for the end of the UC uplift or benefit announcements made in the Budget. Simple arithmetic means that a £500 million fund can only make up for the loss of £20 a week for around 1.3 million of the nearly 6 million people claiming UC. Even if the fund is targeted perfectly, it cannot cover even the 1.7 million who were severely food insecure and can cover less than half of the 3 million UC claimants who had any food insecurity. Most UC claimants already in food insecurity will therefore lose £20/wk.

Yet the report finds that food insecurity is a broader problem: even with the uplift, 50.0% of UC claimants were food insecure, and 28.8% were severely food insecure. Even among UC claimants receiving the £20/wk uplift and not subject to any policies that raise the risk of food insecurity, we estimate that 29.4% were food insecure, and 16.1% were severely food insecure. A significant fall in food insecurity would require a much broader increase in the level of benefits.

The report also finds that food insecurity is noticeably higher among (i) claimants receiving deductions from their benefits (e.g. due to past advances), or subject to the under-occupancy penalty (‘bedroom tax’) or benefit cap; (ii) the 55.1% of claimants who made debt repayments in the previous month; and (iii) disabled people, particularly those not receiving multiple disability-related benefit payments.

Even ignoring DWP deductions from benefits, more than half of claimants repaid debts in the last month. These claimants are 20 percentage points more likely to be food insecure than other claimants. Inescapable debt payments reduce the amount that people have to live on and need to be taken into account in poverty measures.

If benefits are to provide an adequate income, then the DWP cannot ignore claimant debt. While the Government have taken useful steps towards tackling problem debt by launching the ‘Breathing Space’ scheme, more needs to be done to check for debts among all claimants and then to help them by comprehensively providing orsignposting claimants to debt advice.

 

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Elephant in the room

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A new film, made by local people has been released that reveals big social challenges facing many communities in Greater Manchester.

The film, ‘Made in Bury: Elephant in the Room’, draws on local and diverse voices rarely heard in mainstream media or politics. It explores insecurity, poverty and inequality, and how local people are organising to create system change that will tackle and prevent these issues. The film reflects the work of the Elephants Trail project. Presently working in both Bury and Rochdale, the Elephants Trail creates spaces for local people to explore issues around severe and multiple disadvantage and then produce solutions together with agencies and professionals. These currently include challenges such as homelessness, mental health and community power.

‘Made in Bury: Elephant in the Room’ was made jointly between a community reporting team from the Elephants Trail and video journalists at The Guardian, with support from The Guardian Foundation as part of the Made in Britain series.

Members of the Elephants Trail commented: “We all have that power within us to be able to say: ‘this is not how my story ends’”, said Juliet Eastham. “How amazing to have a group of people with lived experience able to advise those people that really are at the top”, added Melanie Humphreys. “We feel that there is a need to do journalism differently in our communities”, reflected Patrick Tierney “We think that people like us who have experienced severe struggles should have a role in bringing issues in our communities to light.”

John Domokos, video producer at The Guardian said “With Made in Britain, we are trying an experimental and participatory approach to film-making: giving up or sharing control with the people we work with locally”.

 

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Water bills

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United Utilities – supporting customers affected by a reduction in benefits

United Utilities is inviting customers affected by the recent changes to benefits to get in touch if they are worried about their water bill.   The company has a range of support schemes to help make water bills more affordable, especially if you’re receiving benefits such as Universal Credit. The number to call to find out more is 0800 072 6765.

They can also offer support to those customers who are applying for Universal Credit for the first time, delaying water bill payments for up to eight weeks until their first UC payment arrives. Then, when the customer is able to start paying again, United Utilities can spread those payments across a much longer period of time so they are not under any additional financial pressure.

Jane Haymes from United Utilities says: “When you call, we will also check to see if you are eligible for any of our other support schemes, such as Back on Track which provides a lower bill based on the benefits you receive or if you have been financially affected by COVID, such as being furloughed or made redundant at any time since the start of the pandemic.”

People who qualify for the warm home energy discount are also being encouraged to contact United Utilities to apply for a reduction in their water bills. The company’s Help to Pay scheme is aimed at customers who receive Pension Credit and can reduce water bills by as much as £168 a year.

“If you’re eligible for the warm home discount from your energy company due to receiving Pension Credit, I would encourage you to give us a call as it’s likely you are also eligible for a lower water bill.” added Jane Haymes

To find out more about the Help to Pay scheme, please call the team on 0800 072 6765 or visit the website

 

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