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A better way

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It seems that every day there is some report or study produced that shows an increase in poverty and inequality and here we consider the best way forward when supporting the people who need it most.

Whether it be another food bank opening its doors (figures for the Trussell Trust show that over 900,000 people accessed food banks in the last 12 months – compared to nearly 350,000 in 2012-13) or the news from Shelter suggesting that one in three working parents are cutting back on buying food to enable them to pay their rent or mortgage.

There has also been talk for a while now of people struggling with payday loans and today’s news sees debt charity, StepChange asking the Financial Conduct Authority to take further action to protect customers. Their figures suggest that there has been a 42% increase over the last 12 months of people getting into difficulties as a result of taking out payday loans.

These reports certainly help to highlight some of the issues faced by many people but what difference do they really make to the lives of those directly affected?

When these stories are posted on social media a tide of emotions fly from people’s fingers via their smart phones, keyboards and tablets. Sympathy for the ‘poor’, anger at the ‘fat cats’ and decision makers with cries of how unfair things are – but who actually does anything about it?

It’s all well and good opening food banks and arguing that payday loan companies are potentially exploiting vulnerable people but surely encouraging people to change their lives by helping to give back choice, independence and control is the way forward.

Don’t get me wrong, the work that the Trussell Trust does is amazing and, as a support worker, I have helped countless people access their services to ensure that they could feed themselves and their children. The point that I’m making is that there shouldn’t be a need for these types of hand-outs.

There is a belief from some that a good support service is about helping people to get what they’re ‘entitled’ to. While there is a certain element of this, the main aim of a support worker shouldn’t be to simply help customers claim every benefit and charitable grant available. In my opinion this is a short-term fix and if, for example, we manage to help get someone’s debts completely written off does this mean that we’ve solved their problems?

As Bromford colleague, Donna Smith says: ‘’It is always about the customer and their understanding of their own story and how it has impacted on their life and how this will affect their future that enables me to help them achieve more.’’

Donna is currently working with customers to help them to take control of their lives when moving into a Bromford property. Here she shares an example of how, with a little nudge in the right direction, people are able to make decisions that stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

John* has five children and they’ve not had the best start in life – 12 months ago their mother left and they’ve spent the last six months living in temporary accommodation. When Donna started working with them there was no basic budgeting in place and John was spending around £200 per week on food – something that he simply couldn’t afford.

After moving into their new home, John needed to buy bunk beds for his children but didn’t have enough spare cash so applied for a crisis loan to help. After discussing John’s weekly shopping bill, Donna suggested that he try a different supermarket and become more organised when shopping. John took her advice and subsequently cut his shopping bill to £80 a week.

These simple changes have helped John to manage his money far more effectively and, possibly best of all, thanks to the support with his budgeting, he called to withdraw his crisis loan application after saving enough to buy the bunk beds himself. This might not seem like a big achievement to some, but for John he now has control of his life back.

Almost inevitably, we will need a safety net to ensure that the most vulnerable have the financial help that they need but by always ‘doing’ for someone are we really helping? A lot of people that need support services possibly don’t realise that there is another way. They might not have had the same opportunities as other members of society but if we don’t challenge their engrained thoughts, how will they ever know what possibilities are open to them?

I’m not saying that it will be easy but if we want to help people in the long term surely we should be encouraging more to take control of their lives rather than rely on others. For me, the quality of support is not measured by how much in benefits and funding the customer receives but by how much the individual wants to contribute back into society – and the first step towards this is positive, pro-active support that gives everyone the confidence and skills to make the most of their life.

*Name changed

Communication specialist - My days are spent telling stories, networking, copywriting, posting on social media and delivering training to colleagues - a bit of everything really! 

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