Anna Ellis, Client Support Caseworker and Becca Stacey, Policy and Campaigns Officer
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we have adapted our approach to casework by extending the enquiry line opening hours for new enquiries from 2pm-3pm to 10am-4pm Monday to Friday, and providing all support via phone and email in place of face to face meetings and outreach. We continue to assist people with disability benefit tribunals for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit (UC), lodging appeals, writing submissions and in some cases representing people at remote hearings via video link.
A lot of people who were experiencing hardship before the pandemic hit, have needed additional support, with new cases opened for a range of issues from struggling to repay Universal Credit deductions at this time, to rent arrears, and homelessness. Many individuals are also experiencing delays to decision making, and are finding it even more difficult than usual to get in touch with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), social services and local authority housing, as an increase in demand and changes to working practises means people have to compete for even further stretched resources. What’s more, isolating in inadequate housing is taking its toll on many people, and our caseworkers are alert to the new pressures Covid-19 has placed on mental health and are regularly checking in on peoples’ wellbeing during this difficult time.
As well as advice, our team have been working more holistically with individuals to identify immediate food or medication problems, and source essential items for those who are vulnerable. It is a stark reminder of how many depend on the support provided by charities like Z2K. Since March 2020, we’ve applied for and distributed £2970 in emergency grants to over thirty people which have paid for a range of items including supermarket vouchers, gas and electric top up, payments towards essential bills as well as furniture, white goods, kitchen equipment and bedding for newly housed clients. We’ve secured two Discretionary Housing Payments for people who have been Benefit Capped, they are no longer exempt because they are currently unable to work due to Covid-19, and cannot meet their rent payments. We’ve also worked closely with food banks, mutual aid groups and local authority Covid-19 response teams to ensure our most vulnerable clients receive food and medication.
As well as this wraparound financial support, we’ve teamed up with Sound Delivery to run online workshops. During this difficult time, when many people are feeling even more isolated than normal, these workshops provide a space where clients can connect with new people, while developing storytelling and campaigning skills. As one participant has said “I am finding the lockdown quite difficult…so I’m just trying to keep myself busy and getting involved with workshops like these I think that helps in terms of giving someone something to focus on for a certain time period.” They provide a sense of routine in a time when many things feel very uncertain.
Each session we focus on a different storytelling medium – such as blogging, photography, audio – and participants will then be developing outputs using these mediums to share their experience, and encourage change. The voices of our clients are central to Z2K’s policy and campaigning work on improving the benefits and housing systems that have failed to adequately support them.
We are aware of the need many people have for digital access, and are also working with funders to provide laptops and tablets, which would be of huge help to families who are struggling to home school with limited technology, and for improving mental health and well-being as individuals will be able to stay in more regular contact with friends and family.
While advice is vital for ensuring people have enough money and somewhere safe to live during this pandemic, the need for additional wraparound support has never been greater. Most importantly we’re keen to reassure clients that they will not be left behind – we will continue to advocate on their behalf in whichever way we can, adapting our services to meet their needs, and calling on Government to go further to ensure everyone is adequately support both during and beyond this crisis.
We know there will be a bigger need for services like Z2K’s once the government’s eviction protection and furloughing schemes come to an end. If you or anyone you know needs support with their benefits or housing issues, please complete an online enquiry form or call our helpline today on 020 7259 0801.