BEYOND BENEFITS: SUPPORTING BETTER OUTCOMES THROUGH COMMUNITY-LED INNOVATION DISCOVERY PHASE - FINAL REPORT
CONTEXT: We didn’t start in a great place The national context is challenging.
• When the financial crises hit in 2008 many households had insufficient savings and were highly indebted. • Low income households were particularly vulnerable • And if their resilience was low in 2008, it is only decreasing. (Source: SMF, SInk or Swim? The impact of Universal Credit, Sept 2012): - 10 million of those in low income households are in unsecured debt - ¾ of those in lowest income quintile have no cash savings • These households therefore have less capacity to deal with changes in income and expenditure. • A confluence of events is creating a perfect storm - There is a bleak economic outlook - earnings growth stagnating, job insecurity is high etc - Rising household costs and inflation - Cuts to benefits in real term and forthcoming welfare reform changes - Cuts to public services
CONTEXT: And there is more pain to come... Locally, in East Sussex, welfare reform changes, coupled with a bleak economic outlook may increase the vulnerability of low income households, who until now, have been just about coping.
• The move from Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance is likely to result in an estimated 4000 people being assessed as fit for work resulting in a reduction in benefit for households of an estimated £5.5million. • The introduction of Local Council Tax Support is likely to impact on 15-20,000 working age households depending on scheme design and a reduction in support previously received by East Sussex households of an estimated £2.5million. • Housing Benefit and Local Housing Allowance changes are estimated to have an impact on 15,000 households, reductions range from small amounts to £50+ per week. • Changes to Tax Credits will impact on an estimated 1,640 people across the county on low incomes with potential consequences in terms of debt and pressing need to reduce household expenditure • When the introduction of Personal Independence Payments is complete there will be 4,100 fewer people across the county claiming PIP and receiving £13million less than they would have received if claiming Disability Living Allowance. • Just under 56,000 households in East Sussex will be claiming Universal Credit by the end of its introduction in 2017. This is just below a quarter of East Sussex households. It is anticipated that for approximately 21,000 of those households the current support they receive from the state will rise, for a further 15,000 it will fall. (Source: Supporting People Welfare Reform Project, East Sussex County Council)
RESEARCH: What we were trying to find out? Focused on areas where there is potential to have most impact.
• We know that some groups will face very specific issues based on the particular circumstances of their lives (e.g. elderly, disability, lone parents) but in the time available for research there was not enough time to explore each of these in-depth. • Therefore, rather than getting in specific issues, we looked at the broader question of financial struggle and what challenges might be similar across all groups, regardless of their particular circumstances. • Furthermore, we decided that the focus should be on abating growth of a problem, rather than solving long-standing and deep-rooted problems • Therefore, although we acknowledge that there are a group of people with more entrenched and complex issues, that require very targeted and deep service-level intervention, we considered this beyond the scope of this phase of work. • So our research was primarily interested in a group of people who are ‘just coping’ and not firmly entrenched in benefits system to understand: - their experiences of coping with the current financial squeeze and how they are managing their finances - what could be done to mitigate their pain and help them to achieve their goals • By focusing on broader challenge of financial struggle, hoped that we could identify some solutions that: - would be applicable to all - could be prototyped quickly
OUR TARGET GROUP: The Fringes 2015?
Projected Hysteresis Projected Short-term / Transcient Claimants
Projected Hysteresis Projected Short-term / Transcient Claimants 2012
‘Desired’ Hysteresis ‘Desired’ Short-term / Transcient Claimants
The top diagram shows a predicted short-term increase in the numbers of people on the fringes of the benefits system, and without action, the subsequent but delayed sharp increase in those who are in long-term hysteresis. The bottom diagram shows that we are focusing on keeping the increase in people on the fringes to a minimum rather than tackling those with already complex and long-standing issues.
We think this represents the most efficient way of averting a future explosion of claimants with long-term and complex issues. If we can implement measures to make those who are just coping become more resilient then we avert the huge time, effort and cost of dealing with longer-term cases in the future. Our proposals therefore aim to prevent an increase in challenges rather than solve existing ones (though they may help with that too).
RESEARCH: What did we do? Over a 4 week period, we conducted ethnographic research to understand how people are experiencing financial struggle and what can be done to support them in their aspirations.
Who we spoke to and what we did Spent time in the local area - Lewes, Newhaven, Peacehaven, Seaford, Barcombe and Newick Interviewed front-line staff and community advocates to get a broad brush understanding of local issues: • Front-line staff: Housing Benefits, Homelessness and Housing Advice • Councillors: Ward Councillors and Town Clerks • Other: Newhaven Community Development Association, Credit Union, Citizens Advice Bureau Conducted in-depth Interviews with 5 households to get in-depth understanding of their experiences (see appendix for more details): • ‘Gill’: 24 years old, single and living in a shared house in Lewes. Recently unemployed and looking for work. • ‘Susie’: 20 years old, lives with partner and newborn baby in Seaford. Currently on maternity leave. Partner looking for work • ‘John’ and ‘Tina’: Couple in early 20s, renting a house in Barcombe. John is currently working part-time and Tina is volunteering. • ‘Ella’ and ‘Leo’: Ella is 30 and lives in Newick with her 4 children. Leo, her partner, is 20 and leaves nearby in Chailey. • ‘Kieran’ and ‘Kim’; Married couple in their 40s with 4 children living in Lewes. Longer-term unemployed due to health issues. A note on methodology: • This was not intended to be a representative study of all those who are facing financial struggle in Lewes. Instead the research aimed to provide depth and richness. • We visited people in their homes and spent a couple of hours talking to people about their lives - their backgrounds, financial situation, pressures, challenges, experiences of support and their hopes and fears for the future • Wanted to use the richness of their stories and observations to understand experiences of people and how they see the world.
WHAT WE FOUND: Things are getting harder: Services are seeing an increase in demand - and from a new group of people. We heard this from a range of services - Housing Benefits, Housing Advice, CAB, Credit Union “Seen huge increase - especially in category of working poor” (Credit Union) “New sort of client presenting. People who are not what you thought. Crept up the class” (Councillor/CAB Trustee) Services described a category of people who have struggled along for a while but are reaching a tipping point. They are generally earning the same or less and have been hit by rising prices. With little financial resilience, a crisis - losing their job, car breaking down, needing a new cooker - can tip them over the edge. With a bleak economic outlook, we predict this will only increase.
Cost Pressures: As expected, utility bills, food, transport are key pressure points for people. And when you are poor you have less choice over some of these things e.g. difficult to switch electricity provider if you are in debt with current provider “But the price of food in supermarkets... for what we spend, we budget shop every week. It’s crap food. It’s cheap.” (Kim) “See it’s just little things. So when I moved in here and joined EDF electric they said pay £30 a week and that’ll cover you, that’ll always cover you. Well now the winter’s set in and I’ve got the heating on because I’ve got a baby, I think they just sent me a bill for £700 when they’ve been charging me £72 a week” (Ella) ‘Bumpy’ expenditure makes budgeting more difficult. There are particular times in the year that where cost pressures increase and monthly budgeting on a low income is more difficult e.g. Birthdays, Christmas and winter months. “Christmas is probably the worst, I would say. This year my boy begged me and begged me until I bought a laptop. He’s 10 and all his homework is set up on computer.” (Ella) “Because we’ve had this cold spell. We’re on prepayment meters for gas and electric. One week we put £60-80 on the gas. But we had to borrow money from our family to because we didn’t have it. So it’s quite nice getting up this morning, seeing the rain and knowing it’s going to be milder and we don’t have to put the heating on.” (Kim)
WHAT WE FOUND: Cost Pressures There is little financial resilience to deal with unanticipated events or crises “Literally the week before I had him (4 month old baby), my car blew up in Brighton, the turbo went on it. It exploded, that was it. So I ended up getting a £1000 Provident loan which I’m now paying back £2000.” (Ella)
money I’m just going to spend it and I know I am. But if my Dad’s got it then I can’t touch it. So I saved up a lot.” (Susie)
“The rent’s come out and I’ve been paid and we’ve got £50 in the bank and that’s what we’ve got until the benefit comes in, in 2 weeks time. So it is a struggle.... The car blew up a month before we moved in and the dog’s not very well either. And I need the dog for work. So had loads and loads of vet bills... Sounds stupid but I’m going to have to get another dog. Because I need one for work.” (John)
“The issue we are going to hit with Universal Credit is that we are going to have a lot of people who are suddenly going to get a massive big chunk of money. We are working towards. All of a sudden going to have £2000 in bank account. They are going to buy a car. They are going to go on holiday, thinking that they can make it back next month. But it’s not that easy because they don’t realise how much it costs to live” (Credit Union)
Money management was generally very good. Contrary to our expectations there were not many areas where we could see the potential for people to save money. The people we met and spoke to are living very frugal existences and show ingenuity in developing strategies to manage their money “And it’s a thing, over the winter we were very reluctant to put the heating on” (Gill) [Are you watching your money?] “Yep like a hawk really. I’m keeping all my receipts so I can add it all up at the end of the month.” (Susie) “Because I don’t have a savings account or anything. I just gave my money to my Dad because he had a savings account. I thought if I have the
Although there is concern from services about Universal Credit and how the transition to monthly payments will impact on people’s ability to budget effectively.
Although people are already doing a lot, there is potentially some scope to help with reducing these costs and helping with budgeting.
WHAT WE FOUND: Debt exacerbates cost pressures Debt can be crippling. It can tip people over from coping to chaotic. The two families we spoke to with the most established debt are finding it most difficult to manage their finances. There has been increase in use of high interest loan companies - which only makes situation worse: “Oh yes. We’ve actually put wonga.com on our forms. It’s come up that much.” (Housing Advice) “Yeah we’d been through Provident. They’re easy... easy to get money from. But expensive to pay back. You always know someone whose got a Provident loan.” (Kim) People tend to access debt to help them get through a crisis or to get through an event or rough patch: “Birthdays, Christmas, School Uniform, White Goods for lower income families. White goods as in, my washing machine has broken, my cooker has gone wrong. Some holidays so that they can actually get away. But it’s the big events in the year really - birthdays, getting school uniform. And cars we see, which we are a bit careful of” (Credit Union). It compounds problems and creates additional stress for people: “I would like to get enough to get rid of my Provident loan. Because they come hammering on my door every week and my kids are here. This week my payment to him is £45 a week and I said ‘I can only pay for half of that’. and he said ‘that’s
not good enough, I’ll get fined’. My 7 year old was just like ‘pay him the money’. My older boy says to me ‘how are you going to pay for food mum’. He’s 10 and already worrying about bills. He goes out and earns pocket money at my mum’s house, he gives it to me. He shouldn’t have to do that at 10. That’s what it’s like.” (Ella) To avoid peoples’ lives spiralling from coping to chaotic, must help people avoid crippling debt.
Monthly Pressures: 01
This diagram represents the stresses that our interviewees felt over the course of an average month. The size of each circle represents the level of stress. Darker colours represent areas where more than one person has indicated stress (therefore the darker the colour the more people have indicated that is a particular stresspoint.
It is immediately apparent that the end of the month is a particularly stressful time for most people. Equally food and utilities costs appear to be a common cause of consistent stress. Debt is very stressful for those that have any serious amounts to their name, but most of our interviewees were not in debt themselves, or at least not through formal loans.
WHAT WE FOUND: Income Pressures There appears to be an increase in working poor i.e. the number of working people who are struggling financially. “You have sole traders who have small, little businesses e.g. gardeners, odd jobs people. Because money is tight for everyone, someone might decide that they can’t pay for gardener anymore. So their income is now reduced because people are less willing to take people on. Effectively they are seeing income reduction so they may start claiming because they can no longer afford to pay council tax. That’s increasingly happened.” (Housing Benefit Technical Assessor) A number of the people we spoke to highlighted that there was a particular problem in Lewes of a high cost of living for low skilled, low wage workers. There are still a lot of eligible people not claiming benefits. Housing Benefits highlighted that there are lots of older people and working people (part-time/low wage) who could be claiming but are not. This is because they either do not know they can claim (which is the case for a lot of working people) or they do not want to claim because of the stigma associated with benefits. Those on benefits are worried about reduced income as a result of changes to benefit system: “had one evening, quite unusual, where I had three people on the phone crying because they
thought they would have to pay more council tax benefit and that was going to push them over the edge, they didn’t have a penny to spare.’” (Councillor) “That’s the thing, I think they’re meant to be doing that benefit cut thing soon for certain families but how are people going to survive. If it were me, I’d do all my food shopping and that first before I pay any bills. A lot of people are going to be evicted.” (Leo)
WHAT WE FOUND: Looking for work Those people who are out of work are finding it difficult to find employment. There are mixed views emerging from the research. Those working in services believed that there are jobs available locally. However, the unemployed people/part-time workers we spoke to are finding things challenging. They felt that choices are limited and the job market is competitive. Most people we spoke to have a clear idea of what they wanted to do but they do not have the experience, networks or information necessary to help them get work. Training and experience was often seen as an important step to getting work but interviewees mentioned the lack of funding to access these training opportunities. “He wants to do a bricklaying course because apparently there is a job going with a mate, from the pub. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. He was looking for a bricklayer and he was adamant on getting a course. But without income he can’t put aside money.” (Susie) “I’ve looked at every single college and university for training courses to further my knowledge and get new qualifications. There was one on Excel Knowledge which I thought would be really useful and I’d use in jobs. I rang up the college and said ‘this says it’s £95, I’m on JSA would there be a reduction’. And they said no, no reduction. That’s ridiculous.” (Gill) There was a feeling that there is no halfway house offered by Job Centre. Some people wanted to volunteer in their chosen career path, but felt that having to attend the Job Centre
each week and demonstrate that they were applying for jobs was hindering this: “I chose not to get Job Seekers Allowance because you have to go in and sign on. But I’m volunteering for a future job and so I don’t have the time to go in and sign on... and don’t have a way of getting there... Just waiting for forest to expand and then can get a job there.” (Tina) The Job Centre is not seen as the best place to find certain types of work e.g. casual work, labouring, bar work. People tended to use personal connections and word of mouth to find these kinds of jobs. Furthermore, the ‘system’ is not necessarily seen as supporting longer-term aspirations. People had a clear sense of what they wanted to do but felt but that employment services just wanted to get them into ‘any old job’. Rather than understanding and treating them as people - their ambitions and values as people - services were seen as fixing a short-term problem: “I think there is a lot that you need to do on your own to pursue your dream career. You have to get the relevant experience and maybe volunteer for that specific company and you have to target them directly. So if you go to the Job Centre and say I’ve got ambitions to be a writer, I want to work for a publishing company, I’ve researched these companies and sent them off information, is there any way you can give them information about a work trial. You could work it like that obviously. Would be better than saying ‘oh I like admin’.” (Gill)
WHAT WE FOUND: Broader â€˜Lewesâ€™ Challenges Transport infrastructure in Lewes is a challenge. Many people, particularly in rural areas are car dependent, which pushes up their expenditure. Or they are reliant on public transport which is limited and can be expensive e.g. trains. The coastal route is also very busy at peak times. Broadband/Mobile Infrastructure: Although there are plans in place to improve connectivity, the lack of high speed broadband and mobile network coverage was mentioned as an issue. This needs to considered when designing solutions. Rural poverty: Living in a more rural area can mean that people are more isolated and find it harder to access services. This can exacerbate problems. Parochial: Many people expressed a strong attachment and affinity to the local town/area they lived in, with nearby towns feeling far away. This had an impact on how people viewed service provision. For example, if a front-line service was located in a nearby town, this was seen as inaccessible. Housing stock for asset-rich, cash-poor: This was mentioned as an issue by services but did not come out as a particular issue in our interviews. This issue would need further research (scrutiny review looking into this issue)
WHAT WE FOUND: Factors that promote resilience There are a lot of ways that people are demonstrating their resilience. Good money management is helping people to cope. Most of the people we spoke to demonstrated that they had clear strategies in place to manage their limited income and lived very frugal existences. Being free of debt makes money management easier. Having debt, particularly unsecured debt with high interest loan companies, can make money management more chaotic. The people that we spoke to who reached adulthood after 2008 articulated an aversion to getting into debt. But even a couple of these interviewees were starting to accumulate small amounts of debt e.g. using overdraft, borrowing off family. People were drawing on their personal networks for both emotional and practical support. There was much evidence of communities and networks - of family, friends or even acquaintances - coming together to support one another. “So I have good people in my life and I keep them close. If something were to happen in my life I know that I have people to rely on. That’s why I wasn’t homeless when I lost my job and why when I had no money I was offered a cupboard (to sleep in). I’m lucky that I’ve got good people who will care about me if something goes wrong” (Gill) “There was also a woman who worked for a charity who was also another customer at the Boot. I don’t know what charity it was... she
knew my situation and managed to get a week’s worth of my normal pay packet and she managed to get another week’s work. Oh bless. She had to do it through my work and talk to my boss for me. It was her that managed to get my maternity leave for me. So she was a good help. She also booked a facial at beauty parlour for me after baby was born.” (Susie) “The car blew up and I had to get a new car... Good old Mum, yeah, I had to borrow £2000” (John) These networks are important in providing a cushion for people and diverts them from needing extra state support. Thus there is a need to avoid interventions or policies that may inadvertently harm these networks. Furthermore, must consider people who do not necessarily have these networks in their lives. We encountered a lot of hope and positive action. Most interviewees had an appetite to improve their lives and were taking lots of positive steps to improve their situation e.g. looked into training, volunteering. But there is a need to act quickly to support these people before they become demotivated. People had very humble and realistic expectations. Most people had a very clear sense of what they wanted from their lives and on the whole these were very modest and achievable aims. Need support that is geared up to understand these aspirations. Advice from services was appreciated. When people accessed services, they felt like they got sound advice, which was helpful to them.
ACCESSING SUPPORT: Existing Services There is lots that is good about the services that are currently being provided and some things that need improvement.
sector support on offer.
There was lots of praise for services from the individuals we interviewed. We heard positive stories of support that people had received from services - for public services (Housing, Job Centre) and for voluntary services (CAB, Credit Union). There are lots of positive interventions being offered e.g. discretionary housing payments, mortgage rescue scheme, voluntary support such as Homeworks, Steps, Home Start etc.
“I had one lady who came to us on Monday and she was being evicted on Thursday. We had no contact whatsoever from her. She had rent arrears, she had problems with her housing benefit, she’d been given notice to quit, which is 2 months. If she had come to us 2 and half months ago we could have looked at her income, made sure she was getting right rate, why has housing benefit got into a mess. Child credit had got into mess and we could have sorted that out for her. We don’t want people to be homeless, would rather people had a roof over their head.”(Housing Advice Officer)
However, the research also revealed that a lot of these services seem overstretched. Interviewees made frequent reference to the difficulty of getting an appointments at services such as CAB. In some cases, this led to a feeling that the quality of support was being affected: “Whenever he’d go to the Job Centre and do the usual start signing in the booklet and they’d be absolutely useless for him really. They had to rush and hurry through because there were so many people waiting. Before, when I signed on they’d keep you there for ages and look for jobs for you. And he comes out with no pieces of paper, no jobs, just with his book signed. So sign it and get your money. You are meant to look at jobs in your area and print them off and they give you stuff to ring up.” (Susie) People don’t always know what is on offer outside of major services. Housing, Job Centre and CAB were often cited but people didn’t really know about Credit Unions or other voluntary
Quite often, people access services ‘too late’.
“Very often with the backdated claims you have people saying ‘I didn’t know I could claim’ . Along with that you have people saying ‘I thought I’d get another job’. Perhaps a sense of false optimism that they think they are going to find work. Half a million don’t claim straight away. People are seeking help but they are seeking help by borrowing money, either off a relative or doorstep lender or payday loan or something like that. They don’t think or know about us.” (Housing Benefit Technical Assessor) Negative experiences with services can affect people. “I used to see it when I walked into places like Premier Lets or places like that. You do get looked down at. I’m small as well and I was 19 and I’ve got my belly. And it’s ‘oh another young mum’. But yeah we’re sorting it. We’ve got our
ACCESSING SUPPORT: Existing Services heads screwed on. We’re aiming for finishing line. And we did get there.” (Susie) “The first woman was really weird. She took a disliking to you (partner - Tina) we think. She’d just sort of stare at you and when you said you didn’t work, you volunteered she went (made a face). She said ‘can’t you just get a job, even in a shop’...We were like, we don’t want to go back ” (John) It was unclear whether services always take advantage of opportunities for early intervention. Some services are in position to detect issues early e.g. housing/council tax arrears. Need to take advantage of that. Services not always providing what people need or want. The focus of services is often on fixing immediate, service-specific issues. They treat the problem, but not necessarily the person. Peoples choices are informed by all kinds of issues - finances but also mental wellbeing - and so services need to take account of people’s motivations. Furthermore, there is little focus on peoples’ longer term aspirations. How do you deal with complexity of somebody’s life in one place, one service? Should this even be the job of a ‘service’? Some services are difficult to access because of geography. The mere fact of having to travel to another town to visit a service was off-putting to some people. There was also frustration with the ‘rules’ of the system e.g. priority ranking for council housing, Homelessness solutions offered in Eastbourne, no say over how benefits are paid, age rules for
benefits, DLA only paid after 6 months. That said, sometimes the ‘rules’ force people to find their own solutions which better suit them. For example, in a couple of cases, the lack of council housing led to interviewees finding privately rented accommodation within budget and in areas that they wanted to live.
ACCESSING SUPPORT: Emotions are central when designing services It is not good enough to just design functional and rational responses. Services need to take account of and respond to how people feel about themselves. The research illustrated that people will not necessarily access services when they first get into trouble. Why? False optimism: “[So what did that feel like - the first week you couldn’t pay your bill?] Yeah it’ll be alright I can just sort it next week. And then next week comes and you don’t catch up and it goes on... I just tried not to think about it. If you don’t think about it, don’t know. It is worrying ‘cos when you come back to it and think I haven’t paid that for 6 months” (Kim) Denial: “They bury their head in the sand. I’ve been there. They don’t realise they are in as much trouble as they are, they think they can get out of it, they hope for better times, they are in so deep when they hit a personal crisis that they can’t see a way out, they get ill, mentally ill and then they can’t deal with it because of the stress and the stigma and the pride issue” (Credit Union) Pride: “Cos you get yourself into the mess and then think I’ve got to find someone to ask for help now. And you worry that they’re going to look down their nose at you. I think that’s what it is. [Is there something about going into an office?]
I’d rather speak to someone on the phone myself, than go into an office. Because an office environment is very black and white. And you worry about whether you are dressed right to go and see the people who are meant to help you. You shouldn’t have to feel like that” (Kim) “We had it (Housing Benefit application) in drawer for month didn’t we?... It was mind set as well because I didn’t really want to claim benefits did I? I was quite against it. It’s the way I’ve been bought up.” (John) Stigma of accessing services: “The CAB premises are horrible. Although not deliberately so! You go in the front door and there is a waiting room about this size (small) and there are posters on the wall. There is a sliding door and it says ring the bell. Now there are 2 or 3 people in there and you’ve got to say what you’re there for. Perhaps you could get them to fill out a form rather than asking them in public. Nevertheless you have to sit there. I bet you that people worry about who may see them. It’s how you get over this. So the CAB has it’s own challenges - making it OK to come and see us” (Councillor/CAB Trustee) These emotions need to be factored into how we design service responses.
ACCESSING SUPPORT: Need softer ways to reach people Support has to find people - and in a manner that doesn’t feel like ‘help’. If people aren’t going to access support, there is a need to go out to people and reach them in ‘softer’ ways: “The point I’m trying to make is that British men are not good at asking for help. I saw it in the Careers Service. I remember coming out of my place at old school in Portslade and saw a guy sitting with his head in his hands near one of our out houses. I said are you alright. Turned out he was clearing asbestos. We got talking and he asked ‘What do you do here?’ I explained that I gave advice to career young people and adults.. He said he was 23 and said he can’t do this for the rest of his life. He said when I was at school I never would have gone in but he said now I’ve met you I think I will. Once you start down that route it becomes easier straight away” (Councillor/CAB Trustee) “What we then did was go into libraries and particularly for women... had a colleague who’d tell us what would happen... the first week they’d walk past the table, the second week they’d come and pick up leaflet, the next week she’d invite them to sit down. That person would never come through the front door. So we do outreach work in places where we can find enough resource. Primarily takes the form of benefits advice. Go to places like - Hill Crest Centre, Library at Peacehaven. Hoping the library at Seaford gets rebuilt and we’ll be in there. There needs to be more soft, no doorways stuff. Even the doctor’s surgery is a doorway. Maybe, and this may be too wild, we should be in places like Tescos” (Councillor/CAB Trustee)
They need to be reached through people that they trust: “By the time people get to me they are already desperate. It’s about prevention. It’s about getting that message across and how you do that. It’s also about having a point of contact. Maybe worth having a point of contact in each community, like a community elder. It’s going back to how things that used to be – lost lots of that” (Councillor) Furthermore, given that people are often feeling quite vulnerable, this support needs to be hands on, personal, yet informal: “I was mortified, couldn’t deal with it, couldn’t answer the phone, didn’t know what to do. Went to the CAB and felt like a leper. Terrible. The information was good. They couldn’t support me as much as I needed it really. I never claimed any benefit. I was mentally unable to deal with it and because I’m not silly, I’m quite an intelligent person, they didn’t offer me the case work where they would write letters for me. I had to do it all myself and didn’t because I wasn’t able to” “One of the things I used to do for all families – I used to do the research, print it out and take it to them. You need someone to provide that kind of support. In some ways it would be great if people have access to internet themselves but they still won’t do it, have to spoon-feed people” (Councillor)
DESIGNING SOLUTIONS SOME IDEAS TO TEST
DESIGNING SOLUTIONS: Areas & Principles Areas to focus on:
• • • •
• Design soft solutions to incorporate how people feel • Find ways of reaching people, rather than expecting them to come find services • Enabling networks of support i.e. peer-to-peer • Support the person, not just the problem • Support peoples’ long-term ambitions • Recognise that different things will work for different people • Build on good things that exist • Explore flexibility in the ways that these services are provided • Community vs State - some solutions might be more effective if they are seen as coming from somewhere other than state • Mixture of online and offline solutions
Reducing costs Managing money Avoiding crippling debt Supporting people out of unemployment • Helping to connect people to support
Things that didn’t really come up in sufficient detail but may warrant further attention • • • •
Disability Childcare Older people Housing stock
TWEAKING EXISTING SERVICES:
h a n g e s to dc cu s
r s e r vic e s wi th
o utre a c h b/
There are various early indicators of trouble on the horizon. One key one is slipping into arrears on rent or Council Tax payments. This (and others) are an opportunity to open discussions about how to move forward, rather than issuing statutory ‘threats’ of eviction
While existing services received near unanimous praise, we came across incidents of quick fixes being prioritised over working towards longer-term aspirations. Perhaps every service could commit to discussing plans for the next month, six months and two years. This would help emotionally and hopefully practically too.
What if a CAB volunteer spent a day a week working from the local British Legion / Cafe / school anywhere people might be found. Informal chat could help to signpost people to the service, without necessarily providing the service there and then. This feeds into a wider point about services needing to access people who need help rather than people accessing the services. Anchor organisation.
More aspirational dialogue:
Further expansion of the CAB into communities:
When volunteering it can be tricky to make appointments at the Job Centre. If JSA could be administered (perhaps for a set period of time, and with written confirmation from the employer) without having to attend every appointment, volunteering opportunities, and the career and personal development they bring, could become more accessible.
JSA payments for volunteers:
Can credit unions intervene as soon as someone accesses benefits to make sure money is managed as well as possible from day one?
Families naturally feel more pressure around key dates in the year - Christmas and Birthdays. An option to reduce monthly Child benefit slightly and provide bumper payments just before birthdays and Christmas could help to keep finances on track. Can credit unions help with this?
Other opportunities for early intervention are with Health Workers and any home services. Perhaps training in basic signposting and form-filling for front line staff could provide an opportunity for avoiding further problems. We know the NCDA have been developing proposals along these lines already.
We spoke to several people who said they find it harder to pay the bills during winter months due to the increased pressure on heating and lighting their homes. Equally, as money is always tight, it is very difficult to put money aside during warmer months. If people had the option of skewing their benefits so they received slightly more when they need it most, this could help them avoid getting into arrears with energy companies.
/ prosecution etc (we know this is in reality not the first step, but it can perhaps feel like it is). As discussed above, most people have a myriad reasons for not accessing help until it’s too late. Equally, they do not want to get into debt any more than Council services want them to. A softer approach to administering services may help with starting on a path to avoidance of the issue rather than simply dealing with the fallout.
Flexibility in provision of benefits:
SUPERCHARGING SERVICES: Within the system
1. Services in Sheds The Idea: Already in Newhaven the Town Clerk is working to free up Town Council / District Council owned land for food growing. The most obvious benefit of this is production of free or near-free food. Add to this the fact that many people are now forcibly working part-time, unable to find work for the 1/2/3 days a week they are no longer employed, and struggling to pay the bills. Furthermore, there is a therapeutic benefit to getting out and gardening and the makings of a simple scheme to keep unemployed people busy is there.
References: Men in Sheds | http://www.ageuk.org.uk/ professional-resources-home/services-andpractice/health-and-wellbeing/men-in-sheds/
2. Asset Review: What other council owned buildings and spaces could be used to better serve public needs? Could services be combined better in certain spaces? Reference: http://locality.org.uk/assets/
This programme could be supported by an app complete with growing information, motivational reminders, and potential yields to help with planning food buying. This is a four pronged idea - 1) save money on food. 2) reach people who wouldnâ€™t normally access services in a soft way. 3) Get people out and exercising with a purpose. 4) Get people out
Growing food for those 1/2/3 days a week would keep people busy and help reduce living costs - therefore benefitting a different group of people. If this could happen in collectivised allotments, with each person able to take on a plot of land to suit their time commitments, then you additionally start to bring in a social element. Finally, stick a shed on the site, and ask different services to do outreach work on the allotments - maybe even doing some gardening and using a shed for one-on-one chats. Fill the shed with info that might not find itâ€™s way to people otherwise. Producing enough food for a surplus? Open a collectivised greengrocers / food delivery and provide jobs!
a plot! ot
Size: 5sqm NEXT TO: Danny
YIELD: 3 MONTHS EG V FOR ONE ADULT . P.A
SUPERCHARGING SERVICES: Within the system
3. Lewes Pound Benefits / Wages The Idea
4. Weightwatchers for Saving The Idea
The CAB had an interesting angle on the benefits of helping residents access benefits they are entitled to; bringing over £2million more into the local economy. This is all well and good, but if it’s all being spent at Tescos then are they really keeping that money local? Perhaps any extra benefits entitlements discovered as a direct result of the CAB or a proportion thereof could be offered in Lewes Pounds or the equivalent?
A common theme, and a challenge when accessing services is the geographical and psychological barriers of reaching the relevant HQ, be that CAB, housing or any other centralised support. This is particularly important in the context of accessing help money management before things go too badly wrong. Equally, it can be very hard to stick to financial targets and plans when you’re only committing to them in your own company. With that in mind, a peer support programme of money management could mirror the Weightwatchers ethos of pledging to a group that you will meet targets, and in return receiving the support of your peers in order to do so.
Failing that, does the Lewes Pound count as a voucher? If so, could those who wish to work, but fear returning to paid work will affect their benefits to such an extent that they are worse off be paid in ‘vouchers’ for a set period to help them back into employment? i.e. a single mum fearing she loses housing benefit etc if she returns to work, and will have to arrange / pay for child care. This seems daunting, and perhaps 3 months of part time work paid for in vouchers would provide the stability and security to make the leap? Additionally, this approach might remove some of the stigma around receiving benefits. If it can be construed as investing in the local economy and supporting small shops and businesses, perhaps receiving benefits would feel less like a ‘hand-out’.
This could be a service targeted at the working poor and framed in a similar way as the Christmas present saving schemes (i.e. appealing to people who know they are struggling but are perhaps not yet chaotic), and be a preventive programme. Access to support through peers might encourage people to start earlier, and peer pressure to meet targets can help to ensure they are met.
NEW SOLUTIONS: Outside the system
1. Car Sharing - â€˜Sluggingâ€™ The Idea
2. Collective Switching The Idea
Lewes District has distinct and structured commuter patterns. Effectively there are three main roads linking Seaford/Newhaven, Brighton and Lewes. All are busy during rush hour, particularly the coast road, and most cars are single occupancy. Those who cannot afford to run cars complain about the length of time the bus takes to get into Brighton (the main centre of employment) and those who can drive complain both about this and the rising cost of running a car. Lewes is in a strong position to run a successful car-pooling scheme as between 7-9am and 4-6pm, almost everyone is going in the same direction! A smartphone app that handles this simply, and provides basic safeguarding around Hitch-Hiking (a classic example of collaborative consumption) could save costs (for both those who currently struggle to afford travel, and those not yet struggling but might soon) and reduce commute time. Reduction in commuter time could in turn save further costs (childcare, after-school clubs etc) and additionally opens up areas of employment currently out of financial reach.
Most people seem to shop around for deals already, and those who are in arrears with their utilities companies cannot change provider, but it would still be interesting and a low-cost option to look at collective switching on a District level. There is successful precedent for this in Eastbourne so we could perhaps look to work with this scheme and develop it further.
The idea of bringing more business to Peacehaven/Telscombe etc has come up several times, but we feel the reality is that it would be far easier and more desirable to get people to Brighton more easily than to bring the business from Brighton to smaller towns along the coast.
Reference: http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk/publications/ get-it-together-the-case-for-collective-switching-in-the-age-of-connected-consumers
NEW SOLUTIONS: Outside the system
3. POPCash / Wonga For Good The Idea
4. A District of Farmers: The Idea
Lots of people are borrowing money. Payday loans are an absolute scourge on the poor and often push people quickly into chaotic lives. At the same time, Credit Unions are well off the radar for most. Making borrowing at low interest rates easier (and more regulated) could save a lot of people from quickly dropping from ‘hanging in there’ to ‘out of control’. Could this be coupled with an aggressive campaign to compete with Wonga’s advertising? Wronga?!
An out-there one, but worth some thought. Currently depending on who you listen to, between a third and half of all food grown is thrown away at some point in the chain. Lots of this happens when misshapen fruit / veg doesn’t meet EU regulations and can’t be sold. If a shared ownership programme could be introduced similar to Buying a Highland Title then as an owner of 1sqft of land on the farm (say purchased for £10), you might be entitled to do as you wish with all the leftover, unsellable but perfectly edible food, thus saving huge costs. This could potentially start with any council owned farms in the area.
NEW SOLUTIONS: Outside the system
5. Peer to Peer Investment: The Idea
7. Opening Wifi: The Idea
Two of the five people we met wanted to start their own enterprise. Both seemingly realistic, and neither had heard of Kickstarter. Can we open this up more to people, or emulate it with a localised version where people can invest expertise, time or money into an idea?
Encourage people to open up their wifi (take off passwords) and allow those who might struggle to afford it to share theirs. Simple, and could be a great help to those looking for jobs.
Reference: Kickstarter http://www.kickstarter.com/ Spacehive http://spacehive.com/
6. #LewesJobs on Twitter The Idea Job centres are “not the place to get jobs”. Many people are looking for casual work or roles that would never make it into the Job Centre and equally don’t necessarily need CV’s and cover letters writing. These jobs tend to be filled through word of mouth. Could we open up twitter as a conduit to other people - anyone with a computer or smartphone could search #jobslewes and find employers looking for local #hodcarriers #labourers #shopassistants etc. It’s free, and it only takes 140 characters to respond - saving everyone time.
Reference: http://howto.wired.com/wiki/Share_ Your_WiFi_With_the_Neighborhood
APPENDIX: RESIDENT INTERVIEWS PEOPLE WE SPOKE TO
‘Gill’ “At the moment I consider my mental health and my happiness more important. I’m not going to work for another company that leaves me feeling worthless. No-one should have to go through that” Background: Gill is 24 years old and currently rents a house with friends in Lewes. She is from Sussex and her family are scattered around the South of England. She was previously living and working in Brighton. She worked for 2 years as a Civil Servant, a job which she says ‘crushed her spirit’. She was made redundant from this job in April 2012. Within a couple of weeks she found a job in a language school, which she left in Summer of 2012 due to disrespectful behaviour from colleagues. This subsequently led to her becoming homeless and she spent 6 months coach-surfing/staying with friends. After seeking advice from the Brighton Housing Trust and YMCA, she and her friends eventually found a house in Lewes through a private landlord. She is currently unemployed, as are her housemates, and the rent is mostly covered by Housing Benefits. Benefits: Housing Benefit; Council Tax Benefit; Job Seekers Allowance Looking for employment: Gill has given up on conventional short-term jobs and is keen to find
a job that is more fulfilling and in line with her morals and beliefs. She is taking a lot of positive action to help meet her goals. She has looked into both training and voluntary work. Financial pressures: Gill is very careful with money and is living incredibly frugally. She uses her bike to travel around and is able to get most of her food through skipping. Her biggest financial worry is utility bills, which she has less control over. Her only debt is her student overdraft, which she had to use to cover the deposit for the house. Support networks: Gill has strong friendship networks which she draws upon, both to share resources (e.g. food), and for practical and emotional support. Aspirations • Short-term: to get some voluntary work and to complete a CELTA course. • Short-term: has degree in English & Creative writing so wants finish novel and approach publishers to see if that is an option. • Longer-term: to run a major charity:“I want to have applied myself and to have said I’ve made the world a better place. All I want to be is happy and feel like I’ve made a difference”
‘Kieran’ and ‘Kim’ “For me, the biggest pressure is life. Life in general. Because of my illness. Kim worries about the bills and things like that. I don’t tend to worry about them. If they get paid they get paid. If they don’t they don’t. What are they going to do. Take me to court won’t they. What are you gonna do? Kim worries about them. But my illness.. sometimes I want to be here, other times I don’t. That’s the nature of my illness” [Kieran] Background: Kieran is 42 years old. He has lived in Lewes his whole life and his family are based in area. He is married to Kim who was born in London and lived in various places before settling in Lewes District. Her mum lives in Peacehaven. They have 4 Children – 2 from Mrs K’s previous marriage (21 year old and 17 year old) and 2 together (7 year old and toddler). The 21 year old moved out in November. They live in a 3 bedroom council house, which they moved to two years ago as part of a swap with another family. Neither Kieran or Kim are in employment. Kieran was working as a taxi driver but stopped working in 2003 as a result of a breakdown. He has since been diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder and is on medication which prevents him from working. Kim looks after the children full-time and also suffers from depression. Benefits: Income Support, Child tax credit, child benefit, A little bit of DLA. Housing and Council tax benefit. Depression: The overwhelming struggle in Kieran’s life, and to a lesser degree Kim’s life, is dealing with their depression, which they see as
a permanent condition. Financial pressures: They have a number of debts - Provident Loan, catalogues, rent arrears, utility bills - which cause a great deal of anxiety for Kim. They said that clearing this debt would vastly improve their lives. The debt exacerbates other cost pressures such as utility bills and food. Financial resilience: They have sought help from a Credit Union recently and this was seen as very positive. It has fostered a savings mentality and practice, which allows them to plan for ‘next emergency’. Stigma associated with accessing support: They highlighted the reluctance to access support: “‘Cos you get yourself into the mess and then think I’ve got to find someone to ask for help now. And you worry that they’re going to look down their nose at you. I think that’s what it is” Aspirations • Short-term: They would like to be debt free • Long-term: They would like to be free from depression but both feel that this is something that they will suffer from permanently. • Long-term: Kieran would like to get job but doesn’t see that this can happen while he is on medication
‘Susie’ “It’s just a case of keep on trying really. He’ll find something eventually... He gets quite depressed as well, gets quite upset. You know what blokes are like, he’s got a baby, you want to provide for them and it does get him down. Everyone is in same situation these days’ Background: Susie is 20 years old and first moved to Seaford from Birmingham 3 years ago. In 2011 she moved down permanently to be with her partner - although without any fixed address. They moved between her partner’s Mum’s and sister’s houses when Susie became pregnant. Upon becoming pregnant, they sought support from the Housing Service and were told they would not be considered a priority case until after the baby was born. Eventually, they found a privately rented 1-bedroom house, which they moved into in October 2012, a week before the baby was born. Up until a month before giving birth, Susie was working part-time in a local pub. She is currently on maternity leave and due to return to work part-time in April 2013. He partner is currently unemployed, looking for labouring or construction work, although he would be willing to do anything. Child care is not an issue for the moment as she is on maternity leave. When she returns to work her partner will look after their child. If he finds a job then she will organise her working hours around his job so that child care is covered. Benefits: Housing and Council Tax Benefit (yet to come through), Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit. Healthy Start voucher. Partner lost JSA
allowance when they moved in together. Other income: Maternity allowance from work Financial Pressures: Susie has a prudent attitude towards money. She saved while pregnant (gave money to her Dad so that she wouldn’t spend it) and now living incredibly frugally. She keeps all receipts so she can check where money is going. Her main cost pressures are utility bills and food. She does not have any debt. Looking for employment: Susie’s partner is currently looking for work. He has been finding it very difficult and, at times, very depressing - not having his own source of income is frustrating. He has informal networks (e.g. family and acquaintances from the pub) who have provided routes to employment in the past but he has not had any luck recently. Support networks: They have drawn on community networks and familial support e.g. people gave them things when baby was born. Susie’s Mum has sent down food shopping and her Dad has given her partner casual work in the past. Even customer in the pub where she works have given her advice and practical support. Aspirations: • Short-term: At school Susie wanted to be a fashion buyer. New Years resolution is to go back to college and take some courses related to fashion • Short-term: Partner to find employment. • Longer-term: Would like to have enough money to buy a house - a nice 2 bedroom place in Seaford. To have a healthy child and no debts.
‘John’ & ‘Tina’ “It’s just the case that we’ve taken this on ourselves, so we should be able to afford it. I don’t want to... because we have had to so much since we moved out, keep going back to our families saying can we have some money... but I don’t like doing it. I don’t like it.” Background: John and Tina are in their early 20s and met in College in Plumpton. In September 2012 they moved into a privately rented house in Barcombe. Prior to this they were living at John’s Mum’s house. When they first moved into rented accommodation, John had two jobs - one 3 day a week job as a Shepherd at a Forest and 2 days a week on a private estate. Shortly after moving in, he lost the 2 day a week job and so found himself unable to cover the rent. Despite their initial reluctance, they sought Housing Benefit to help them cover the shortfall. They haven’t told their landlord about their change of circumstance because they are worried about his reaction. Tina currently volunteers, working with horses, at the Forest where John also works. She is hopeful that there will be a paying job available shortly. John also thinks that his role will get expanded to 5 days a week once there is funding available. Benefits: Housing and council tax benefit (proportion of their rent paid). Tina is entitled to JSA but does not claim it. Other income: From John’s 3 day a week job. Financial pressures: The main cost pressures for John and Tina are running the car (a necessity in
the rural location they live) and the electricity bill. They live very frugally e.g. only have heating on in the room they are in, use candles, no internet, share a mobile phone. Financial resilience: The decrease in their income has left them vulnerable when it comes to emergencies. Recently their sheep dog has been ill and their car broke down and this has been extra financial pressure. They have had to borrow money from John’s Mum to pay for a new car. Looking for employment: John and Tina both have a very clear idea of what they want to do and have a plan in place. For Tina, claiming JSA could potentially compromise her plans as she may have to apply for jobs outside her field and risk losing her volunteering post, which is in her chosen field. Reluctance to claim benefits: Due to the stigma attached to claiming benefits, they were both reluctant to put in a housing benefits claim until a trip to the CAB prompted them to. Aspirations: • Short-term: Both would like to be in fulltime employment at the Forest. This would enable them to come off benefits. • Short-term: Tina would like to get her driving licence • Longer term: They would like to own a farm and have looked into renting one with friends. However, they need capital for land and livestock. Advice and support on accessing capital etc would be really helpful.
‘Ella’ and ‘Leo’ “I’d like to be out of debt. And living and not surviving. I don’t want an amazing life. I don’t want to go on... well I would like to go on Caribbean holidays once a year. But I’d like to have enough money in my bank account so that if my kids need a new pair of shoes I don’t have to think, oh my god where am I going to find that money from. Or if the car broke down I would think oh that’s alright. Or once a month be able to take my kids swimming” [Ella] Background: Ella is 30 years old, was born in Seaford. She moved out of the area after she was a victim of an attack and had to go into Witness Protection. After a year in Spain, she moved to Chailey and then in the Winter of 2011 was moved to Newick, where she now lives in a council house. She has 4 children, ranging from 10 years old to 4 months. The youngest has Club Foot. Ella’s partner, Leo, is 20 years old and father of the youngest two children. He does not live with them because they would be worse off financially. He lives in Chailey with his Mum. Ella is not working, though has previously worked as a hairdresser and now volunteers 1 day a week at a beauticians. Leo is currently studying and working part-time at a Pub as a pot-wash. He has worked in various pubs in area and at one point was training to be a cook. He has found his dyslexia to be an impediment to getting/keeping a job and so at the moment is also studying at Royal Pathways. Benefits: Income Support, Housing and Council
Tax Benefits, Child Tax Credit, Child Benefit. Plus CSA ex-partner. Will get DLA when youngest hits 6 months. Previously accessed Social Fund. Financial pressures: Debt is a major pressure on the household finances. It causes a lot of stress and anxiety, particularly as the loan companies knock on the door to demand money. This has an impact the well-being of the family. Ella would like to claim insolvency or bankruptcy but even finding money for this is difficult. Money management is therefore chaotic. All costs are a pressure -particularly around the events such as Christmas. A big pressure recently has been trips to hospital and special clothing for youngest. They are only entitled to DLA when the youngest is 6 months old. Financial Resilience: There is no capacity to manage crises or emergencies. Recently when the car and cooker broke, the only option was to get a loan from a high-interest lender, further exacerbating financial pressures. Employment: Ella believes that working would not be financially beneficial especially when weighed against the stress of working and looking after children. Leo has found that his dyslexia is an impediment to getting and keeping work. Aspirations • Short-term: To live together, to get out of debt and be in a position where they can treat the kids occasionally. • Longer term: Leo would like to be in a full-time job. He wants to get CSCS card but needs to be supported because of his dyslexia. • Longer term: Emma would to training (Foundation Level 3) to be able to return to work as a beautician.
Published on Mar 27, 2013