Partners’ Briefing: Autumn 2020.
Our autumn partners’ briefing covers our work during the recent full Covid lockdown period. Whilst client numbers were stable – there was a marked shift in what people were seeking advice about and in the complexity of their problems. The figures do not reflect the remarkable speed at which regulation was laid, and the basis of advice changed; we were often interpreting complex regulation change and advising on it within hours, and every day this was changing. The creation of the virtual homeworking phone centre meant we were able to continue our legacy of being the country’s most important, most trusted and most reliable advice service. Our client data – both in Salford and nationally also played an important role in helping inform and give vital intelligence to local, regional and national government during this difficult time.
Quarter 1’s Advice Summary:
Quarter 1 (April, May and June) coincided with the full Covid lockdown period, other than two weeks, and was not a typical period for us. We supported broadly similar number of people in this period as compared to the comparable quarter last year, some 4788 clients – a drop of nearly 7%. This was however delivered via our virtual phone centre with our staff working from home. The actual numbers of issues we advised on increased, by about 10%. Within this increase there was a very marked shift in enquiry areas. Areas of advice such as debt and social security dropped due to government policy moratorium instructions. Marked increases were seen in some areas – employment advice increased more than threefold (240%) to some 2458 issues; housing increased by more than a quarter (27%) to some 1605 issues; charity help and hardship enquiries increased by more than six times to 889 issues, and the number of people enquiring about relationship breakdown doubled to 804 issues.
The drops in debt and social security (other than Universal Credit) are temporary and are we think direct results of measures to halt any recovery action, as well as the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) diverting all available staff towards supporting the marked increase in Universal Credit claiming.
We extended our phone operating hours to run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during this period, with additional support being provided by the new Greater Manchester out of hours’ service, which runs from 7 p.m. through to 10 p.m. each day.
Special arrangements were made to support the Spirit of Salford helpline, with some 115 referrals made from the help line to us via this pathway, and of these clients, we were able to secure an income gain of £44,983.
Our website received 11,925 visits in the quarter.
We established a single point of contact for the public who needed to access food crisis support from any of the city’s community food providers – allowing them in the large part, to be able to create a way to convert their existing provision into a food parcel delivery service; providing valuable additional support to the council’s emergency food hub.
Help to Claim (Universal Credit) Service:
With the government’s urgent decision to refund the Help to Claim service, which had been due to end at the end of March, we were able to maintain considerable support to people making new Universal Credit claims throughout this period. In Salford, the numbers on Universal Credit, by the end of the last quarter had nearly doubled. In the first weeks of the crisis the increases in the claims rate was running at between five and six times that which was usual.
Salford Food Share:
The Food Share Network is an independent charity, but is managed by us, and provided a major contribution to supporting the city’s emergency food strategy. Working with our Council for Voluntary Service colleagues we were able to secure and distribute over £100,000 of food support funds to community food crisis projects. We created a single point of community food crisis support combined with advice for people using this pathway. We also ensured that our various partners had the support and resources they needed to be able to maintain their services throughout the lockdown. A separate piece of work to quantify the scale of these interventions is currently underway.
An emergency re-write of the Feeding Salford plan was also completed to address to city council’s request for a food recovery plan.
We have now restored face to face working at all our main bureaux, (Salford City Bureau – Salford Precinct, and at Eccles and Walkden Gateways), services at Broughton and Swinton have also resumed. We are planning to maintain our virtual call centre for, at the very least, the duration of the crisis, although have now reverted to ordinary working hours (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Work to restore our various outreach provision is still underway – and is reliant on our various partners’ plans for re-opening their services.
Support for Employment Advice Services and Redundancy Awareness Campaign:
We were pleased to be awarded a grant from the National Lotteries Fund to fund additional employment advice provision over the next six months. We will be also be running an emergency redundancy rights awareness campaign over the autumn.
September 21, 2020.