Money, Money, Money
How have the poorest older people in the city coped over the last 18 months?
Who is helping them and how?
What can we do to help our own financial situation – and how can we help others?
Some people in life are savers, some are spenders. Some people write down everything they spend; some are skint at the end of every month. Most of us remember someone telling us, “Look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves.” Older people will remember a time when you saved to buy a fridge, a car, or a washing machine. These days, it seems you can get everything on credit. Whatever our situation, money can be a worry. But whilst some of us are concerned about whether we can afford a new sofa, others are in more dire circumstances. A fifth of older people don’t have any money saved for “unexpected costs”, such as the boiler breaking down. Even so, many older people aren’t claiming the benefits they’re entitled to. Later on we’ll look at the ways you could boost your income and have a little more money. Before that, we wanted to shine a light on people and projects who are dealing with people in the most need.
I discovered that
the number of people
not claiming their
entitlement is huge
Mally Harvey spoke to Kevin Dobson, project manager for CAP (Community Awareness Programme). CAP is a Wakefield-based project that helps relieve the suffering caused by want and poverty.
Who do you support at CAP?
Anyone who is suffering any degree of poverty, homelessness, health, mental health issues or who just need help because they can’t help themselves, come to us. It’s people for whom the wheels have come off in their lives. Everyone we meet has their own story and everyone we see is treated as an individual. Everyone is on their own journey. We try to enable rather than doing it for them. That’s not the key to their success. It’s about the encouragement and support that we can give at a personal level that makes them succeed. Yes, we feed: we cooked 20,000 meals last year in this centre. We give them household goods, clothing, toiletries - anything that helps them get back on their feet. And emotional and personal support too. We get to know them and what works for them.
What’s different for older people in need?
There are some special circumstances that apply to older clients - things like pension management. Older clients come to us for reasons of bereavement. At 60 or 70 they may have been left on their own. Or there are family breakdowns, or they are homeless and they then have to deal with their finances. They may not know where to start. We start at the bottom; we get housing involved, so that we can tick that box and move on to get their finances sorted. Those are the kinds of issues we are dealing with.
How did you deal with Covid?
We stayed open but that in itself gave rise to a few more grey hairs on my head. The government guidance to charities has been like plaiting blancmange - so much changed so regularly and so stealthily. It was understood that work with the homeless could carry on. If we had been instructed to close, we would have done. But we didn’t want to do that. Lives here are chaotic enough - closure would cause even more chaos and distress. We had to alter things to keep safe. We had to say, “Please come - but get what you need and then go.” They lost the social element of their visit. It was a compromise that we didn’t like or enjoy because the social element is so important for people who had become detached, isolated, scared. Everything became complicated. If our clients needed a doctor, a pharmacist or whatever, they couldn’t go and see those people any more - the only way to access them was by telephone. 50 or 60% of our clients don’t have a phone, never mind a smart phone. But they could come here to use our phones. Overnight the use of our telephones just skyrocketed. People were queueing to use the phone. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Typically, people ringing benefits would be on the call for 40 minutes and at its peak people were on hold for an hour and a half to get through to the benefits office and then have their conversation. The same thing with doctors. Clients would be told you are 67th in a queue and there was nothing else to do but wait. Every day we had countless people who experienced those difficulties. When life has gone to the dogs anyway, you feel bad, and responsible and you don’t need that as well - but that is what they were faced with.
Kevin is doing amazing work, working at the front line with people who are really facing financial difficulties. Another project working with people at the sharp end is PAFRAS (Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers), which is based in Harehills in Leeds. We were keen to understand the realities of life for people who are seeking asylum in the UK.
Lorraine Cooper spoke to Karen Pearse, CEO of PAFRAS.
What situations do the people you work with find themselves in?
At PAFRAS we work with asylum-seekers who are still awaiting a decision. In that case they’d be staying in Home Office accommodation and receiving support of £39.63 a week. Once you get status you are a refugee and then you have most of the rights and entitlements of a British citizen, you can claim benefits and get a job. An asylum-seeker doesn’t have the right to work - and that is massive because people really want to be able to support themselves and their families. With only getting that £39.63 they are in extreme poverty. It might cover the basics, but when you get into the winter months you might need a set of boots and a winter coat. Often food banks are not accessible for people who have no recourse to public funds. We give food parcels, and there are conversation clubs and different places to go, but during Covid all these shut down. Where people might have had a hot meal almost every day, that all stopped.
What help do people get from government?
You’ll get a place to live and that minimal amount of financial support, and that’s all you’ll get from statutory services. Then it lands on charities, and also the local community. People may have friends and family and their own community; it’s the community who offer a lot of support to people. We also work with people who’ve been refused asylum and had all their support taken away. They still don’t have a right to work. That experience of forcing someone into destitution is devastating.
What other issues are people dealing with?
There are often people who don’t speak English very well. There are definitely communication barriers. With Covid, there was so much information going around - and not to be able to understand and process that when English is not your first language was really difficult. Access to health care and doctors is really difficult - not understanding recorded messages, for example. Digital exclusion is another big issue. Buying data to use your phone to go on the internet and having to go to the shops because you haven’t got a bank account and you can’t register on Tesco. It was hard for older people who had to be out and about when they felt really vulnerable.
Are there particular issues for older asylum seekers?
We work with different houses that support people and often they have got older people in them. It’s about making sure there are ground rules in those houses, because some people might be more vulnerable. It’s difficult because some people are less careful, and they might view the pandemic differently.
What about our own finances? Many readers may not be in such dire straits as the people we’ve highlighted above, but every little helps. For some years, John Welham was part of a group looking at how older people could get help with their finances.
The main focus for John is pension credits. “I discovered that the number of people not claiming their entitlement is huge,” says John. There is now a Pension Credit pilot exercise in Seacroft. “They’ve identified 387 people who are entitled to pension credits but don’t claim it,” says John. The scheme will encourage older people to get the money they’re entitled to. But it’s not just about cash. “You get access to a free TV License, free dental healthcare, the warm homes grant – collectively it must be worth a couple of thousand pounds a year.” There are barriers to people applying. It’s not traditionally been easy for people for whom English is not their first language. Another barrier was the complicated forms involved. Luckily you can do it on the phone these days. John highlights another barrier: “A lot of older people thought of it as charity, they were reluctant to take it.” The benefits are huge though. “It brings more money into the Leeds economy”, says John. “And it encourages people to switch the boiler on if it’s cold, so they stay healthier.”
Housing is another issue: “A lot of older people are living in properties that are too big for them,” says John. “They can’t afford to heat them, but they can’t afford to move.” There aren’t enough small properties being built, so pressure is being put on developers to build more appropriate housing. There is good news though: “To be fair to the Council, they are building properties that have level access, wider doors and other things to make them friendly to older people.” One option is Leeds Homeshare. John explains: “An older person who might need help with their garden or need someone to run errands for them can take in a student or younger person.” Leeds Homeshare matches up people with spare rooms with people looking for somewhere to live who are willing to do around 10 hours of chores or support every week.
Recent events around gas prices are obviously concerning. Some smaller energy companies have gone bust and it’s likely that all our bills will increase over the coming months. Age UK has a few ideas about how to keep your energy bills as low as possible. “Energy bills don’t reward you for the loyalty,” says a representative of Age UK. If you can swap your energy company you might end up paying less. Look online – or if this is difficult, ask a family memberto help you out. Other, simpler tips: switch off the lights if you’re not in the room; have a shower instead of taking a bath; set your washing machine to 30°; and turn off radiators in rooms you don’t use. These little things might make a difference to your bank balance.
If you are struggling financially, it might be a good idea to see what support and guidance you can get from your local Neighbourhood Network. Most offer some sort of help. NET Garforth is particularly good at this as they look at finances when they first meet new people. The Citizens Advice Bureau is also very useful. “There is so much support available,” says John. He recommends an online service called Money Helper. “They’ve got loads of practical things to help – budget trackers, that sort of thing.” Of course, not everyone is online. Have a look at the useful numbers at the end of this article – you might find something to help you.
We live in a diverse city. Some of us are comfortable, others are “just about managing”. Some are really on the breadline. Hopefully this article has highlighted the difficulties of some older people who are living on low incomes. If you are in the financial position to help those in need you can do so in a number of ways. PAFRAS accepts donations of food. “Even just a couple of tins of soup or a bag of rice would be really useful and appreciated by our clients,” says Karen Pearse. People drop off donations to the PAFRAS office on Roundhay Road. “And we absolutely rely on volunteers,” says Karen. Kevin Dobson from CAP is often astounded by the generosity of the local community: “A lady in her 80s just called with a cheque for £500 of her own money,” he tells us.
Not all of us are in the position to help financially, of course. But there are things we can do. Kevin agrees: “Accept the truth of those in poverty and the homeless as much of these problems are unseen or not recognised. Try getting in their shoes. There are strategies in place for a minor percentage of homeless people but the rest are not even being talked about. If you go away from here having read this and you go and tell someone else, that will help raise awareness.”
You may be entitled to Pension Credits.
Call 0800 99 1234 to find out all the information on what benefits you are entitled to.
Citizens Advice Bureau
Free, impartial advice on a number of issues 0808 278 7878
Information on how to share your home with a younger person. Feel less isolated, get help with chores and boost your income. Call 0113 3785410
For ideas to help managing your money. Includes budget trackers, mortgage calculators, advice on pensions and much more. www.moneyhelper.org.uk
Impartial debt advice over the phone or face-to-face Call 0113 2484126 or email email@example.com
National Debtline: 0808 8084000 www.nationaldebtline.co.uk
Accepts donations of dry food. Volunteers welcomed to help out. Unit 24, UNITY Business Centre, 26 Roundhay Road, Leeds, LS7 1AB
Community Awareness Programme (CAP)
Community Awareness Programme, 2 Market Street, Wakefield, WF1 1DH
St George’s Crypt
Leeds-based homelessness project
Great George St, Leeds, LS1 3BR
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We focus on the subjects and issues facing older people
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of the key people involved.