Numbers needing help with finances ‘off the scale’ warns communal charity

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Numbers needing help with finances ‘off the scale’ warns communal charity

More people are seeking help for their finances, says Paperweight, amid fears the problem could get worse a year into the pandemic

Client numbers have surged according to Paperweight
Client numbers have surged according to Paperweight

A charity supporting people needing support with their finances is reporting unprecedented numbers of new referrals – with numbers rising one year into the pandemic.

Paperweight, a charity which offers guidance and support to those in financial crisis, has told Jewish News that it is seeing on average five new referrals a day, driven by those who had been ‘just about managing’ before the pandemic.

A large part of the surge is more people than ever before requiring help applying for benefits, it said. “One of the many things we’re seeing is a new demographic,” said CEO Bayla Perrin. “People who it’s a whole new experience for them, who don’t know how to navigate the benefits system.”

Service users swept up into the many related and complex issues surrounding poverty are younger than before, too, she added.

“The numbers we’re seeing, it’s off-the-scale,” she said. “And it’s not one client coming in with one issue, they have several issues.”

One of those who had used Paperweight’s services, a single mother in her forties, told Jewish News how she sought out help after struggling for work to feed her children.

“Universal Credit in this country is utter crap,” she said. “It’s a Catch 22. Because of the pandemic, I can’t get a job. But without a job, they take the money away. And I’m desperate for a job – I’ve got kids to look after on my own.”

After seeking support, the mother, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “It’s an embarrassing thing for someone who didn’t want to [ask for help] to do.”

The sentiment has been echoed by others who have turned to their shuls for help with food for their families.

“The hardest part of struggling is asking for help,” said one family who sought help from volunteers at Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue. “It’s embarrassing and humiliating for the person who feels they have no other option when life’s hardships get so bad. But I did it for my family.”

Another, who stressed their gratitude to volunteers delivering food parcels, added: “Corona hit us like an unexpected tornado and literally knocked every part of our lives … I don’t think life will ever be normal or that we can forget the last few months, but we can only look forward.”

For others, pandemic money worries have seen them ask their shul for fees relief, as it is an additional expense at a time when every penny counts.

While only small minority of members at Finchley Reform Synagogue have done so, volunteers have been helping those affected, said principal rabbi, Miriam Berger. “It’s the kind of people who are just keeping their heads above water, but they’re not living to the same standard as before,” she said.

The numbers in the community affected by pandemic-related money worries could yet get worse before it gets better, fears Paperweight’s director of services, Caroline Kahan.

In September, the furlough scheme is set to end, as is the £20-a-week temporary uplift in Universal Credit. “It could be catastrophic,” she said.

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