Written evidence submitted by British Red Cross (BSW0012)

 

I.        About the organisation and the reason for submitting evidence

  1. The British Red Cross has more than 19,600 volunteers in the UK and nearly 3,900 staff. We are part of the world’s most wide-reaching humanitarian network, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which has 17 million volunteers across 191 countries.  The Red Cross has decades of experience supporting people with health and care needs home from hospital, responding to UK emergencies from house fires to terror attacks, and supporting refugees and people seeking asylum.

 

  1. Throughout COVID-19 we have supported more than 2 million people, providing food, cash, medicines, emotional support, transport to and from hospital as well as a range of education resources online.

 

  1. The British Red Cross has unique insights into financial hardship:

 

  1. This submission draws on our extensive experience as a service provider and our growing research and evidence base into the needs of people experiencing serious financial hardship in the UK.[1]

 

II.      Summary

  1. Cash assistance for people experiencing serious financial hardship enables dignity and choice, and helps ensure people can access essentials, such as food and clothing, in a way that best meets their personal needs.

 

  1. Cash assistance should be considered as part of the response to major crises in the UK.

 

  1. Red Cross research, The Longest Year: life under local restrictions,[2] highlighted a range of challenges experienced by people in Wales under local and national COVID-19 restrictions, including access to practical, financial and emotional support. It made the case for psychosocial to be provided alongside financial support.

 

  1. The Discretionary Assistance Fund (DAF) in Wales is a useful mechanism to alleviate situations of destitution in emergency situations, and the British Red Cross welcomes improvements made during the pandemic, such as increased funding for the scheme and new rules allowing people to receive a maximum of five grants per year instead of three. However, through our services in Wales, the British Red Cross has identified several areas for improvement, including:

 

  1. While marginalised groups such as refugees, people seeking asylum and people with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) particularly benefit from short-term financial support, such as the DAF, they are also at greater risk of falling back into financial crisis after their fixed-term support ends because they can’t access long-term support.

 

III.    Key recommendations

  1. In order to meet the needs of people in Wales and address the financial impacts of the pandemic, the British Red Cross recommends that:

 

IV.   How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the type and amount of support needed by people in Wales?  

  1. Since the pandemic began, the British Red Cross has published multiple pieces of research exploring the experiences of people in vulnerable situations. These include:

 

  1. To summarise, people are:

 

Financial support

  1. The Longest Year identified financial challenges which included recent and long-term unemployment; reduced income; difficulties making low income, benefits or asylum seeker support payments stretch to cover increased living costs; and food insecurity. Some of those we spoke to had to make extremely difficult decisions between buying essentials like food, heating or clothing for their children.

 

  1. The Red Cross Hardship Fund provides insight into how cash assistance can be used.

Mental health support

  1. In addition to the financial impacts of the pandemic, The Longest Year suggested that the biggest impact of living under local restrictions was on people’s mental health. The most common triggers of this were isolation and feelings of loneliness.  The report found that too many people did not know where to go for help, with over a third of people (37 per cent) in Wales disagreeing that they would be confident in knowing where to go for mental health and emotional support.[14] The Longest Year also found that financial insecurity was having a significant negative impact on people’s mental health. In particular, lack of awareness of how they might be able to access financial support, or not being eligible left people feeling stressed and has exacerbated their mental health needs.[15]

 

  1. The Red Cross Hardship Fund provides insight into the wellbeing impacts of cash-based support. Cash assistance provided by the Hardship Fund helped to improve feelings of wellbeing and reduce stress about finances and worries about not being able to afford essential items. The evaluation also found that some recipients of the Hardship Fund were able to connect with loved ones as a result of receiving cash assistance, for example through topping up phones and buying mobile data.

V.     How effectively has the UK benefits system responded to these needs, and what else should the UK Government do to deliver the right support in Wales?  

  1. In Wales, disruption or delays to welfare benefits or asylum support was the main reason for referral to the Hardship Fund, with 41 per cent of recipients of the fund claiming for this reason. Short term support has played an important role in bridging the gap in situations where access to longer term support is delayed or unavailable at the time of need. From our services, we understand this particularly affects more marginalised groups.

Refugees and people seeking asylum

  1. Delays in receiving benefits, particularly Universal Credit payments is a particular issue for people we assist in our Family Reunion Integration Services (FRIS). Our FRIS in South Wales have found that delays in receiving benefits is the main reason for destitution. The Red Cross UK wide evaluation of the Hardship Fund found that people who were waiting to receive benefits were more likely to access other forms of support after the Hardship Fund.

 

  1. The majority of refugee sponsors are unemployed when their families arrive and are often already claiming Universal Credit. The current process creates a systematic period of destitution following a family’s arrival. When the arriving spouse’s Universal Credit claim is joined together with the sponsor’s claim, it is treated as a change in circumstances which triggers the sponsor’s claim to be suspended until the spouse’s claim is processed. Although the spouse can technically apply for an advanced payment, we have found that in the areas where we work in Wales, such as Cardiff, the time the Department for Work and Pensions takes to verify the identity of the joining spouse means that the application for payment can’t be made when it is needed. This means that in many cases the advance payments are not a safeguard for reunited families.

People with NRPF

  1. People with NRPF are unable to access public funds, which include mainstream welfare benefits, like Universal Credit and housing support from their local authority. This may be as a result of a condition of NRPF being attached to their immigration status, or because an individual does not have the right to be in the UK, and so does not have access to public funds. As such many people in this group face severe financial hardship.

 

  1. While many from this group were unable to graduate from the Hardship Fund into longer-term, secure financial support, this did not lessen the short-term impacts and necessity of the cash assistance.

The limits of fixed-term support

  1. Some people go back into crisis after their fixed-term support ends because they can’t find long-term support. Insight from the Hardship Fund found that for many people, the crisis they were experiencing had not been resolved in the 1-3 months for which the fund’s cash assistance was available. This was particularly true for those with NRPF, with 51 per cent of respondents who had NRPF status reporting that they were not able to get any further financial support compared to 10 per cent of those who needed the fund for other reasons. In addition, the service user survey highlighted that 45 per cent of people’s financial situation was either the same or worse as it had been before they received the cash assistance. This increased to 72 per cent for those who could not access further financial assistance. Therefore, some people are going back into crisis because they’ve struggled to find the money to help them after their short-term support ends from the Red Cross. 

The need for wrap around support

  1. Our work has highlighted the link between financial hardship and negative impacts on mental health, and the barriers that people have in accessing both financial support and mental health support. The Longest Year report emphasises these findings in light of COVID-19 and suggests that support needs beyond financial assistance need to be considered.

 

VI.   How effectively do the Welsh Government’s allowances and grants meet the particular needs of people in Wales?  

  1. The DAF in Wales is a useful mechanism to alleviate situations of destitution in emergency situations. However, through our services in Wales, we have found some issues with the DAF which affect its positive impact.

Welsh Government allowances during the pandemic

  1. The British Red Cross welcomes the Welsh Government’s increased investment in the DAF as well as the introduction of five payments per year during the pandemic. The DAF helps ensure everyone can afford basic essentials, such as food, toiletries, warm clothes, data and heating when face with serious financial crisis.

 

  1. However, we have also come across some areas of improvement exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic:

VII. What reforms are needed to the benefits system and should there be further devolution of powers?  

  1. Devolution of welfare has been beneficial in maintaining centralised welfare provisions such as the DAF. The continuation of DAF and the wider benefits system is beneficial in light of the above evidence. However, the pandemic has exposed that people’s support needs often extend beyond financial assistance, to mental health needs and practical assistance.[18] In addition, some people can go back into crisis after their fixed-term financial support ends. Therefore, alongside current support, the Welsh Government needs to ensure holistic, wrap around welfare support.

 

  1. In retaining current welfare provisions in Wales, cash-based assistance should be considered as part of response to major crises, and in cases of acute financial hardship. It enables survivors to have agency and control to decide the type of support they need, and to receive support quickly. The evaluation of the Red Cross Hardship Fund also found that cash assistance improved feelings of wellbeing and promoted feelings of independence.

 

August 2021

10

 


[1] British Red Cross, ‘The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions’ (February 2021), https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-speak-up-for-change/the-longest-year-life-under-lockdown

British Red Cross, ‘The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions, Wales Briefing’ (February 2021), https://www.redcross.org.uk/-/media/documents/about-us/research-publications/emergency-response/the-longest-year-wales-briefing.pdf

British Red Cross, Access to food in emergencies: learning from Covid-19 (July 2020), redcross.org.uk/-/media/documents/ about-us/research-publications/health-and-social-care/access-to-food-in-emergencies-learning-from-covid-19.pdf

[2] British Red Cross, ‘The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions’ (February 2021), https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-speak-up-for-change/the-longest-year-life-under-lockdown; British Red Cross, ‘The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions, Wales Briefing’ (February 2021), https://www.redcross.org.uk/-/media/documents/about-us/research-publications/emergency-response/the-longest-year-wales-briefing.pdf

[3] British Red Cross, ‘Life after lockdown: tackling loneliness’ (June 2020), https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-speak-up-for-change/life-after-lockdown-tackling-loneliness

[4] British Red Cross, Access to food in emergencies: learning from COVID-19 (July 2020), redcross.org.uk/-/media/documents/ about-us/research-publications/health-and-social-care/access-to-food-in-emergencies-learning-from-covid-19.pdf

[5] British Red Cross, ‘Lonely and Left Behind: tackling loneliness at a time of crisis’ (October 2020), https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-speak-up-for-change/lonely-and-left-behind

[6] A joint report between Healthwatch England and the British Red Cross, ‘590 people's stories of leaving hospital during COVID-19’ (October 2020), https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-speak-up-for-change/peoples-stories-of-leaving-hospital-during-covid-19

[7] British Red Cross, ‘The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions’ (February 2021), https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-speak-up-for-change/the-longest-year-life-under-lockdown; British Red Cross, ‘The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions, Wales Briefing’ (February 2021), https://www.redcross.org.uk/-/media/documents/about-us/research-publications/emergency-response/the-longest-year-wales-briefing.pdf

[8] British Red Cross, ‘Far From A Home: Why asylum support accommodation needs reform’ (April 2021), https://www.redcross.org.uk/far-from-a-home

[9] See British Red Cross, ‘The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions’ (February 2021), https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-speak-up-for-change/the-longest-year-life-under-lockdown

[10] See British Red Cross, Access to food in emergencies: learning from COVID-19 (July 2020), redcross.org.uk/-/media/documents/ about-us/research-publications/health-and-social-care/access-to-food-in-emergencies-learning-from-covid-19.pdf and British Red Cross, ‘The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions’ (February 2021), https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-speak-up-for-change/the-longest-year-life-under-lockdown

[11] See British Red Cross, ‘Lonely and Left Behind: tackling loneliness at a time of crisis’, https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-speak-up-for-change/lonely-and-left-behind and British Red Cross, ‘The Longest Year: the impact of local restrictions’, https://www.redcross.org.uk/the-longest-year.

[12] British Red Cross, The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions, Wales Briefing (2021). Available at: https://www.redcross.org.uk/-/media/documents/about-us/research-publications/emergency-response/the-longest-year-wales-briefing.pdf

[13] See British Red Cross, Access to food in emergencies: learning from COVID-19 (July 2020), redcross.org.uk/-/media/documents/ about-us/research-publications/health-and-social-care/access-to-food-in-emergencies-learning-from-covid-19.pdf

[14] British Red Cross, The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions, Wales Briefing. Available at: https://www.redcross.org.uk/-/media/documents/about-us/research-publications/emergency-response/the-longest-year-wales-briefing.pdf

[15] British Red Cross, ‘The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions’ (February 2021), https://www.redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/we-speak-up-for-change/the-longest-year-life-under-lockdown

[16] British Red Cross, The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions, Wales Briefing (2021). Available at: https://www.redcross.org.uk/-/media/documents/about-us/research-publications/emergency-response/the-longest-year-wales-briefing.pdf

[17] Welsh Parliament Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, ‘Into sharp relief: inequality and the pandemic, August 2020 https://senedd.wales/laid%20documents/cr-ld13403/cr-ld13403-e.pdf

[18] British Red Cross, The Longest Year: Life Under Local Restrictions, Wales Briefing (2021). Available at: https://www.redcross.org.uk/-/media/documents/about-us/research-publications/emergency-response/the-longest-year-wales-briefing.pdf