When money is thin on the ground and you aren’t able to keep yourself fed and warm, it impacts every other aspect of our lives, not least our health.
Today we are looking to Cornwall – a region with several areas of multiple deprivation – speaking to some Social Prescribing Link Workers and service providers about how social prescribing works in practice, to help people with their financial wellbeing.
Luisa, Andy and Ruth*
Living on a carer’s salary, Luisa* couldn’t afford to pay for the work needed on her car, in order for it to pass its MOT. But, as a carer, she relied on her car in order to do her job. With no savings, she was soon going to find herself unable to drive and therefore unable to continue her work.
Andy* found himself in several thousand pounds worth of debt after several years of struggling to budget his money. As a result he was unable to put his heating on and was living off very little food.
Ruth* didn’t leave her house for eight years, after losing her husband. With no next of kin, she found herself in an increasingly desperate situation, without working heating in her house.
All three of these people’s lives were being seriously impacted by their financial situation. In some cases, their mental and physical health was already beginning to be affected. They needed some help.
Link workers, like Dave based in St. Ives, are trained to give this help when we most need it. When people reach financial crisis, they may end up at a GP surgery with the symptoms of the crisis, rather than reach out for help with the root of the problem.
When a GP refers someone to Dave, he has the time and local knowledge to sit with that person, untangle their situation and refer them to the services and advice lines that can give them the best, personalised advice.
Dave said: “Recently things have got a lot harder for people. There are people out there struggling with money who have not necessarily struggled before. And things are even more dire for those who have been financially unstable for a long time.
“It’s very easy to become isolated, stuck in your home and unaware of the help that’s available in the community that you are able to access.”
He continued: “In the case of Andy, we were able to link him in with Step Change who helped him make a plan to address his debts in an affordable way. We spoke to a local money advice service – DisAbility Cornwall – to make sense of some benefits letters he had been sent, which seemed to be contradictory, but made sense with their guidance.
“In the meantime, we also linked him with local Foodshare services and the local energy trust ‘Community Energy Plus’, who helped him with a short term grant to pay his current energy bills and advised on reducing his bills going forward.”
Amongst many things, DisAbility Cornwall deliver the Disability Information & Advice Line – DIAL – where people with a long-term health condition or disability can ring up and get advice from professionally trained advisors who provide advice and practical support on any enquiry.
Theresa is the Advice Services Manager at DisAbility Cornwall and her team receive many referrals from social prescribing link workers like Dave.
She said: “People often don’t know what they are entitled to or where to go to get the support they need. People often refer to us for help with benefit forms, but we often find once we get to know someone, there are other needs, or other entitlements they would qualify for”.
In the last year alone, DisAbility Cornwall has maximised household incomes by over £500,000, with grants, reviews, social tariffs, welfare benefits, specialist information and advice services. DIAL is one element of the organisation’s service offer, and they are able to bring a range of personalised services and support to wrap around a client at a time of need. DIAL acts as a first point of contact for people, having self-referred or having been referred by a link worker.
It was a members of Theresa’s advice team who helped Luisa with money for her car, to get her back on the road and working again. She said: “We were able to get Luisa a grant to fix her car, through the government funded housing support grant. It is fantastic as it isn’t means tested, so you don’t have to be on benefits to qualify for it.”
For other people – like Ruth – the service support offer is consistent, with understanding from a trusted advisor.
Theresa said: “We made a referral to Community Energy Plus through which Ruth received a new heating system for her property. She slowly started to trust our friendly team and allowed us to visit to further our support in making her home more accessible for her needs. Our support is still ongoing, and the slow and steady approach is working for her.”
*Names and personal details have been changed.
If financial problems or debt are affecting you, you may be able to get support from a Social Prescribing Link Worker or from one of the following services:
StepChange Debt Charity or call 0800 138 1111.
National Debtline or call 0808 808 4000.
Money Helper or call 0800 138 7777
Turn2Us (also provides links to local support)