Today’s the first day of winter and, with it, comes the inevitable stress for our clients of trying to keep warm and fed during the long, cold months. The risk of street homelessness is all too real for far too many of the people we live with, but even for those ‘lucky’ enough to have a roof over their heads., making ends meet can be extremely difficult.
‘Sandra’ is a perfect example. She is the single mother of a 15 year old child, ‘Gloria’, who was born in the UK, and has never lived anywhere other than this country. Gloria has been eligible for British citizenship since her 10th birthday, but had been unable to secure her citizenship rights because Sandra was unable to meet the Home Office’s registration costs- costs which have been declared unlawful, but which the Home Office persists on charging, regardless.
At the time Sandra and Gloria first approached us, Sandra was undocumented: she was unable to support herself through employment, and she was denied recourse to public funds. She was facing the prospect of eviction from her home. We made a referral to the local Children’s Services social work team, requesting an assessment of Gloria’s needs under section 17 of the Children Act, and the provision of financial support to meet the family’s accommodation and subsistence costs pending resolution of their immigration difficulties.
While this referral was successful, the financial support provided from social services at the time- and more on that later- stood at just £35 per person per week; £70, from which Sandra was required to pay for food, travel, clothing, electricity, water and gas bill costs.
As you’ll doubtless remember, last winter was very long, and very cold. And, of course, the schools were closed for much of it due to the Covid pandemic, with Gloria therefore receiving online lessons at home. Inevitably, then, Sandra found herself struggling to pay the heating bills- with the result that she called us one afternoon to say that she was down to £1.00 on her meter, had exhausted her supply of emergency credit, and was not due to be paid by children’s services for another 5 days.
Mercifully, we were in a position to help: we run a hardship fund for precisely these situations, ensuring that people in crisis can get hold of emergency funds quickly and easily, as and when they need it: we sorted an emergency grant of £50 for Sandra and Gloria, and their lights stayed on over the winter.
But we need your help. We know that the situation, if anything, will be still grimmer for many of the people we work with over the coming winter, and we’re working with the Big Give to try to raise £4200 to help people through. And for the next 7 days- until December 7th- the Big Give will double whatever we raise. So if you’re able to support us in any way, no matter how small, there’s never going to be a better time to give.
Thanks so much for your help.
Oh- and I said I’d return to the matter of social services support levels, and of people having to pay all of their living costs on just £35 per week. We’d always thought that was unlawful- it’s even less than people receive on asylum support rates- , from which people are not expected by the Home Office to meet their utility costs. After 5 long years of arguing that case, in partnership with our friends at Central England Law Centre, we’ve finally seen some movement, and the Trust has increased its rates, putting in in place provision to meet utility costs, which will doubtless be a lifeline in the months to come.
And one more bit of good news: we managed to secure grant funding to pay Gloria’s citizenship registration costs, securing her life in the UK and safeguarding her from the pointless precarity which has characterised her childhood. The application was a success, and she’s now officially a British citizen; looking forward to realising her dream of training as a midwife.