How can Sheffield protect its most vulnerable people from the worst effects of the pandemic?

A debate looking at how we can protect the most vulnerable people in Sheffield amidst and beyond the pandemic took place yesterday, and those taking part concluded it is ‘crucial’ the Government steps up.

Friday, 30th October 2020, 4:45 pm

The Cliff Edges & Safety Nets: Festival of Debate special, featured speakers including Clare Lodder, chief executive of Citizens Advice Sheffield, Iain Porter, policy partnerships manager for social security at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and Councillor Dawn Dale, cabinet adviser for children and families at Sheffield City Council.

The debate asked how we protect the most vulnerable people in our society from the worst effects of the pandemic.

Clare said: “Everyday our phone lines are busy - up to 200 people a day calling us, and that’s before some of the biggest impacts that have come. People are using our online resources so yes very busy. But I think even more than that, what we’re seeing is that the issues that people are facing, that they’re bringing to us for help, are more complex and their position is more difficult, and there are more times when we are really worried about people because not only are they facing perhaps poverty but we’re actually seriously worried that they’re destitute without any money at all and the only thing that they’ve got, is us being able to refer them to food banks, so I think it is the volume but also the complexity.”

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Sheffield was placed under Tier 3 restrictions last weekend. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

She believes the country is at a cliff edge - people are not being treated equally and it is those who had the fewest resources before the pandemic who are suffering the most.

With the Government job retention scheme ending on November 1, large numbers of people are expected to be made redundant, which when combined with the inadequacies of other support schemes - such as the new job support scheme, the end of the eviction ban, the potential cut off of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit and the absence of increased support for people on ‘legacy’ benefits - it will leave people facing more challenges.

Iain said: “Our own extensive polling of families with children on means tested benefits have found that 70 percent of those families had to cut back on essentials like food, like electricity, as a result of the pandemic. We found that 60 percent of families had to borrow money to get through it, and half of families had got into arrears with their rent or other crucial bills, so families are really struggling with that additional pressure at the moment.”

He urged the Government to ‘step up’ in a few weeks’ time when it decides on April’s universal credit rates, because the outcome is ‘crucial’ for those showing the clear mental and physical effects of poverty.

Citizens Advice Sheffield have been receiving up to 200 calls a day.

Dawn said local authorities have stepped in when the Government has not recently.

She confirmed that if the Government does not change their stance on the free school meals dilemma, Sheffield City Council will provide vouchers to children over the Christmas holidays, as it is an ‘absolutely desperate situation that families find themselves in’.

Dawn added: “The sooner we start to see spending money on our young people and families as an investment rather than a cost and a burden, the better our society will be.”

See here for information about Citizens Advice Sheffield.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.