Across Birmingham people faced furlough, lost jobs, or homes during the pandemic. Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet Member – Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities on how the council provided support.
When the first lockdown came into effect on 23 March 2020, no one could have predicted the devastating impact Covid would have around the world in every area of our lives.
While frontline workers and volunteers along with our fantastic NHS has helped keep our city going, our Neighbourhood Advice and Information Service (NAIS) team have been working hard to ensure residents are able to access benefits and financial support.
They have provided advice services to 14,061 people and dealt with 34,574 queries – including 7,298 council tenants with a total of 21,620 queries during this incredibly challenging period.
While the number of people the service helped during 2020/21 was more than halved during lockdown, it still helped residents identify benefits they could apply for in the region of £9.9m – £900,000 more than in 2019/20, when benefits claimed totalled £9m – with £3.5m actually claimed and put into payment as a result of NAIS advice.
Similarly, advice given to council tenants during that period identified potential benefits of £5.8m – of which £1.3m has been successfully claimed and paid to residents.
The teams usually based in Erdington and Northfield worked from home to assist those needing help to access or understand the benefits available to them continued to provide telephone appointments.
Being able to spend more time on appointments meant officers could look at the full range of support available and help people understand how to access those benefits.
The services figures for 2020/21 also highlighted another increase – of more than 40% – in the number of households using foodbanks during the pandemic, with many turning to them for the first time due to change of circumstances and economic impact of Covid.
In 2019/20 a total of 1,614 citizens were referred to foodbanks by NAIS, however during 2020/21 that rose by 651 to 2,265.
Similarly, the number of people seeking housing support for rent rose by 20% from 1,709 in 2019/20 to 2,057 in the last financial year.
In addition to the advice provided by NAIS, our contracted third sector advice partners – Citizens Advice Bureau, Birmingham Settlement and Spitfire Advice Services – have also worked extremely hard throughout this difficult year. They have also provided their services primarily over the phone rather than face to face, but nonetheless they haves handled 26,927 enquiries and supported their clients to access additional benefits and grants totalling £3.6million.
On top of this, with additional funds from Birmingham’s allocation of the Welfare Assistance Grant, our partners stepped up and delivered an extra 11,948 benefit and debt enquiries to citizens experiencing financial hardship largely arising from Covid-19.
This was a tremendous achievement on behalf of the council and the citizens of Birmingham.
Following the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that the lifting of remaining restrictions would be put back four weeks (19 July), and the fact the number of cases is rising again – the behind-the-scenes but essential work done by NAIS will continue.
If you are experiencing financial difficulty and want to find out about help available, contact the team on 0121 216 3030 – Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.