Bankruptcy, debt, poverty and unemployment will hit Dundonians hard as the city moves into 2021.
That’s according to Fay Costello, a community finance adviser at the Brooksbank Centre, who reports a surge in people seeking help from the charity.
Throughout this year dozens of community support groups have gone above and beyond to ensure that no one has gone without throughout the pandemic.
However, despite hopes a vaccine will lead us back to some kind of normality soon, there are fears that the worst of the financial impact of coronavirus might not be over for thousands of people across the city.
127% increase on amount of food parcel referrals
Fay said: “The demand for advice over the last six months has been huge.
“The impact of coronavirus on people’s finances is definitely taking effect. We can see that in the statistics we record.
“Since April this year, we have seen a massive 127% increase on the amount of food parcel referrals we have made on behalf of people. People are struggling to pay for gas and/or electricity and worry about heating their home.”
“We are expecting Universal Credit and Tax Credits to be reduced by £20 per week from April 2021.
“Many people receiving the temporary financial increase are still finding it too little to live on and will be driven into much more extreme levels of poverty when these benefits are reduced. The levels of food and fuel poverty are a huge concern to our money advice team.”
She added: “We are also finding many more people facing insolvency as a result of their debts, in comparison with previous years.
“We have had a 24% increase in the amount of people that have been made bankrupt in this financial year and we are only in our third quarter.
“More people are losing jobs and being forced to seek permanent ways of dealing with their debt as there’s a lot of uncertainty about finding work again.
“With a lot of payment breaks exhausted on loans, mortgages and credit cards, people are being forced to consider permanent debt options that will allow them to keep their head above water but ultimately lead to severe consequences for their credit rating.
“There’s still a lot of stigma attached to personal insolvency so it can be distressing for people to consider bankruptcy as a way of permanently dealing with their debt.”
Fay said that despite being forced to close back in March, the team at Brooksbank had continued to work from home.
She said: “This was a worrying time as so many people in the local area are digitally excluded
“It’s easy to assume that everyone has a smartphone, laptop or similar device, and that everyone has access to WiFi, mobile data and credit on their phone.
“We assume people have the knowledge or confidence to use technology but in reality this isn’t the case. There are many vulnerable, isolated people in Dundee that can’t make phone calls, fill in online forms or apply for benefits without support from another person.”
Thanks to additional funding from Dundee City Council and the Scottish Government the centre was able to meet this demand and equip the team properly to cope with requests for help.
Fay said: “With the help of Scottish Government funding, and other specifically identified projects, Brooksbank has also been able to deliver 587 wellbeing packs to families and individuals on a low income, meaning we could assist a total of 949 individuals, which included 362 children. We have also helped feed 142 pets.
“The packs were in high demand in Dundee East, homeless units and the Maryfield locality.
“They contained forehead thermometers, information sheets and additional items such as toys for children and pets, family first aid kits, toiletries and other tailored items.
“The wellbeing packs generated lots of calls from members of the public. Some needed money advice from within our team and others needed us to refer them to other projects, like Dundee North Law Centre, Shelter, CAB and many more.”
Taxi scheme set up
She said that Scottish Government funding helped them set up a taxi scheme for people on low incomes, with underlying health conditions, who required face-to-face debt advice from a Brooksbank adviser.
“We felt it was really important to make sure that at-risk people, who were struggling financially, could access face-to-face advice without endangering themselves by using public transport,” she added.
“Everyone at the centre has been working really hard to help as many people as possible this year.
“During lockdown, we were going out as part of a mobile unit at weekends to try and support people with urgent money worries. We have also been offering people evening and weekend appointments if needed.”
Ginny Lawson, centre manager at Brooksbank said each day after work, both she and other staff members receive messages through social media from people needing help.
“It has been a busy year for Brooksbank,” she said.
“My staff team are amazing; they are so adaptable to the needs of the community and the people in the city.
“Each and every one of them has given a commitment to assisting people that I never thought possible from a small team. The public has been astounding too, in following our guidelines when using our services.
“The donations we have received for our Christmas event is an indication for me that we’re doing something right.”
Contact the centre on 01382 432450 or email firstname.lastname@example.org