Festive​ ​Food​ ​For​ ​Thought​

So, it’s that time of year again – it gets earlier and earlier each year, or so it seems! General panic ensues and charities advertise their worthy causes in between the John Lewis and Sainsbury's ads.

I would love to think we could add to the sprinkling of advertisements that tug at the heartstrings. After all, we are a charity! However, Pudsey Bear and The Samaritans seem to be a lot more palatable when appealing to people’s pockets and goodwill than our cause. What would our advert look like, can we dress it up so people will see past the addictions, offences and vulnerabilities that we encounter daily, to see the good we do & the results we achieve?

Currently I am experiencing a lot of delays with being paid a Universal Credit (UC) first payment, being given the Work Capability Medical Assessment and decision-making following assessments. All of which prolongs the agony of waiting for an income of sorts.

No one knows how much you will have deducted from your entitlement, if you have any previous overpayments, court fines etc. How much will the UC payment be?

I have one Service User (SU) who was expected to live on £6.00 a month at one point and another who has been told to expect a 12 week wait for a payment. This is the reality.

For those of us supporting service users who are encountering these delays or deductions in benefits for our clients, it begins a frustrating process of trying to find out the answers to apparently unanswerable questions. Frustrating for us yes; soul destroying for the claimant.

As the recipe books are being dusted off for the latest Mary Berry mince pie, or gluten free stuffing, I’m wondering how the services in Cumbria will shore up this Christmas?

There is undoubtedly added pressure on services to support and cook up ways of providing meaningful contributions to many people currently finding their way through the UC process. 

A lot of our SUs find themselves falling through the cracks of ‘not enough vulnerability’, 'just a sprinkling of mental health’, and ‘a cocktail of complex needs’ which is a recipe for disaster, not just at this time of year, but all year. For many there will be no services available to prop them up – a sad fact.

We cannot bring that Christmas cheer for everyone on our caseload, but we do not sit on our haunches when the mince pies get rolled out. I have a SU who is still waiting for a decision on her medical assessment and has been NFA since the summer. We helped her move in to her own accommodation, sourced furniture and even a Christmas tree for her first home in a very long time.

Another SU is trying to cope with rent arrears and UC delays – heating his home with gas is not currently an option. We have provided an electric heater and topped up the electric meter so this Christmas he stays warm and safe. Ongoing work helps him with his debt issues and to find a longer term solution.

At any time of year when you are able to support someone in this way it gives you the satisfaction and determination to carry on carrying on.

And who knows? Maybe Santa will be good to us this year! Maybe he will bring us a bigger budget in order to provide the service and support we are capable of.

This is the bit where I wish you all well and that your bellies are full, your houses are warm and you are content with your lot this Christmas. A tricky time of year for many, the expectation of happiness weighs heavily, but maybe we can all remember to be compassionate and thoughtful to our neighbours, loved ones, friends and strangers alike and that we can take this recipe we all need in our lives into the New Year – no matter what our situation.

Anna Todd