In our ten years of working on the front lines of our community, we’ve never seen anything like it.
One of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic is the unprecedented economic crisis and the creation of millions of ‘new poor’; people who would never have thought financial problems would happen to them, but regardless, find themselves in unchartered territory.
These people are fighting to survive.
Paperweight has been inundated with an avalanche of new cases; 91 new clients in September and another 76 in October; these are individuals desperate for practical, hands-on support and intervention. This is right across the social and religious spectrum, from bereavement, rising personal debt, dementia, the need for welfare benefits, divorce, unemployment – even simply paying household bills. Right now, the number of referrals to us from other charities and local government is up 30%.
We have clients who have found themselves just one pay packet away from serious trouble. They are making difficult financial decisions based on what they can and cannot afford. They are going to food banks – somewhere hitherto they may well have donated to for others. In fact, Britain’s largest food bank network, The Trussell Trust, predicts UK destitution rates will double by Christmas; that will be coupled with a huge surge in charity food parcels alongside the end of government incentive and income support schemes. 100,000 people used food banks for the first time between April and June of this year and they estimate the end of the furlough schemes will see that number soar. 43% of people referred to food banks in April had an income that was “not at a level to sustain a minimum quality of life”.
80 percent of these middle class ‘new poor’ will be well-educated, with good jobs on a mid-level salary bracket. According to the World Bank, the pandemic will push up to 115 million people into extreme poverty this year; by its own definition, that’s living on less than $1.90 per day, or roughly £1.40. The World Bank also predicts that the global economy will contract between 5 and 8 percent, firmly setting back any improvements which have been made in tackling poverty over the past few years.
The phrase ‘there but for the grace of G-d’ has never been more poignantly accurate. Personally, and professionally, we all know people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic; those who have just about held on through furlough, not knowing whether they’d have a secure income at the end. And there are those businesses not deemed ‘essential’ by the government, forced to close and forfeit their income.
Despite government welfare packages totaling around £9 billion, these are hugely stressful times for already low-income families and this new emerging client profile of the so-called ‘middle class poor’; wage packets are down; unemployment is on the up with the winding up of job retention schemes. Lifestyle choices which had previously seemed non-negotiable are being re-assessed; families are making do with less. We are shopping cheaper; waiting until the end of the day to grab a bargain only to witness fights in the supermarket at the reduced section aisle.
Charity shops are seeing their foot-fall double; communities are gathering together to collect clothes for families who have for the first time found themselves in uncertain circumstances.
Our clients across the Jewish community are frightened, insecure, alone and worried. That is exactly what we are here for. These times are utterly unprecedented; and it’s our job and passion to guide our community through it. It could happen to anyone – Paperweight is here if it happens to you.