What does the extension of the furlough scheme mean in an area already experiencing financial hardship, and how will the continued temporary uplift of Universal Credit help? whg’s corporate director of Operations, Fay Shanahan, shares her reaction to the recent budget and the impact it will have on communities in Walsall and beyond
When Rishi Sunak announced the continuation of the furlough scheme and the uplift of Universal Credit earlier this month, my first reaction was relief. I was relieved the thousands of households dependent on this income would not see it taken away when our economy is still so restricted and many industries remain unable to operate normally.
My thoughts have now turned to the future and what we can do to help build back better. Here at whg, we have seen how some of our communities have been much harder hit than others as a result of the pandemic. Communities that were already experiencing significant financial hardship and health inequalities before the pandemic have felt the impact of COVID-19 most keenly.
We have a strong track record of investing in a wide range of non-core landlord services. We work closely with communities to help build resilience and create opportunities for our customers and others. Our Employment and Training team and Community Champions – local people employed to connect with our customers and promote our services – are essential in reaching and engaging with those most in need.
- Ranked 22 in the 2019 Index of Multiple Deprivation
- 44 of its 167 neighbourhoods are among the most deprived 10% in England
- More than 12% of Walsall’s working-age population is without a qualification
- As of January 2021, 8.5% of the working age population were claiming unemployment support – a 4.6% increase on the previous year’s figures
Rebuilding our communities in a post pandemic world is bigger than any one organisation. We have to pull together across a wide range of sectors to make the kind of positive difference that is now needed. We are fortunate in Walsall to have an established, integrated partnership of health, social care, third sector, and community organisations and – somewhat unusually – us.
Walsall Together allows us to tackle problems through meaningful and honest collaboration. We have recognised that poor health is heavily influenced by factors outside the control of the health system: poor housing, unemployment, debt, and family background to name a few. It’s therefore imperative that the partnership is encompasses more than just health professionals.
“Employment, particularly purposeful employment, is a pathway to so much more”
To make the difference we all want, we are working together to build resilient communities. We’re currently piloting a project with Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust and Walsall College to help customers into paid work. Employment opportunities exist locally, but they don’t always reach those who benefit most, and in some cases people see them but don’t apply.
Our Employment and Training team is promoting entry-level jobs at Walsall Healthcare NHS Trusts to target customer groups. We then work with Walsall College to equip customers with the confidence and skills they need to apply for the posts. It’s early days, but we have so far seen 14 customers secure new roles, which is fantastic.
If the success of the pilot continues, we will widen the scope to include more organisations within the Walsall Together partnership. We can and should use employment to help rebuild our communities.
Employment, particularly purposeful employment, is a pathway to so much more. It helps to build confidence and self-esteem, improves mental health, and reduces loneliness and isolation. The income earned helps to lift people out of poverty and enrich their life with activities and opportunities that may otherwise not have been open to them.
For us, this is key.
Image: Fay Shanahan, corporate director of Operations, whg
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