Norma Brown, a throughcare and aftercare worker at Falkirk Council describes their Moneywise project and the difference it's making to the lives of care leavers in the area.
Leaving care and going it alone can be really daunting for most young people. There’s a minefield of ‘adult stuff’ to negotiate, such as managing a tenancy agreement, wading through the benefits system, handling money, and fuel bills. I’ve found that care leavers are often ill informed on how to navigate their way through the maze and have no one to turn to. It can be completely overwhelming for some.
The Leaving Care Team at Falkirk Council recognised that the risks to the wellbeing of care leavers were really significant. Such as:
The Council applied for a grant to fund a dedicated worker (me) as part of their Moneywise Project. Funding was awarded by the Big Lottery under the Support and Connect funding stream to help mitigate against the effects of the Welfare Reform Act. The Act changes many of the current rules and benefits, including the introduction of Universal Credit, and the so called ‘bedroom tax.
We know that young people are disproportionately sanctioned and care leavers even more so and when Moneywise started in 2014, benefit sanctions were hitting care leavers in the area hard, at a time when their lives were already chaotic.
I came on board to work with young people, to help them before it reaches crisis point. I complete an assessment of every young person and put an individualised plan in place to tackle all areas of concern.
The assessment is based on the Rickter Scale which monitors and measures lots of areas of the young person’s life including stress, health and confidence and can be tracked over time. The support is tailored to whatever’s needed to get the young person back on track.
The current amount a young person receives from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is £57.90 a week, and budgeting, something many care leavers have little experience of, can be difficult. They often feel overwhelmed, and rather than face their issues, often ‘bury their heads in the sand’. It’s not their fault – they’re out in the big bad world and just don’t know how to cope.
We’ve forged really good links with the DWP, in fact we work alongside them and train them in in line with the DWP Care Leaver’s Strategy. This acknowledges that care leavers are vulnerable and will struggle with the new requirements of the Welfare Reform Act. And, we’re able to lift the phone and have a conversation about a young person and avoid a situation becoming critical. In fact the DWP won a National Partnership Award in 2016 for their work alongside us.
There’s a real feeling of teamwork both externally and within the council. I work really closely with our community advice team and together we’ve adapted software to capture data and evidence. This was necessary to evaluate the success of the project and calculate the savings the work was making to the council’s bottom line.
Care leavers get help to negotiate job seeker’s allowance, housing benefit, council tax and discretionary payments, and our advisors gained real insight and intelligence.
You bet it has!
In the 15 months of the pilot project, and in the 18 months since, NO care experienced young people have been sanctioned by the DWP.
What the pilot did was give us the evidence we needed to say the project was working. The Leaving Care Team was successful in gaining the initial funding, but we can evidence a real saving during the 15 months of the project of £170,000. And the money going to the young people is being spent in the local economy.
We’re making real change to real lives and the satisfaction of seeing young people turn their lives around can’t be quantified. I’ve helped around 50 young people since the project started.
I came across one young man recently who had managed to rack up £1500 in fuel arrears. Under the current system it would have taken him 20 years to repay the money owed and he risked being disconnected. I worked with him and managed to get funding to write the debt off and allow him to start again with a clean slate. A much better outcome!
The savings also mean I get to stay in a job I absolutely love – in the front line and making a difference!