CREATING a safety net is only part of the task says Moira Tasker.
Life doesn’t last that long. If you’re lucky enough to be born into a family with enough resources and meet few health challenges or accidents along the way, you will have around 25,000 to 30,000 days to enjoy the world. If you are born into poverty or poor health, you will have much less time and, often, far fewer opportunities to enjoy that time. Being poor or experiencing serious ill health, doesn’t just impact on your lifespan – it is isolating, hard work and deeply distressing.
It can be easy to forget that there is no “them and us” – to use that off-cited phrase we are a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns. What separates us is our experience of the world and our views on what works and what doesn’t to improve society as a whole. Our lives and communities are interlinked, our successes and failures and the ebb and flow of triumph and challenge impact not only on the individual but wider society. Each one of us is mortal and vulnerable. We cannot survive – let alone thrive – without the interest, support and compassion of others.
Thanks to funding from NHS Lothian, Citizens Advice Edinburgh recently launched a new service at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and Western General Hospitals taking our outreach locations to a staggering 25 localities across the city. This is in addition to our five Citizens Advice Bureaux and the home visiting service we already deliver in the capital.
In the few weeks since the launch, patients, staff and visitors at the hospitals are seeking our holistic advice in huge numbers. By empowering people to resolve benefits issues, money worries, housing problems, employment concerns, consumer frustrations, relationship or other worries, we are already seeing positive impacts on the wellbeing of people experiencing life’s toughest times. Our welfare rights and health worker ensures that support continues through our services in GP surgeries and our partnerships with other agencies.
Our new advice service in these two acute settings highlights the fact that anyone could need our advice at any time – regardless of current circumstance or fortune.
Our charity and generations of volunteers have been giving their time and expertise to assist others for 75 years now. In 2014 we helped with a staggering 28,808 enquiries – up 6 per cent on the previous year. People turn to Citizens Advice Edinburgh because they know they can rely on us, they can trust us and they know we have the experience and knowledge to find practical solutions.
Our volunteers give their time and skills to resolve incredibly complex problems. New issues such as the explosion in zero hours contracts applied to roles and families who cannot manage on contractual uncertainties, significant delays in the payments of benefits for those who have worked – and paid into the system – for many years, sanctions without due cause and increasing institutional errors mean that enquiries are often multi-faceted and resource intensive to resolve. These developments have made those with the least time more isolated and more marginalised than perhaps at any time in modern history.
At a recent Citizens Advice Edinburgh open day, we were inundated with applications from people to train as volunteer advisers – their interest, altruism and passion for our charity’s core value of citizens helping citizens was uplifting and deeply appreciated. However, volunteering is not free. Training, insurance, equipment, premises, quality standards and other core costs are difficult to fundraise for but are essential to run our very lean charity – which delivers most of its services through 270 dedicated volunteers.
For every £1 of funding Citizens Advice Edinburgh receives, more than £16 is generated by the volunteers for the client. That money, in turn, not only transforms the personal lives of individuals and families but is spent in our local communities and bolsters the wider economy. Again, helping those in crisis positively impacts society as a whole and can prevent increasing costs and pressure on public services.
We have recently received welcome support from Scottish Financial Enterprise and Scottish Power, however, we are appealing to more companies and individuals to follow their lead and join with us in a conversation to find ways the private, public and charitable sectors can work together to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and impoverished people and families.
Your support, ideas and expertise could ensure we have the capacity to help resolve a crisis or prevent worry and despair in the future. Sharing your skills and expertise with us and working collegiately is the natural, very human and compassionate solution to the spiralling problems we are dealing with in society.
As you live one of your precious 25,000 to 30,000 days today, please do think of us, our clients and the amazing legacy and safety net you could create by collaborating with the Citizens Advice Service.
• Moira Tasker is chief executive of Citizens Advice Edinburgh citizensadviceedinburgh.org.uk