The Big Squeeze: poverty bites in Derby suburb

Revive volunteers selling Christmas baubles to raise money for their Secret Santa appeal to support local families get a decent Christmas. Image: Simon Ferrigno

Revive Healthy Living Centre is a charity based in Chaddesden, Derby. It covers the areas of Chaddesden, Oakwood and Spondon, as well as its heartland of Derwent. It is one of many small charities that have been working overtime through the pandemic and see first hand the impacts of government policy and economic changes. 

Alongside work on health, wellbeing and quality of life it runs a daily job club, in a building that also offers NHS services, a dental clinic and library. 

It supports those in crisis, in an area with deep pockets of poverty. As funding is squeezed and need increases, they have launched a winter crowdfunder to raise support for people, providing food boxes, gas pre-payment cards and electricity top-ups. 

We spoke to Jo Andrew, the charity’s manager, about the situation.

Please tell us a little about Revive and what you do

Jo Andrews: we are a small charity that is exceptionally busy. We help literally hundreds of families in Derwent, Chaddesden, Oakwood and Spondon that are at crisis point. Subject to funding and donations, we provide emergency energy top ups (for those on pre-paid energy meters), dairy and food boxes for people living with extenuating circumstances, a summer holiday to the seaside and Christmas presents for children who are living in poverty and are affected by bereavement, physical, emotional, domestic or sexual abuse. 

What is the level of demand now compared to pre-pandemic, during the pandemic and now?

JA: The level of demand is different now to that experienced during lockdown. 

We are now dealing…

…with people that have experienced domestic violence and are starting again having left behind family, friends, pets and possessions in fear of their safety. We are finding that many of these families can’t afford school uniforms, essential items such as washers, fridges and beds. It’s a constant challenge looking and applying for small grants that can help. For example, we had one family, a brave lady, that was rehoused in our area from another City. At the point she was rehoused, she had nothing and was crawling around on her hand and knees under the window for fear of being seen and found by her ex. We spent several weeks applying for grants for blinds, a kettle and a fridge. We have many more survivors of domestic violence in similar positions.

…with people who cannot afford, or absorb, the increased costs of living. This issue is reaching breaking point whereby people in work, particularly part-time work, cannot afford to live. I’ve lost count of the number of people that are really struggling with the costs of energy and are making decisions as to whether to eat or heat. We have people that can literally only afford to pay the standing charges that are due. This is particularly true of those on pre-paid meters – 99.9% of the people that approach us have them. These meters have the highest standing charges and costs, and the market has the least amount of choice. We currently have a family of four, all kids are at school during the day and mum works part time. Despite this, their energy costs are between £30-£40 a week – and that’s before taking into account the cost of Christmas and the winter kicking in. This mum couldn’t afford milk recently to put on her children’s cereal. We have many others that cannot afford to have the heating on, even during the winter. We have one lady in her early 60’s that lives in a two bed flat. She’d lived there since the 80s, it’s her home, her neighbourhood and a place where she feels safe. She has been transferred to Universal Credit and has to pay the bedroom tax. She was without any money for 6 weeks and built up arrears that she has to clear. Whilst we are doing all that we can to help her find employment, she fears her age is against her. She applies for lots of jobs every week. She cannot afford to live. She simply can’t cut back any more. We have another mum of three, her situation is so dire, the kids sit and watch the TV in a fleece blanket and hot water bottle. This is the reality of living today. 

…with people who are poorly, waiting for test results, living with a terminal illness or bereavement. There’s such a lot of this at the minute. We have one family – a dad and his teenage son. Dad has taken ill and is waiting for urgent test results that have been delayed. In the meantime, he isn’t fit to work and the family are totally reliant on Statutory Sick Pay (of £96.35), child benefit and housing benefit to cover all their costs. With no other income, this is simply not do-able and has left the family facing an uncertain future and dependent on charities and foodbanks. We have another pensioner on a fixed income that is living with blood cancer, again unable to afford the essentials. These people, and many more like them, are often forgotten.

Lockdown has had a huge impact on mental health, people are reporting high levels of anxiety and the numbers that we have lost to suicide are unprecedented. Many more that I know have attempted to take their lives or are living on anti-depressants. As such, I am always fearful that when someone asks us for help, they are often at rock bottom and I could be the last person that they reach out to. I therefore say that, if I can help, I will. However, I can only do this if I have resources available.

What are the major causes of change, such as changes in Universal Credit and other support?

JA: We aren’t truly seeing the impact in the reduction of Universal Credit yet. The major triggers at the moment are the cost of living crisis, domestic violence and ill health. People are taking action through not having the heating on, scouring the shelves with hundreds of others for discounted items.

How easy is it to get funding at the moment?

JA: Funding is incredibly challenging. We are a small charity and are competing with larger charities that have resources to chase the grants and spend time crafting their applications. We have two part time members of staff and, even when I do plan my day out, there’s often a crisis to deal with. Most funding has two – sometimes three processes – before a decision is taken. We do our best but it’s disheartening when you do spend time to complete a form or application and you never hear back. This happens a lot. There’s also the problem that asking for help to support people with very basic needs is not unique, or innovative, it’s based on need. Sadly a lot of funders are not looking to fund this work. 

What impact has Covid-19 had on your ability to deliver services?

JA: We have been open throughout the pandemic so Covid hasn’t affected our ability to deliver. There have been times that staff have had to isolate or have had Covid, but that is something that we have learnt to live with. 

How do you see the situation developing in the months ahead?

JA: I’d love to say I’m optimistic about the future, but with the predicted increases in council tax, national insurance and cost of living, I am incredibly fearful.

Call to action

The charity has launched a new appeal and is asking 5000 people to donate even as little as £2 each, as the National Emergencies Trust pledged to match every donation below £250 made before December 17′ from the Trust’s local action fund. 

If you can, please support the Revive Aid crowdfunder here

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