Information and support available to the most vulnerable dropped at the point where the national lockdown eased last year, even in areas that remained under the highest level of restrictions.
That’s according to a new report by the British Red Cross released on Tuesday morning.
What’s more the charity has warned that the chain reaction caused by an end to national lockdowns and the furlough payment being cut in April will drive millions off a cliff edge.
This would leave them unable to recover from the impact of the pandemic on their finances and mental health.
Based on research conducted between October and December last year when tiered restrictions were in place, the report “The Longest Year” says two groups have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
The first is a “newly vulnerable” group of people who have never needed help before and are struggling due to stigma and not knowing where to go for support.
The second is a group of people who were struggling before the pandemic and are now “on the brink,” facing impossible choices between essentials like food, heating, or clothing for their children.
For both groups, a lack of clear information about the rules in their area, made problems worse and led many to put themselves into “self-imposed” lockdown, limiting interactions with family and friends even when it was safe to see people, exacerbating feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Key findings from the report included the fact that 43% of people who needed financial support to self-isolate, couldn’t get it.
Alongside this, 71% of people who are not confident that they can cope with or recover from the changes to their life caused by the pandemic cited their mental health as a key factor.
Two-fifths of UK adults (40%) were not confident about where to go to access financial support, despite 13% saying this type of support would have been helpful to them under local restrictions.
The charity has called for easy access to emergency cash support for those hit hardest by the pandemic.
“Too many risk going without essentials like food, clothes and energy, unless cash support is bolstered when we exit national lockdown,” it said.
Norman McKinley, executive director of UK operations at the British Red Cross, says: “Local and national governments have the best intentions but too many people have fallen through the cracks.
“Our report shows the inextricable link between financial insecurity and mental health, and that the point at which someone faces hardship is a crucial moment to catch them before they fall into a more desperate situation.
“As we come out of the pandemic, we must develop a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be vulnerable and normalise asking for help – whether practical, emotional or financial.”
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