To improve health and wellbeing amid changes to benefits, Kingston council is holding workshops to give residents advice
The economic downturn and changes to the benefit system will leave some families under a great deal of stress, and affect people’s general wellbeing and health in a number of ways. Local government must ask how it can help mitigate any negative impacts – particularly for those most at risk – and encourage healthier lifestyle choices.
In spite of its relative affluence, Kingston has pockets of deprivation and the more disadvantaged groups tend to suffer poorer health. Kingston’s food bank has reported a sharp rise in the number of people it is helping with emergency food aid, now distributing up to 1.7 tonnes of food a month to clients.
Kingston council has been working with the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to deal with the issues around poverty and ill-health. The work has been highlighted by the Institute of Health Equity as one of the first examples of a programme to intervene and help people struggling with financial hardship.
The council and the CAB are running a series of free money management workshops across the borough. We want to help residents take control of their finances and help those in financial difficulties gain the knowledge and confidence to make the most of their limited income.
The sessions are for between 5 and 12 participants, with a targeted audience because we are trying to ensure that those in financial hardship attend the sessions.
The two-hour workshops let people talk about their attitudes to money and identify their financial strengths and weaknesses. We provide information about sources of more affordable credit such as local credit unions, the consequences of not paying bills, and ways to make money go further.
An important part of the sessions is “signposting” so that attendees know who to go to for individual and specific advice regarding their personal financial issues.
We have had people referred to our workshops by a range of different service providers including adult social care, children’s centres, the council’s benefits section and voluntary organisations that support vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.
We have liaised with partners who have regular face-to-face contact with the community and in particular our target audience. We also made sure that we published what we were doing widely in doctor’s surgeries, libraries, and community centres. We used the council website and Twitter to get the message out, as well as publications such as housing newsletters.
Those who are taking part in our workshops will develop their personal skills, and if they then take action to improve their financial circumstances then their risk of developing mental health problems will be reduced.
Evidence from a survey by CABs in 2012 found positive results among tenants who attended similar advice clinics, including:
• 78% changed how they managed their money and were on average £10 a week better off as a result;
• 20% changed their saving behaviour in some way, on average saving an extra £11 per week;
• 13% either opened or switched bank account or opened a credit union account.
Most importantly, our initiative has meant that more people know when and where to ask for financial advice to help address problems before they become serious, and that’s a healthy approach.
Jonathan Hildebrand is director of public health at Kingston upon Thames
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