The week beginning 6th July 2020 has been earmarked as 'Research and Campaigns Week' at Citizens Advice Haringey. This campaign provides an opportunity to shine a spotlight, both externally and in house, on an area of work that often goes unnoticed within local advice bureau's. Research and Campaigns Lead Ned Dukes speaks about the nuts and bolts of 'R&C' and also provides an insight into the areas of focus him and his team are currently working on.
As the current crisis develops and we see no signs of any imminent return, the Research and Campaigns team at Citizens advice Haringey is preparing for the new normal. The R&C team work slightly differently to the rest of the bureau, in that we are not client facing. Our work is about identifying the issues people are experiencing, spotting any trends and then campaigning, where we can, to make positive change for the local community.
The work of Research and Campaigns can be understood from two perspectives. The first is nationally. National Citizens Advice publish regular calls for evidence, which are then publicised to advisers at a local level. We then gather cases relevant to these calls for evidence and identify them to the national office through our Evidence Forms. This data is then used for national campaigns to pressure government to make changes. The second way of understanding Research and Campaigns work is at a local level. This is done by speaking to advisers and supervisors or checking cases and spotting trends that need more focus. We then publish local calls for evidence and gather our own data. We then take this data and use it to campaign, either through writing reports or speaking to people with the power to affect change.
The research and Campaigns Team at Citizens Advice Haringey is made up of a mixture of volunteers and paid staff. Our volunteers really drive our work and have taken on more responsibility as the pandemic has developed. Matt, one of our volunteers, is doing weekly policy updates for all staff, volunteers and members of the public, so we can stay up to date with the constantly changing policy related to the work we do. Another of our Volunteers, Beni, is keeping staff up to date with weekly calls for Evidence, from a national and local level. Beni and Matt are also taking the lead developing questionnaires for our research project. Like so much of the work we do at Citizens Advice Haringey, we really rely on the dedication and commitment of our volunteers.
Recently we have been trying to understand what issues really matter to the people who use our service. Before Covid-19 put the brakes on our initial research project, we were focussing particularly on Crisis Support and early intervention for Haringey residents. What this mean specifically, is the way in which Haringey (the council and the services running within the borough) respond to people in Crisis. What we mean by crisis, is immediate difficulties which require immediate action, whether that be in terms of food, utilities, travel, clothing, benefits or other related issues. What we have found is that the root cause of all of these issues is money, or lack of it. We noticed that there was nowhere in Haringey where immediate financial support could be offered, which is often what people want and need. Our aim was to develop this work into a report and offer solutions to Haringey on how they could deal with crisis differently. However, Covid-19 meant we had to think on our feet and develop our work for the ‘new normal’. Our work on this topic has been used to develop the new Crisis Navigation service, which is already off the ground and helping people in Haringey.
Covid-19 has changed people’s experiences of crisis and local authorities and government agencies have had to respond in unprecedented ways. Many of the ideas we had related to crisis, particularly the provision of food support, became very clear once lockdown begun. Haringey in particular were very quick to organise effective and wide ranging food support. The suspension of evictions has also had some impact people’s experiences of crisis across Haringey, as well as creditors not enforcing debts in the same way. Although these issues have been changed by Covid-19 , other issues have arisen, and the underlying issues remain the same. We are particularly worried about how people will cope with the scaling back of Covid-19 support and legislation, especially in terms of debt collection, evictions and food support. This is of interest at both a national and local level.
Far too many people in Haringey are failed by the Welfare benefit system. Whether that be Local Housing Allowance, sanctions or deductions from their benefits, the benefit cap or just not knowing the right benefits for them. As part of the R&C plan at Citizens Advice Haringey, we want to understand the underlying reasons for these issues and campaign for them on a local level. As part of our R&C work we have been having regular meetings with the council around how the Council can better support people claiming Universal Credit. Some of our suggestions, including easier access to Discretionary Housing Payments, have been taken on board and we are involved in ongoing consultation with the council about this topic.
We are in the process of growing and developing as a Research and Campaigns team. Our aim over the pandemic has been to formalise our work and increase our capacity and output. We are at the start of this journey, and with the support of Management, Staff and Volunteers, we hope to campaign on the issues that matter to the people we serve.
If you are interested in getting involved with Research and Campaigns at Citizens Advice Haringey, please get in touch.