A winter tradition: Supporting our communities

Trade unions like UNISON are there to help look after you at work. But our members are also part of communities outside of their workplaces – many of which rely on dwindling public services. We know that winter, the pressures of paying extra fuel bills and festive celebrations can stretch tight resources even further. There For You – UNISON’s own welfare service – is one way our union helps look after our members in hardship. A big part of this is our special winter fuel grant. But its also become a winter tradition at UNISON Hampshire Health branch to make donations to help organisations that help our communities in ways trade unions find difficult. This year, as well as donating to There For You, the branch is donating to local food banks, the YMCA and the Samaritans.

Why make these donations? Because a decade of austerity has meant that these charities are more important than ever. The Trussell Trust the UK’s largest food bank network, report that they are the busiest they have ever been. The charity gave out over 823,000 food parcels between April and September 2019. These souring figures are not just due to the 5 weeks wait for Universal Credit; ever-shrinking real earnings mean that the majority of people referred to them are in hardship due to low wages (36.05%). It’s no surprise then that food banks and housing charities reported a spike in donations following the Conservative Party’s general election win.

Why make these donations?

Because a large part of UNISON Hampshire Health branch membership  work for an NHS trust providing mental health care. A UNISON survey in spring 2019 showed how stretched these NHS mental health services are. 43% of respondents were considering resigning from working in these services due to cuts to services (63%), the inability to deliver quality care (61%) and the impact on their own mental health (60%). More than ever, The Samaritans provide a grimly vital service.

Why make these donations?

Because UNISON Hampshire health branch has a close connection to Southampton YMCA. The YMCA locally provide supportive events for children, young people and families across the city – as well as hosting UNISON Hampshire Health branch meetings. They also arrange supportive housing for young people, with over 80 self contained studio flats alongside over a dozen shared units. These kinds of initiatives are vital given the current lack of affordable housing and cuts to council services.

The work of these charities has always been important. But in the austerity era, they are more and more forced to step in where the government has withdrawn. UNISON Hampshire Health welfare officer Ian Hambly explains:

Since 2012, when the Welfare Reform Act was imposed by Central Government, more than 600,000 children have fallen back into ‘relative poverty’.  The vast majority are from working families.  The erosion of employment conditions, such as zero hour contracts, has crippled the ability of many families in society to attain a basic standard of living, and those areas which rolled out Universal Credit were particularly hard hit.  Most charities are at breaking point, if not overwhelmed already, by the burden demanded by the Big Society.  Donations to charities are more vital now to avoid swathes of ordinary hard working people falling into spirals of debt they will never recover from.

Are you in financial hardship? UNISON’s welfare charity There For You may be able to help.