There for You is UNISON’s unique charity, set up to help members in difficulties – and this year, the COVID-19 crisis is making life harder for many of our already-stretched members. (See details on UNISON UK website – and here for our local branch welfare fund.)
Because more of you are struggling, There for You has set up a special fund to respond to calls for help needed especially because of the pandemic, with £250,000 set aside to help members.
Carol Sewell is a trustee for the charity – and a member of the union’s national executive council.
She explains that, for a number of weeks, a team including herself and head of welfare Julie Grant, have been looking “at how we can support our members in this time of need,” adding: “We need to ensure we’ve got money that can support people immediately.”
There for You receives donations, but at present, branches are finding that more difficult. For instance, Carol says, “branches can’t operate normally. A cheque might need two signatories and the lockdown makes that really difficult for one person to do.
“Logistics at the moment are really quite difficult.”
So a specific fund, administered centrally, can play an important role.
Carol herself appreciates the problems for members. She suspects she’s had COVID-19 herself – certainly, she can tick off a clutch of the symptoms.
“Headache, aching body, very lethargic and not eating – because I’ve had symptoms, I haven’t been able to work.”
She’s back in harness now though – working from home for her local authority.
“I live with my mum … she’ll come and have a little chat with me, bless her,” she says.
As a trustee, her background working for the local benefits office helps. “When someone asks you for help, they’re desperate,” says Carol, so she’s behind this new fund 100%.
“We need to give the praise to Julie and the members of the team for all the work they’re doing,” she observes. “They’re so dedicated.”
“It makes me so happy that we can support people.”
So what sort of reason might a member need help?
All of the following members were able to access grants of £250 from There for You, using the charity’s quick and easy COVID-19 grant application process.
Sheila is a care worker in a nursing home and had to take sick leave for three weeks as she had COVID-19 symptoms. She was paid statutory sick pay only for the time that she was ill, which left her struggling to pay her bills.
Her work is always challenging and the current health crisis has made additional demands on Sheila and her colleagues. The last thing she needed was financial worries on top of everything else.
David works as a refuse collector for the local authority. His partner works in a local cafe and has been furloughed as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions. She is only receiving 80% of her salary, as her employer cannot afford to make up the balance.
Both David and his partner are on low incomes and have nothing left at the end of the month once they have met their commitments – they were both really worried about how they will manage.
Lesley is a nurse working at a hospital some distance away from her home. She has been doing extra shifts to help during the current crisis, but her usual transport links have been reduced. In order to travel to and from the hospital, she is having to regularly pay for cab fares, which she is finding expensive.
UNISON Edinburgh members can also seek advice from our local Welfare charity – see details here