Pandemic Recovery - The Next Big Milestone
On 16th March 2020 when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that everyone should stop non- essential contact and travel, I don’t think many (myself included) ever expected the sequence of events that followed which would take us through the following 18 months to where we find ourselves today. “Social Distancing”, “Lockdowns”, “Facemasks”, “Bubbles” are just some of the words and phrases that have now become commonplace in everyday life, whilst spare bedrooms are now self-contained offices as our places of work.
Milestone Date for key Government schemes
30th September 2021 marks another important date in the timeline of the pandemic, as we see the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme and the end of the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit. From the outside looking in, both for members of the public and for business alike, it looks like a proverbial tightening of the belts will need to occur for both.
Introduced by the government at the start of lockdown in 2020, the loss of the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit, negatively affects nearly 6 million claimants. Many anti-poverty campaigners and MP’s have warned that the cut could be a devastating cliff-edge, plunging many vulnerable people into financial crisis. Before the pandemic research showed that, even for those who are working and in receipt of Universal Credit, one in six working households were living below the breadline. The Institute for Fiscal Studies research suggested that the uplift impacted family incomes by anything between 8% and 20%.
How claimants will find adjusting their finances through this change will be of interest in the weeks and months to come. Hopefully anyone who does experience difficulty will be pointed to other schemes such as Discretionary Housing Payments, administered by Councils to help the transition short-term.
Job Retention Scheme
The loss of the job retention scheme will also see a lot of businesses having to stand on their own 2 feet again. As of 14th July 2021, 11.6 million employee jobs had been furloughed through the scheme at a cost of £67.4 billion, since its introduction.
Whilst lockdowns have ceased, and there has been a reopening of industries, many businesses which rely upon physical customers (such as hospitality and leisure) have seen footfall significantly impacted by the events of the last 18 months. Naturally, there is an extra cautiousness from customers, following the sustained change in behaviours and routines which have resulted. At the same time, many more people have adapted to the safety and convenience of doing things on-line, whilst businesses have also had to adapt, by allowing people to have more space on premise, which again impacts negatively on the number of customers and the revenue they can generate.
Recent figures, at the end of June 2021, showed 1.9 million people were still on furlough, and although the current number will be lower, as the economy has since reopened, there will be many employers having to make difficult decisions. With still air of uncertainty over the future, do they take back some, all, or none of their furloughed workers? Alternatively, do they make them redundant as they just cannot afford to keep them on. A rise in unemployment is widely expected after the scheme ends.
Increased Demand on Public Services
With both ending on 30th September 2021 the change in circumstances for these people will see a significant sustained increase in demand on public services. This will happen across all levels, from people seeking advice and support with getting back into work, to administratively dealing with finances such as claiming/changing of rates of benefits, budgeting, rearranging payments for rent, council tax and/or other debt(s).On 16th March 2020 when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that everyone should stop non- essential contact and travel, I don’t think many (myself included) ever expected the sequence of events that followed which would take us through the following 18 months to where we find ourselves today. “Social Distancing”, “Lockdowns”, “Facemasks”, “Bubbles” are just some of the words and phrases that have now become commonplace in everyday life, whilst spare bedrooms are now self-contained offices as our places of work.
Managing spikes in demand
What typically tends to happen during peak periods of demand such as this, is processes bottleneck as public services struggle to cope with the volume of enquiries. This means everything, from a citizen’s perspective slows down and takes much longer than it should, right at the time when they need the support the most.
What’s more, on the other side of the coin, those working within public services are placed under immense pressure and stress as they have to cope with, both, being under-resourced, and dealing with the backlash of citizens, who feel they are not being supported effectively. Ultimately, the mental wellbeing of all parties is under threat and can lead to further issues with regards to physical health.
Although we can foresee what is likely to happen, we cannot change the external circumstances beyond our control. However, what public services and local authorities can do, is prepare accordingly to minimise the impact on the service it delivers, and the wellbeing of both its staff and its citizens.
Meritec has been working in partnership with local authorities and housing associations for many years, to create a suite of services which can help both, efficiently streamline the delivery of public sector services, and ensure staff are best prepared to deal with any issues that may arise (which ultimately transforms the end customer’s experience).
So how do Meritec do this? Firstly we can ease the burden and help you through any spikes in demand. We can do this by providing members of our highly skilled and experienced staff through our Flexible Resourcing Service or by providing you with our custom developed Digital Solutions that enable your customers to be able to self-service their own requests. One of these solutions is geared around physical manpower, whilst the other is centred around leading edge technology. However, both services are designed to put local authorities and housing associations in manageable control of the situation.
In addition, Meritec also has a Digital Learning platform which is designed to raise awareness of specific issues which can have a significant impact on staff and organisational wellbeing. We have recently released the latest edition of our Focus on Mental Wellbeing awareness course, which we have developed in conjunction with subject matter expert David Beeney. This online course is designed to raise awareness of mental wellbeing amongst staff so that there is an openness and understanding within the organisation of the different pressures individuals may be facing (both other colleagues and the citizens that they deal with). To learn more about mental wellbeing Meritec is also running a series of free webinars on the subject throughout the year.
Stuart Minors, Training and Development Manager, Meritec