Crisis Fund: can a little go a very long way?
In February then OFMdFM Junior Ministers Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann announced a £55,000 Crisis Fund aimed at providing immediate short-term help to minority ethnic individuals with nowhere else to turn.
The Red Cross won the tender to administer the fund across Northern Ireland and, alongside a number of local partner organisations, has since completed what was effectively a pilot scheme – which it now hopes can become a permanent fixture.
The humanitarian organisation also says that, despite being called a crisis fund, the money is preventative rather than curative – and is very much a spend-to-save endeavour.
Neil McKittrick, from the Red Cross, told Scope they are reviewing the fund’s procedures to see what worked and what could be done better – and hopes there will be a longer-term renewal before winter.
“The idea behind the fund primarily is to provide a breathing space to allow people to take control and make their own informed decisions.
“People who are coming to us to get this were not being homeless on the streets, they weren’t being ill and going to A&E – it gives people room to try and mitigate the worst effects of destitution. If you have nowhere to turn and can’t feed your family, if you are concentrating on that then how can you look for work or try to be healthy? It allows people that space to address other things.
“People might ask why there is no fund on similar terms for local people, but I would say they have access to the social security system, whereas the fund is tailored to people outside that system - and these people are still part of the community.”
Minor administrations issues meant the fund ran for closer to two months than the expected three, with a total of £36,621 spent across 980 separate interventions – an average of under £40 - which directly assisted 440 individuals, who between them had 480 dependents.
The totals received also tended to be small: 54% of people received less than £50 in total, while 78% received less than £100.
Of those who received the short-term payments, 233 were female and 207 were male, and the majority – 60% - were aged 21-40.
In terms of time spent in Northern Ireland, only 11% of those in receipt of help had been here less than three months, while 22% had been here between five and 10 years, and another 4% for longer than that.
The top three causes of destitution for people to access the fund were problems with benefits entitlements (25%), issues around domestic violence (14%) and issues around seeking employment (14%).
Mr McKittrick said: “The people who have been here longer than five years is an interesting figure. What it might say is that the status of people’s entitlements does not reflect their sense of belonging to a community. If you have lived here for five or ten years and have children then your roots are very much in Northern Ireland.
“This isn’t something that’s aimed at people who live outside the community, these people are very much part of the community but this fund helps out in the most vulnerable of cases, you are probably very much down on your luck by the time you access these funds.
“What the money was used for predominantly was food and essentials, but it was also used in rare instances for emergency accommodation while they were waiting on the state bodies to sort out things.”
He said further that the fund has also been used to provide people the immediate means to take better care of themselves – such as being able to get a copy of their passport or other documentation or certificates – to help them get into work or open up access to other services.
“The fund is invaluable in terms of helping these people, it’s been invaluable in halting cases of destitution, but it’s only a mere drop in the ocean compared to the support from local community, from other migrants who provide a support network for each other, let others sleep on their settee and so on, and others – such as church groups - who are also very helpful”
The Red Cross worked both directly with those in need, and also by providing funds to a number of local partners – such as the Ballymena Inter-Ethnic Forum and Craigavon Intercultural Programme – to administer the money.
As well as providing a useful tool to help vulnerable individuals, the fund has also given these local organisations, many of which are one- or two-person outfits, the ability to target preventative measures.
“All those support groups can shift the focus to other work and it allows them to concentrate on the root causes of the problems and that’s for the benefit of everybody.
“I’ve been inundated with people from Scotland and Wales in the third sector, saying NI is really taking the lead on this and they are seeing us as a model of best practice, and working hard to see if they can get their own devolved assemblies to look at this.
“I’m proud of it as a project. It would help us in future if we were able to plan and have certainty - knowing what we are going to get and when. It’s another string in the bow of the organisation and our work that goes on.”
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