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Stopping people slipping through the cracks in lockdown

Bini Araia is the projects manager of Investing in People and Culture (IPC) a regional charity with its head office in Middlesbrough, and we’ve asked him to share his experiences of how lockdown has been affecting people in marginalised communities. Here he shares two very powerful case studies of how without help to navigate the often complicated and inflexible systems, people can so easily slip through the cracks, with potentially fatal consequences.

IPC’s aim is the social and economic inclusion of marginalised communities including refugees and migrants.

Case study 1 - No food for 17 days, saved from starvation

“One of IPC’s ex-clients have been suffering with mental health issues for a couple of years. The African female lived in the Gresham area of Middlesbrough for several years and had become distant from her community due to her mental health status. After being recognised as a refugee, she was economically active and worked full time for at least 6 years. However, due to her mental health circumstances, she had lost her job recently.

During the lockdown, an IPC worker received a phone call from the lady’s family members based in London asking about her situation and the fact that they did not hear from her for the last couple of months. We advised the family member to immediately alert Cleveland Police.

He made the call and was informed that unless he can get the person’s full address and date of birth (which he didn't have), just her full name is not enough for them to help! A week went by and the family member contacted our worker a couple of times in-between to inform him what has happened.

On the 5th of May, our worker flagged his concern to his contacts in Middlesbrough Council’s vulnerable persons officers who subsequently contacted a chief inspector in charge of neighbourhood policing within Cleveland Police.

The police ascertained with our worker the lady’s previous places of work and managed to find her home address.

The police located the lady at her home address very weak and frail. She informed them that she had been going to food banks before the lockdown and as all the places she was going has been closed she had not eaten for 17 days!

I went around to her address with a friend from the community and took some food, and she looked extremely weak and fragile. She has been sleeping on the sofa can't stand straight, very thin, you could see all the bones on her body! The house was in a complete mess.

We know that she has indefinite leave to remain in the UK and that she was a hard-working lady when she was well. Things must have gone downhill with her mental health that she ended up going to food banks, but obviously food bank centres must have closed due to lockdown and the poor lady stayed in with no food. She said all her benefit was stopped a while back, presumably because she did not comply with their job search/appointment instruction etc. I don't know, but I know she has the right to claim benefit. 

She had no electricity, gas, heating (thank God the weather has not been so bad) for weeks. Her phone battery dead because she had no electricity to charge it.

We immediately contacted NHS 111 while with her in the house, and after convincing them that she is in bad shape, they sent an ambulance. We briefed ambulance crew about her situation and checked her up, put drips etc in their vehicle and said maybe a couple more days without food she would have died from starvation. They took her to James Cook hospital where she is receiving medical attention.  

IPC is ready to provide holistic support package, depending on the details of her individual need when she is discharged from hospital. The support may include a regular home visit from community members, help with benefit applications, accompanying to appointments, discuss ways to improve physical health and wellbeing (e.g joining existing walks). 

Case study 2 - Helping Mr H recover from fraud

My second example is Mr. H, a refugee who lives in central Middlesbrough with limited English, but has been working very hard to earn money at a food factory. As he could not open a bank account from the high street banks, he asked one of his work colleagues at work to help him open an online account (Monzo and Pockit). H’s colleague got hold of his security details and started to access his online bank account. To date, the fraudster has withdrawn over £3,500 from both of H’s accounts.

Mr. H informed Cleveland Police about his case who advised him that he needs to inform the banks and the National Criminal Agency and gave him phone numbers. Mr. also sought help from Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). He did everything he possibly can, but sadly he could not get anywhere.

Mr. H sought IPC help and we have been dealing with this case before the lockdown. We contacted the banks and got his online account stopped.

His employers warned Mr. H that unless they have an account where they could pay him, he is likely to lose his job. We supported him to open a new account with credit union (South Tees Community bank).

We continued to support the client to communicate with Monza and Pockit to try and retrieve the money that left his bank account without his knowledge.  

During the lockdown, Mr. H received a few calls from the fraudster who has been withdrawing money from Mr. H account demanding that he would like to see him urgently as he came to know that his (fraudster's) cousin has been accessing his (Mr. H) bank account and that he is willing to provide him all the details that could lead to his (supposedly fraudster's cousin) arrest and retrieve cash. For this, he (Mr. H) must give him £300 in cash!

At this point, Mr. H rang IPC, and of course, we informed him that it is very likely that the caller is the fraudster and he should NEVER give him any money and that he needs to inform the police immediately.

As Mr. H does not have the English language skills to narrate what has happened over the phone, he decided to physically visit the police station in Middlehaven. He was given the National Crime Agency phone number and advised to make a call and inform them as they can't help him with such fraud cases. Mr. H makes the phone call from the station to IPC and asks to speak to the reception person at the station who advises IPC the same. IPC rang the Crime agency and they told us that we need to advise the victim that he needs to visit their website and report the crime as they can't take crime reports over the phone!

When our worker asked how about people like Mr. H who don't have access to the internet, cannot speak or read the English language who are vulnerable. The Crime Agency’s representative said, unfortunately, that is the way it is, then our worker asked for their full name with the intension of filing a formal complaint about the process, the representative changed their mind and said please hold on the line and kept our worker on hold for 22mins and comes back and said someone from the office will ring our worker back.

They rang our worker couple of hours later and when our worker informed them what he was told by their colleague about reporting a crime, they said that is completely wrong and they do actually take a report over the phone and have access to interpreters instantly. Our worker passed on Mr. H’s mobile number and we then learnt that the Crime Agency has been in touch with Mr. H and took a full statement/account of what has happened including a description of the fraudster, car registration and audio conversation fraudster demanding money that Mr. H took upon our advice.

This whole process just goes to show the most vulnerable people in our community and how some agencies are so inflexible and complicated to help them, including receiving a report of a crime! It also highlighted the incredible work that takes place at grassroots level to help these members of our community.

Using cultural knowledge to translate advice during lockdown

Other work we’ve been doing during lockdown includes providing alternative formats of the standard written English government and WHO advice. For example, washing hands with soap for 20 seconds, the process of contacting NHS 111 if with symptoms etc. Some members of the community such as the elderly and those who did not go to school and are unable to read or write in their own language found it difficult to follow the advice. 

We translated the key messages in an audio format and used our cultural knowledge to ensure the 20-second concept is understood by our community. For example, we said to recite a common prayer (we measured the length it takes) twice while washing your hand and that equates to 20 seconds etc. We audio translated these in several languages including, Kurdish, Amharic, Arabic, Vietnamese etc and shared it via WhatsUp as far and wide as possible nationally and internationally. 

Contact Bini at info@i-p-c.org or visit https://i-p-c.org

Bini Araia