BritSom is a Trust for London grantee and the main organisation working with Somali and Black, Minority Ethnic and Refugee communities of all ages, in Barnet and neighbouring boroughs. They provide services for the local community - including educational, social and cultural activities.
Here, Mohamed Ali talks about the continuing issues faced by BritSom’s beneficiaries.
COVID-19 has had a social, economic and health impact on our service users. BritSom’s service users come from BAME communities, and the pandemic has had a disproportionately large impact on these communities. We have seen first-hand the underlying reasons for this.
Most of our users worked in care homes and the gig economy (for example, as Uber drivers and delivery drivers) so they did not have the luxury of staying at home to self-isolate. This meant that many of the people BritSom supports were at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
A significant number of our users also live in multigenerational households. It is extremely worrying to have working-age people - at increased risk of transmission - and elderly people - who are more at risk of COVID-19-related health complications - sharing the same living space.
Discussions with BritSom’s users during the pandemic lockdown conveyed feelings of fear and grief. We have been receiving many calls asking for information relating to COVID-19, unemployment and benefits claims, and as a result we have dedicated more resources to our advice service.
Many were worried about keeping safe when working. Others reported the deaths of loved ones and have enquired about burial and funeral rites.
We have also seen a 200% increase in enquiries related to financial security, with service users enquiring about furlough schemes, help for the self-employed and the lack of support for those working in the gig economy.
As a result of the economic slowdown and the effects of lockdown, many BritSom users lost their employment. Most have now successfully gained welfare benefits with our support, but none feel that this is a long-term solution, and they wish to re-enter the workplace. However, they face obstacles to accessing good, sustainable jobs - such as limited skills and experience, and language barriers.
Our beneficiaries are asking whether BritSom could open a food bank, to provide relief from food poverty and allowing them to save money for their utility bills – which are set to substantially increase in the winter months.
Our beneficiaries have been through a lot during the pandemic and are now facing worse situations than they were prior to it. The rise in the cost of living and unemployment is pushing more of them into financial trouble.
We are supporting more and more people every day with the minimum resources that we have.