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Did you know there are millions of people in the UK who are vulnerable?
Between March 2018 and April 2019 the Trussell Trust gave out more than 1.6million emergency food parcels. This was a 19% increase on the previous year and over half a million of those went to children.
Does that shock you? It should. Why does our society seem to accept this as the norm? Many of us contribute to food banks but do we stop to wonder what our society needs to do to prevent this kind of vulnerability?
Making sure you take into account personal circumstances and personal challenges is something we all must do, whilst realising that it isn’t always easy to tell who is vulnerable and the term ‘vulnerable’ may not be a label people want you to use about them.
Imagine having a job, a house and a family, then the following day, losing your job? Imagine it meaning that you, for the first time, visit a food bank to feed your family? Directors have become homeless, parents have lost their sight overnight and people have been involved in accidents.
Poverty, illness, personal circumstances. How many of us can honestly say we don't know someone who needs a little support? My parents died last year and I felt bereft - what helped my was the good wishes from friends and family, and those I hardly know. You don't have to be a good friend to help someone. Just a bit of support and kindness is all it takes to make a huge difference.
It's telling that sitting writing this piece now brought back the memory of this powerful video produced by the Samaritans last year as part of their "small talk saves lives" campaign. Are you someone who often falls into conversations in queues? I am and I do find that human interaction lifts my day.
At the moment the focus on dealing with the current pandemic is looking at how it affects us financially. Making sure more don't fall into poverty, they keep a roof over their head and food on the table. But the restricted human contact affects how we deal with what's happening to us. Whether it's dealing with illness, the loss of a loved one or struggling with mental health, it's clear that there will be more of us becoming vulnerable.
Be kind. If we were all kind the world would be an amazing place to live in.
This includes not shouting at the customer services employee who cannot help you. I was astounded when I went to the local post office to see a sign up asking customers not to abuse staff. I asked the lady at the counter and she confirmed that since lockdown started many customers had been abusive, taking out their frustrations at the person in front of them.
Insurance firms (and banks!) I call on you to think about your processes. Are they really working for your customers? Are they helpful to the vulnerable or maybe they push people into becoming vulnerable? Now is the time to challenge and review.
On a personal note, I recently took the probate forms for my mother into Nationwide and was told if I didn't have an account with them then the only option for her money was for them to issue a cheque. I then had to wait weeks, not knowing when it would arrive. I would suggest that with many more bereaved relatives about to go through this process you need to seriously rethink this process. (Although, I should say that the Nationwide staff have been really helpful - they are just stuck with a rubbish process).
Finally, let's think about the part each of us plays in the way our society triggers vulnerability. We need to change our attitudes towards those less able to cope than us.
Anyone remember the man unhappy at the suggestion he should pay a few hundred more in tax when he earns over £80k?
I remember when minimum wage last went up and people were up in arms about the fact their coffee would cost more because the wages of the person behind the counter, had increased. Think about how you spend your money? Are you buying the £1 tshirt you know you will throw away within months, from a company that treats is staff poorly (how else do you think they can sell clothes so cheap?)? Look at how companies have treated their staff and customers and let that guide your buying decisions.
Author: Sally Pearce (Conduct Matters Ltd)
Sally Pearce started Conduct Matters in 2014 after 35 years working in the insurance industry. She was originally an underwriter, but since 2000 has worked in dispute resolution and helping Insurance firms understand how to treat their customers fairly. Her experience includes working for the Financial Ombudsman, in the Lloyd’s market and dealing with regulators. Sally is ACII, a qualified mediator and yoga teacher. She is also available for public speaking.