Christmas is almost here, the season of goodwill for many but for others it is a time of heartache as they struggle to make ends meet, this year more than ever, says one of Birmingham’s oldest charities, Birmingham Settlement.
“The combination of changes to welfare benefits and rising household costs is taking its toll this Christmas,” says Birmingham Settlement CEO Martin Holcombe. “Our debt advice service has seen record numbers and we now have to turn people away as we just don‘t have the resources to meet the demand.”
Recent figures released by the Money Advice Service paint a similar picture. They report that one in three UK adults say they expect to start 2014 in debt because of spending at Christmas and 1.2 million say they will ask for loans from pay day lenders to fund their Christmas festivities.
“We have put together our top ten tips to help families budget and help them manage their money better, “says Martin, they include:
1. Compile a Christmas budget and keep to it. Work out your spending limit for presents, food and drink.
2. Cut back on unnecessary expenses. Make shopping lists and do not be tempted by bargains. Ask yourself: “If I didn’t need something this morning, do I really need it now?” Be wary of spending in the post-Christmas sales.
3. Buy supermarkets’ own brands.
4. Shop online for cheaper items rather than the High Street, but check delivery costs as these can often put up the total costs.
5. Make your own cakes, bread and Christmas decorations!
6. Ensure that you continue to pay your priority debts such as mortgages, rent, and Council Tax, fuel and court fines.
7. Consider applying for financial help if you are in debt and struggling. Birmingham Council has discretionary top-up funds for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support. Some utility companies have independent Trust Funds – Severn Trent Water, British Gas, EDF and NPower, for example.
8. Do not spend money that you do not have! But if you need to borrow money, be aware of the interest rate and amount repayable. Payday loans are not cheap.
9. Check that you are receiving your correct benefits. You can use online benefit assessors such as “Entitledto”.
10. Write a New Year’s Resolution to control your spending and open a savings or credit union account.
More information from www.birminghamsettlement.co.uk or call 1020 250 3000
Martin Holcombe, Chief Executive of Birmingham Settlement, has been re-elected on to the board of Locality.
Locality is a national network of over 700 inspiring, ambitious and dedicated community-led organisations dedicated to social justice and positive social change; seeing every community as a place of possibility. Through Locality, Martin and his team have supported community improvement projects and led workshops that keep local people informed about how they can help their communities and what changes can be made.
Martin, who is also Locality’s Regional Chair for the West Midlands says he stood for the position in order to continue promoting positive change and to make sure the region has a voice and opportunity to influence at national level.
“Locality provides a valuable opportunity for communities ambitious for change; to create links and learn from each other,” Martin explains. “Together we have the opportunity to influence policy makers and make a difference.”
As CEO of Birmingham Settlement, Martin is well aware of the issues facing his community, and is currently campaigning for energy companies to give one hour of free fuel a day so those on the poverty line are able to cook hot meals.
“Although there are amazing food banks distributing food parcels to struggling families, many of these people have no way of cooking the food that they receive because they cannot meet energy costs,” says Martin. “We want the government to do something practical that will make a difference now, when people need it, to give people at least an hour’s fuel a day to get a hot meal. Locality has been really supportive of the initiative, and we’re thankful for that.”
See the link to the petition here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/56536