A message from Bob Stronge

​Welcome to the latest edition of Advicematters.​
It’s been year now since we entered lockdown and for many it has been a difficult and stressful time: not least for the staff and volunteers working in the Advice Sector. It appears however that some relief from this dreadful pandemic is in sight. As lockdown measures begin to ease and vaccines roll out I am sure we are all hopeful that we can enjoy summer and perhaps even get a holiday!

I am still of the opinion that we have not yet seen the full consequences of the pandemic on people’s physical and emotional health but perhaps as we emerge from lockdown the issues of social isolation and loneliness can be addressed. However, the damage to people’s mental health and resilience will be a major challenge with longer-term consequences - especially given the poor state of our mental health support services. We are also seeing the impact which lockdown is having on the breakdown and stress in relationships. Advisors report that many people are very worried and anxious about their family circumstances and their futures and of course, advisors dealing with all of this impacts on their emotional health too. So we will over the course of the next few months be offering more support to advisors to ensure that they have the resilience to deal with the fall out of the pandemic and the skills to deal with distressed clients.

It is difficult to believe that we have come so far and experienced so much but still managed as a sector to assist so many people. We will need to be able to continue to do so as government support measures come to an end. In this respect we are urging government to continue to make permanent the additional Universal Credit top up of £20 per week. For many families this has been an essential payment which they have come to rely on to meet their everyday needs. It’s not a lot of money and it would be heartless to take it away after people have come to rely on it. I think government also needs to think carefully about how it ends the furlough scheme and at least should be considering a phased approach.

As you know we have all been lobbying to secure funding for the sector and I was delighted that Department for Communities Minister Hargey gave a firm commitment to continue the Welfare Reform Support funding. The funding for debt advice services has also been secured and both will be rolled over for this year. During the year we will engage with the DfC to secure a longer-term funding commitment to the sector to enable us all to plan our service delivery better and give security to staff. We will involve you and keep you updated on this.

Finally, the Board of Advice NI has been meeting regularly to review the strategic and operational structures of the organisation and its relationship with members and will be reporting on that in due course. It’s important that we operate to the satisfaction of our members and that our activities and services reflect the needs which members have. As an organisation we are committed to that ethos and now more than ever it is vital that we all trust and support each other through the still uncertain times ahead.
As ever we are here to support you so please do engage on any matter important to you or your organisation.

Bob Stronge
CEO, Advice NI