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Multiple long-term conditions

Debt advice for people with long-term health conditions

The Financial Shield is a new approach to supporting people with health problems and money worries by offering debt advice ‘on prescription’ through the Back on Track programme.

What we’re doing together

Financial problems have a negative impact on people’s health, and poor health often has a negative impact on someone’s financial situation. Once people become locked in this toxic cycle of poor health and financial insecurity, it can be extremely difficult to get out.

The Financial Shield is a new approach to supporting people with health problems and money worries by offering debt advice ‘on prescription’ through the Back on Track programme. Developed in partnership with the Centre for Responsible Credit, it was devised in 2020 during the first months of the pandemic, to address rapidly rising levels of debt and health issues.

Through GPs and a network of community organisations in Southwark, the programme reaches out to people with long-term health conditions to offer support with financial issues. Doctors’ surgeries also display information to explain the service to their patients. People find their way to money and debt advice services which maximise income and restructure finances, with the help of Link Workers that work with social prescribing teams.

At the same time, the Financial Shield brings together major creditors in our area – like Councils and housing associations – to coordinate their debt recovery approaches around what is best for each person’s circumstances. The programme also provides a ‘breathing space’ function, where people being helped have debt recovery actions paused while support is put in place.

This new support infrastructure was created in partnership with Primary Care Networks, local authorities in Lambeth and Southwark, Citizens Advice Southwark, Age UK Lambeth, and several housing associations.

Although originally developed during the pandemic, the Financial Shield team are now finding that the cost-of-living crisis is also having devastating impact. Caseworkers report that many people’s budgets are still in the negative even after receiving all relevant benefits. Nevertheless, we are making real progress – in improving people’s financial health, in working out how an effective model can be implemented and replicated. As a result, the pilot will now be extended until the end of March 2023.

Aims of the partnership

There is strong evidence that money worries can cause and worsen mental and physical health issues. The stress of being in arrears can lead directly to conditions like high blood pressure and poor sleep, both contributing factors to chronic health problems.

Our partnership treats the need for financial support as a health issue, aiming to address people’s mental and physical health by improving their financial wellbeing.

By centring health when it comes to supporting people with money worries, we want to trial a new way to identify people with health problems who may not have otherwise sought debt advice. We want to see how hands-on support can improve a person’s financial situation and evaluate the impact on their health.

We also want to help develop the business case for creditors to work together and integrate debt cancellation into their regular activities. If successful in making sustainable improvements to people’s finances and health, the Financial Shield aims to create a tested model for support that can be replicated in other boroughs.

Connection to our strategy

Through our financial health portfolio in the multiple long term conditions programme, we want to understand the ways in which support on finances can improve health. This is part of the programme’s overall mission to tackle the development of health conditions by improving the social determinants of health like housing, work, and finance.

As of Spring 2022, the multiple long term conditions programme reviewed its focus to consider the devasting effects of the sharp rise in the cost of living on those from minoritised communities on the lowest incomes. The Financial Shield was born out of urgent need during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic and must continue and evolve in order to address a new, urgent health crisis resulting from the vast increases to the cost of living.

Creditors, health agencies, public commissioners and other funders have an urgent incentive to act. By working in coordination, we can, and must, do more to help people living on low incomes with health conditions as the current health and economic crisis unfolds.