Meet Caroline, from the Advice and Support team.
Our Advice and Support Team (AST) works regionally across England and Wales offering face-to-face or telephone advice to help Freemasons and their family members with a wide range of issues, including helping people to complete applications for support from the MCF, apply for state and local authority benefits, and access support from other charities.
We asked Caroline Wales, regional adviser for Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk, to explain what the MCF can do for those on benefits who are most affected by the rising cost of living.
“There are a surprisingly large amount of people who are eligible for benefits but do not claim them because they are unaware or uninformed. I had a recent conversation with a woman whose husband died after she had cared for him for 10 years. She hadn’t considered or been aware of the benefits she was entitled to – and desperately needed when her cost of living started to rise – for her own financial and mobility struggles. Thankfully, we have been able to help her access Disability Living Allowance and pension credit which she was entitled to all along.”
A key part of the AST’s role is to ensure that people calling the MCF for help are receiving the statutory support they are entitled to. We start by completing a full state benefits check and helping the person seeking support through the application processes, as well as looking into their eligibility for MCF grants.
“An elderly man recently reached out for the first time to enquire about support to widen his doorframes. He has been using a wheelchair for the past 10 years but hasn’t been able to access some rooms in his house due to the cost of home adjustments. I discovered that for 10 years, despite being entitled to it, he had been missing out on Attendance Allowance (£90 a week) for the past decade. I was horrified to think of the support he had missed out on because he wasn’t properly informed. The adjustments to his home are currently underway and we are helping him to apply for the other benefits he is entitled to.”
Another issue the cost of living crisis has highlighted is debt, with 4.6 million low-income households in the UK behind on at least one bill. Dealing with financial pressures as well as poor mental health can feel like a losing battle, as mental illness often makes it harder to earn and manage money, and debt can trigger or worsen conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress.
It is perhaps unsurprising that one in two adults with debts also has a mental health problem.