Closing the gaps for the most vulnerable this Christmas

St Giles Trust Chief Executive Rob Owen explains how we helping those who fall through the gaps this Christmas and appeals for your support in helping continue this work year round.

"Despite some welcome but long-overdue changes to Universal Credit in the budget, it is still a system that leaves many of our clients in hopeless situations. More often than not, these are people who worked and paid taxes before their lives fell apart. Our role is to give them the help they need to become independent citizens once more.

The benefits system plays a vital stepping stone in this. But it is failing and the problems with it are well reported. Waits for first payments are leading to rent arrears, debts and distress. People without family or friends to help bail them out face the prospect of homelessness and hunger. Factor in the issues that many of our clients are trying to overcome or manage – mental health, substance misuse and hidden disabilities – and you have a system that cannot help the most vulnerable in society.

Our staff and supporters have been collecting items for hampers to hand out to our clients in the most desperate circumstances to help ease the prospect of Christmas with no money, a dead electricity meter and empty cupboards. For the families we support, Christmas can be particularly painful if a parent has to witness their children spending the festive season in cramped, unsuitable housing with few or no presents to unwrap. At the very least, we want to give them the chance to pull a cracker on Christmas morning, have some nice chocolates to share and candles to light.

But ultimately, our aim is to provide more than just a hamper. Our Christmas Appeal highlights the story of Dawn, a young mum who could so easily have faced Christmas on the streets. Her vulnerable mental state meant she could not negotiate the complexities of the benefit system whilst fleeing abuse. With no family to help, our team stepped in to become a surrogate one. With caring, kindly support she started get the help she needed. In short, she was prevented from a downward spiral of homelessness and was able to keep her baby when it was born.

This is a bittersweet story as there are other families we encounter who do not have such happy endings. Our south London HQ has a steady flow of people who have come to us after having every other door they know of slammed in their face and the teams across the rest of the country report similar. What is unsettling is that there are some familiar faces among them of former clients who got their lives back on track years ago but are now starting to slide through society’s safety nets. St Giles Trust is the loyal friend they have turned to once more.

Thanks to everyone who has supported kindly supported our work, we will be giving them the compassion and professional help they need to have a fighting chance of bouncing back. To help us do more, please give whatever you can do our Christmas Appeal 2017. Every donation - whatever the amount - helps us continue this work over the festive season and throughout the rest of the year. From all of us at St Giles Trust, we wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and wonderful New Year!"

Rob Owen O.B.E

Chief Executive, St Giles Trust