Our COVID response fund – helping members through the pandemic

UNISON’s There for You charity is reopening the COVID-19 response fund to help members who are struggling as a direct result of coronavirus.

It’s been a tough year for people right across the world, as COVID-19 has swept around the globe – and with no sign of it disappearing any time soon.

UNISON members have been among those facing the daily battle with the pandemic – not just in their work keeping our vital services going, but also on a personal and domestic front.

There for You is UNISON’s unique welfare charity and, in the summer, introduced a new fund to help members who were struggling financially as a direct consequence of the new coronavirus.

The first round of the COVID-19 response fund ran from May to July and distributed over £250,000 in grants to individual members in financial difficulty due to the pandemic.

Such grants have made a massive difference.

Carol (not her real name) is a paediatric nurse who lives with her partner and three school-age children in their own home in the North West.

When lockdown came, she found herself working longer hours, while her partner was furloughed on 80% of his usual pay.

“Bills went up – the shopping bill increased a large amount,” she explains.

“One thing built up on top of the other. Spending on the food and the kids as my partner tried to occupy them at home … extra cooking and washing too.”

Although her own earnings had increased slightly with the additional work, Carol’s transport costs had also risen, adding further pressure to the household budget.

She’d worked to reduce her credit card bills and the family’s energy supplier “gave me a payment break on bills – it was good they did that, but then the bills went up by £40-50 a month” after the payment break ended.

Then there was the council tax bill.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the family washing machine packed in.

Stress and worry

“I felt like I was going under,” she says. “I was so stressed … it just felt like it was going to get worse and worse.”

It was then that Carol saw from a UNISON email that, as a member, she could apply for one of the special COVID grants. She downloaded an application form and sent it off. That took care of the washing machine – and further grants lifted the pressure off with the energy bills and council tax.

“I was really grateful for the help,” says Carol, adding that it meant a great deal.

After lockdown eased, it was “nice when we could go out as a family again” – particularly for all of them to enjoy taking the family dog for a walk together.

But as regional and local lockdowns and restrictions have come back into play, Carol and her family – like so many others – face new difficulties. When she spoke to UNISON, her partner was back at work, but one of the children had been sent home from school because another pupil had tested positive for the virus.

Knowing that Carol is not alone and that many of our members face a difficult winter – and thanks to generous donations from UNISON and the CHSA (the COVID-19 Healthcare Support Appeal*) – the charity is now delighted to be announce it will re-open its COVID-19 response fund on 16 November.

Grants of up to £500 will be made to help members in financial difficulty as a result of coronavirus. Grants can support with day-to-day living costs: for example, if you or your partner are furloughed or shielding and relying on statutory sick pay.

They can help you through loss of employment due to redundancy or loss of working hours or a second job, or towards housing costs like rent, mortgage or council tax arrears that have accrued since March.

Online applications will open on 16 November and can be accessed here – make a date in your diary to apply, as we expect this limited fund to be in high demand.

*CHSA (COVID-19 Healthcare Support Appeal) is a time-limited charity that is making grants to organisations helping frontline healthcare workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Grants are available to organisations helping individuals impacted directly as a result of COVID-19, either facing financial hardship or struggling with mental health related issues.