Durham business funds community social welfare training

Durham business funds community social welfare training

A family-owned funeral service that has served the local community for almost 50 years throughout East Durham is the latest business to ‘pay it forward’ to sponsor the Durham community sector to access vital social welfare training in partnership with Society Matters.

The East Durham Funeral Service has sponsored a Charity Discount Scheme that makes training more accessible to local charities and volunteers working on the front line in community organisations that could not afford the social welfare training otherwise. Through the scheme up to 100% discount can be offered, with the cost supplemented through the sponsorship which is also matched pound for pound by Society Matters. With their £500 donation this means Society Matters can offer at least 6 people places on Universal Credit or Personal Independence Payments (PIP) training courses, so they can have the confidence and knowledge they need to help their clients to navigate the complexities of the welfare benefits system.

Managing Director of East Durham Funeral Service Philip Maddison was keen to find new ways to support local people, and recognised that Paying It Forward with Society Matters was a useful way to contribute:

“When we heard about the Society Matters Charity Discount Fund, and the invaluable support that Society Matters provides to front line services, we were delighted to help. We recognise how important the services are to really improve the quality of people’s lives within our local area at a time where it has never been needed more due to the pandemic.

As a family run funeral service, proudly serving our local communities for almost 50 years, it is our ethos to support and guide families through their darkest hour and beyond. We are extremely proud to be able to share Society Matters vision of ‘Make Your Mark’ and hope to continue to back such invaluable services now and in the future.”

Lee Booth Trading Manager of Society Matters, who launched the fund earlier in the Summer said “We are over the moon with East Durham Funeral Service sponsorship of our social welfare training – this will make a massive difference to local charities and volunteers. As a social enterprise we have a clear social purpose, and the support of local businesses like the East Durham Funeral Service shows that we’re not on our own – by working together we can really make our mark”.

Lee and Society Matters cic Social Welfare Instructor Adam Matthews have received fantastic feedback from hundreds of people who have already received the training, which is now exclusively delivered through in an online classroom environment to ensure it has continued to add value despite the pandemic.

If you are involved in a local charity or community organisation that would benefit from receiving training in Universal Credit or Personal Independence Payments, but you can’t afford it, please get in touch to see if you can access help through the Pay it Forward Charity Discount Fund.

Click here to get in touch

Covid19 has infected the very foundations of our society

Covid19 has infected the very foundations of our society

Covid19 has infected the very foundations of our society


As we are seeing restrictions lifted and emergency financial help from the Government eased, we take a breath and reflect on how society as we know it has evolved with the impacts of the pandemic; we need to quickly get to grips with the changing needs of society – how people and communities have already been impacted, but also the continually shifting landscape as we already see a second wave of challenges being faced.

If you think in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we really have seen the Covid-19 virus has infected society’s absolute foundations, with people’s basic physical and security needs being thoroughly tested.


Coronavirus has had multiple physical impacts

Many of our colleagues and clients have expressed concern with their overall health and wellbeing as a result of lockdown-related isolation at a very basic level. Layer on top of that concerns with possible and actual health issues both directly associated with covid-19 and either exacerbated by, or caused by, the pandemic, and we realise that not many of us have escaped unscathed.

Food shortages

Of course, a factor that has a huge impact on health is food and nutrition. Reduced earnings has led to a lack of food resources, and this is a really serious concern, with a huge reported rise in families that are going without this basic, fundamental, physical provision. Earlier in the lockdown this in part related to difficulties associated with accessing supermarkets, particularly for those who are at high-risk, notwithstanding the scarcity of food in the early days of the pandemic due to bulk panic buying.

The most concerning impact is a lack of funds, leading to exceptionally high demand for food bank supplies to mitigate this crisis. The Trussell Trust reported a 175% increase in requests for emergency parcels in May, and the struggle continues to worsen. Many who are still shielding and who have lost pay or, in many cases, their employment, face an uncertain future, and those that are still on furlough will be understandably worried that they may be next in line for redundancy as the impending recession looms. The reality is that some people are now putting themselves and their families at risk as the only way they can find to put food on the table. For these people’s lives, coronavirus has served a terrible blow.


The pandemic has impacted on people’s security in so many ways


We are hearing a lot about the predicted economic recession that Government is now attempting to avert, but if we look at the impacts at an individual family level, personal security has taken a massive nose-dive, driven by serious impacts on financial stability.

Universal Credit

The Government uses the increase in the number of Universal Credit claimants as a proxy for measuring reduced income. On that basis the shocking reality is that there have been over three and a quarter million new claims for the welfare benefit since the start of lockdown, with the Government now being forced to invest close to £7 billion extra in the welfare system since the pandemic began, money which is now supporting approximately 10 million families in the UK. This would have been beyond comprehension earlier this year.

Payment delays

As well as claimant numbers soaring, the impact of the well-publicised issues associated with Universal Credit pre-Covid-19 have now touched millions more people, massively impacting on their financial security. The 5 weeks waiting period before the first benefit payment is received has understandably been a major problem area experienced by families who have found themselves ‘locked down’ with extra outgoings, no income and an uncertain financial future. And this really is lose, lose situation. For those who choose to take an advance they then need to pay it back, resulting in reduced benefits for an extended period once their payments actually start, with resulting difficult choices about which creditor must come first; for those who choose not to borrow, the impact comes that much sooner – 5 weeks can equate to 2 months’ arrears in rent, utilities, and a hole in the pocket when it comes to feeding the family. In other words dire straits.

Power and heat

Another basic physiological need is heat – staying warm and being able to cook in our homes. The clement weather has at least been an antidote to heating bills, but with people being at home for longer stretches of time over the months of lockdown, energy use has rocketed. Citizens Advice had  already been warning that 6 million people were behind with household bills, and although energy companies were offering a temporary amnesty on chasing arrears while lockdown was at its peak, they’ve now been given the go-ahead to start chasing payments. This really is going to get very messy.


All of these impacts have a high chance of leading to debt, but there’s more risk to come in the second wave of impacts as mortgage holidays come to an abrupt end and more people lose their jobs after being furloughed. Rent and council tax arrears are already rife. Citizens Advice has estimated that around 2.6 million tenants had expected to fall behind on their rent because of coronavirus just last month, so debt is looking like it will be the new pandemic for society to deal with.

Housing and shelter

Whilst the Government’s ban on evictions during the height of lockdown has eased people’s fears of losing the security of their homes, once this ends on 23rd August a housing crisis is looming. Our team of social welfare advisers and caseworkers with our parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead are bracing themselves for this next wave, concerned about their own and other charities’ capacity to cope with what homeless charity Shelter have predicted to be “a tidal wave of homelessness after the end of August”.

Job security

The increase in claims for Universal Credit is a clear indicator that jobs are disappearing fast. Employment Is a major pillar of society and critical to long term personal stability. When the number of people on employers’ payrolls has dropped by 612,000 between March and May, this gives the clearest sign yet of the looming crisis.  The services sector which covers a range of businesses from law firms and accountants to travel agents and restaurants represents 80% of UK economic output, and it’s the service sector that has been hit the hardest. It saw its steepest downturn in activity since records began in July 1996, almost entirely due to the closure of non-essential businesses and the cancellation of orders.

A recent article in the Independent, The story of the UK’s coronavirus jobs crisis in six charts, presents a pretty stark reality when it comes to the employment market. Some 8.7 million British workers have been furloughed since the current crisis began – around a quarter of the UK’s workforce. Under the terms of the furlough scheme, employees receive 80 per cent of their usual wages, up to £2,500 a month, from the government. A further 2.5 million claims have been made under the “Self-Employment Income Support Scheme”. Both schemes are welcomed and have been vital in supporting society through the challenges faced so far, but they are currently only in place until October, and employers are being asked to cover some of the costs from August as the scheme starts to taper.

It is inevitable that many employers who have been able to maintain their staff so far are going to have to make cutbacks and many jobs are still to be lost. The employment advice and law sectors are facing a perfect storm of unfair dismissals and discrimination cases with a spike already appearing in maternity discrimination cases since lockdown began. Will the Government make the decision to extend the furlough and protect businesses and employees’ rights? Balancing the books is going to be difficult and people will inevitably fall through the cracks that are widening in job security.


So has lockdown rocked society’s status quo?


Let’s be honest, not everyone has faced economic impacts on a personal level, yet, as a result of the virus. Some families have managed to cope better than others. Physical exercise has gone up, credit card balances have gone down and, although on a smaller scale, the heartbeat of normal life for many has continued to beat. However despite people’s personal financial security being robust enough to see them through the worst of this crisis, its psychological and social impacts are far reaching.

The nation is reeling from losing almost 45,000 loved ones, neighbours, colleagues, carers, family members. The horrible reality of not being able to say goodbye, and the suspension and minimalisation of funerals has devasted so many people.  The estimated 30% rise in reported domestic abuse cases since lockdown started is symptomatic of the pandemic. Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day in April as families felt the pressure and victims have become trapped in their homes. PTSD is already starting to emerge across key workers and children, and a recent survey found that some 14 per cent of people aged 16 and above are experiencing a mental health problem “much more than usual”. Extrapolating these findings to the whole of the population indicates that a massive 7.2 million people have experienced problems with their mental health in recent months. The second wave of issues we have identified as being on their way will only add to this.

People’s lives are being damaged. No one will escape the impact of the pandemic altogether – because it has rocked society’s status quo.

Society does matter, and this will be our saving grace

Amidst all of the bad, however, there is still a shining light, because people recognise that society matters. Communities have rallied to protect the vulnerable; hundreds of thousands of volunteers have helped to deliver groceries, pick up prescriptions and check in on neighbours. They have organised local mutual aid groups, helped through existing volunteering networks and offered their time in a host of different ways. Then there’s the overt support we have seen for the NHS and frontline workers, people showing their gratitude in many ways, from donations to clattering pans; we are showing that we care.

This humanity has demonstrated that society does matter, and this will be our saving grace.

But we must still recognise that Covid-19 has infected the very foundations of our society. People need to have their basic needs met to be able to move on in other areas of their lives, so it’s clear that the Government will need to do more to make this happen than an attempt to focus on medium term economic recovery.

Goodwill and friendship can only stretch so far …


Adam Matthews, Social Welfare Instructor


What it means to be a ‘socially responsible corporate’

What it means to be a ‘socially responsible corporate’

CSR? It’s just ‘marketing’ isn’t it?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is part of a bigger agenda for Society
Matters to stimulate and enable Corporate Social Action – encouraging businesses,
and the people within them, to take an active role in driving and enabling
social change.  

But we’ve found CSR to be a subject that can generate a degree of cynicism
– and sometimes ill-feeling – amongst businesses and their staff and, if we’re honest,
amongst the community and voluntary sector as companies strive to ‘do their
bit’ for the local community, or the environment, or charities. It can sometimes
be derided as a thinly veiled piece of marketing promotion or an insincere
attempt to look virtuous, rather than a ‘real’ commitment to the causes the
company is helping.

But the team at Society Matters is passionate about helping businesses to
make their mark through taking social action, and really would argue that there
doesn’t need to be much of a gap between the objectives of sound marketing
strategy and a well-planned commitment to championing social value; that it
doesn’t have to be an either-or situation, rather it is a case of two valuable
business aims that complement each other.

What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

In its broadest sense CSR is an overt commitment by a business being
responsible, carrying out its activities in a way that is ethically, socially
and environmentally appropriate, making a positive impact on their local and
global community and environment.

This can involve an array of activities, starting with simply
contributing to the economy, fulfilling your legal obligations and acting in an
ethical manner towards your employees. It is usually when a business moves
towards more philanthropic activities, though, that it starts to be recognised
as CSR; contributing to charities, creating opportunities for employee
volunteering, addressing environmental impact and initiatives that focus on
other discretionary practices that impact on society.

However, there are many examples of companies who have CSR policies that
have generated Corporate Social Action (CSA) that has not been well received by
customers, seeming incongruous to the purpose of the business or, worse still, like
an attempt to off-set some negative impact with a positive contribution. This
type of action gets labelled as tokenism, fake publicity stunts and marketing
‘spin’ and end up doing substantial damage to the business’s reputation.

You must be more than your promise

The answer, of course, that you make your ‘CSR’ about action – we call
that Corporate Social Action (‘CSA’) to differentiate the intent to ‘do good’ and
the real grass roots action. This can be achieved by making your CSA part of
your product (or service, or experience) rather than something that is added on
at a later date (think of it as part of your total product concept, alongside
your after-sales service or your customer care commitment). This way it becomes
a natural part of your brand, and you become recognised for it. Get it right,
and your business identity becomes synonymous with being a good corporate
citizen and both you, and society, reap the rewards. It is a classic win-win
scenario. This
blog features
6 socially responsible companies to applaud because ‘they
have made it their mission to do good’ and they pretty much all follow this
approach – Ben & Jerry’s ice cream being a case in point, with safe, responsible
business built into their business model, from their working practices to their
ingredients and supply chain.

There is, as always, a different perspective to be had. If your product
is already strong, and selling well, with strong profits and great market
position, why would you spend time and energy on actions that simple reduce
your margins?

The case for
Consumer Driven CSA

The answer is simple; the market is changing and customer expectations
are evolving to make CSA an essential part of corporate strategy – doing good
is good for business as well as society.

Consider the changing needs of your customers. From a B2C angle, there
is clear evidence that customers are becoming increasingly concerned about the
activities that a company undertakes and the reputation that it gains, as part
of their decision making process. Studies show that modern consumers are highly
likely to favour brands that address social problems, prioritise CSA and act in
an open and honest way about these activities.

From a B2B angle, if you are part of a supply chain those downstream from
you may be operating an ethical supply policy and looking not just for
competitive pricing from you, but also for social and environmental impact that
is in line with their policies and brand.  

Now there is a case to be argued that there is a difference between
consumers (or supply chain partners) stating an interest in CSA and them
actually changing their intentions to create different behaviours. However, if
someone wants to have their personal or professional branding reflect their
ethical consumption, they are more likely to do it if the product or service is
already there that matches their need. Cone Communication’s 2017 study suggests that 87%
of consumers will make a purchase if a company advocates for an issue they are
concerned about – and 76% will refuse to purchase if the company’s stance runs
contrary to their interest.

If your customers are now increasingly expecting higher levels of overt social
responsibility from your business, and seeing that as part of the total product
that you are generating, the question is not whether you should address this as
an option for your business; it is a question of whether you can afford not to?

Consistency with Vision and Values

Were it this simple – casually ensuring your CSA matches with the latest
issues to make the news for consumers – everyone would do it. However, there is
another hurdle to be considered, and that is whether your actions match your own
corporate identity? Do your values and vision match your social intent? When
you act, do you act with integrity and commitment because your whole business
is genuine in its direction of travel? Do you truly want to ‘make your mark’? Consumers
exist in a world of readily available information and comparison – if your
actions are not genuine, they will find out and in all probability, you will be
called out in public by them.

However, it is certainly possible for your company to align the values
that inform its operations with those of your customers. Analysing the way that
you work, the way that you impact the world around you, and the way that you
enrich your community,  and ensuring that
they are all heading towards the same goal – this is the way to ensure that
your ‘CSR’ is the best sort of marketing you can have at your disposal;
genuine, committed and resonant with your customers.

At Society Matters we passionately believe that companies will prosper
if they can invigorate socially responsible policy and practice into exciting
plans of action that reflect the mood of their customers. In so doing, every
business can contribute towards a fair society for all and making a tangible
difference to people’s lives.

If you think your business could benefit from reviewing how you can make your mark on society, get in touch to chat about how we can help.