The new financial tools supporting those hit hardest by Covid

Tech helps the thousands trying to navigate jobs, benefits and the end of education in the shadow of the pandemic

Rebecca Goodman
Wednesday 19 May 2021 07:00

By now you really won’t need us to tell you that the pandemic was devastating – from lives lost to livelihoods destroyed.

In financial terms alone, the economy shrank by a record 9.9 per cent last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. The overall decline in output was more than twice as bad as the 2009 recession.

With the UK now reopening, and further relaxations of the rules this week, rapid recovery is widely expected, thanks in part to the vaccine rollout and the government’s furlough scheme, which has saved millions of jobs.

However, when that closes at the end of the summer, unemployment is predicted to rise.

Younger people – those aged 18 to 24 – and those earning between £20,000 and £30,000 are twice as likely to have been made redundant or furloughed as those over 45 or those earning more than £30,000, according to new research from the charity Nesta.

To help those affected, companies and charities have turned to tech.

One of those is Beam, a social enterprise that helps homeless people to learn new skills and find employment. In response to the pandemic, it created a new digital hub, which will be publicly launched in July, to help disadvantaged jobseekers to find work after Covid.

Its support services include help with completing online applications and publishing lists of employers looking to recruit.

Disabled people were disproportionately affected by the pandemic: of those currently out of work or unemployed, 49 per cent have not had a job for more than six months, against 31 per cent of non-disabled workers.

Evenbreak, another social enterprise, which is run by and for disabled people, created a “career hive” in February this year especially for those looking for new or better work. It offers bespoke careers coaching, networking events and lists of available jobs.

Jane Hatton, founder and CEO, said: “To our surprise, this service is the only one of its kind in the UK, and our candidates tell us it is vital and much needed. It will offer even more innovative services to more people in the coming months.”

There has been a huge surge in people claiming benefits in the past year. Universal Credit numbers have doubled since the start of the pandemic, surging to 6 million at the start of the year, according to government figures.

However, the system has continually faced criticism for long waiting times and delays in people receiving money. The charity Turn2Us has created a digital grants platform that uses open banking and anti-fraud technology to speed up the process, reducing waiting times for financially vulnerable applicants. 

Jo Kerr, director of impact and innovation at Turn2us said: “Our digital grants platform enables people in financial hardship (including millions who have lost their jobs or are struggling to pay their bills) to apply for support more quickly and securely, receive a grant decision sooner and get on a faster road to financial recovery.”

Students and young people have also been one of the worst affected groups. This is especially true of students looking for internships and work experience placements, many of which have been cancelled because the pandemic has changed how we work and forced many people to work from home.

Udrafter, an online platform where businesses can hire students and graduates to carry out paid internships, allows students to see internships listings free, and gives them access to a network of employers.

Daryll Morrow, founder of Udrafter, said: “Our automated online technology is targeted to help young people studying or recently graduated from higher education at college or university in the UK, with a particular focus on those whose employment status has been badly impacted by Covid-19.”

The companies here are just some of those shortlisted in Nesta’s “recovery challenge”, a project started last year to improve access to work for people hardest hit by Covid’s economic effects. The companies have received £150,000 to develop their financial tools further, and two finalists will go on to receive £200,000 later in the year.

Tris Dyson, managing director of Nesta Challenges, said: “There is an urgent need to get people back into work as soon as possible and prevent this becoming entrenched with all the mental and financial consequences that job insecurity brings.

“While we have seen numerous innovations that aim to support those whose jobs and money have been impacted by the current crisis, we need to ensure that the solutions can reach those who need them most – quickly.”

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