“We’re delivering 4,000 packed lunches to children every day”
Key workers have kept our communities running and safe during the coronavirus lockdown. UNISON Cymru Wales caught up with Jen Griffiths, Benefits manager at Flintshire County Council, to find out how she has been working.
Jen, tell us about your job during the pandemic
My job has changed significantly because of coronavirus. What was a busy job anyway managing Flintshire’s benefits service is now extremely busy.
The work supporting people with benefits has multiplied as so many people have lost their jobs. There’s public uncertainty about what people are entitled to and the council has been promoting the services available and raising awareness.
Staff are working from home taking sometimes challenging calls from the public and their managers ensure they check on their welfare regularly.
Since 30 March, the council has been delivering daily packed lunches to those children entitled to free school meals. Normally, we would provide a list to schools of the children entitled to meals. This has now switched to a delivery of 4,000 children’s lunches to 2,800 households every day due to the schools being closed and the team is working really well.
From 18 May, the council will put money for free school meals and breakfasts directly into families’ bank accounts. We’ve written to the families and this is a huge piece of work as the team process the bank details.
Flintshire has started to look at food poverty and the council is involved in food production in a social enterprise called Well-fed. As a result of the current situation we have switched and escalated our focus to meet the needs of the community — We are delivering 2,500 meals a week to around 500 families across Flintshire. This is a huge team effort including the benefits service; accommodation support team, social services and Flintshire Local Voluntary Council as well as some staff deployed from other areas in the council and some volunteers. Meals are delivered to anyone who is vulnerable in Flintshire — they might be shielding; homeless or can’t do the shopping. We want to be as flexible as possible with the definition of ‘vulnerable’ so we can help as many people as we can.
What’s your view of how public service workers have responded to the crisis?
People are public service workers for a reason — they want to serve the community and they have responded in the way you would expect.
From housing officers to catering staff to managers, we certainly don’t do the job for the money; we do it because we are passionate. People have pulled together and no-one has said “that’s not my job so I’m not doing it”. We rolled-up our sleeves and did what we needed to do.
What’s your message to the government?
I would like the government to acknowledge how important local government is to society. Services don’t run on their own; councils play a vital role and key services are delivered by many people working very hard sometimes behind the scenes and out of the public eye.
Councils often get a bad press but people are doing an amazing job to support their local community.
How are you going to celebrate the end of the lockdown?
The lockdown has split us up as a family. My eldest daughter is self-isolating with her boyfriend and we miss her terribly and I want to give her a big hug. My parents are in the Wirral and I want to embrace them and I want to see my husband’s family too. As a hugger, I have found the lockdown difficult and virtual hugs just don’t cut it!