The Money Advice Service estimates that 22% of UK adults have less than £100 in savings, yet savings are critical to wellbeing, decent living standards, and long-term family resilience. Recent research by the Resolution Foundation (2020) shows that low-income women have the least savings and are worst impacted economically by the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, research is increasingly revealing that it is women more than men who have suffered the worst mental health impacts of the pandemic. The health and social injustices the COVID-19 crisis has exposed have been widely reported, especially the disturbing reality of a death rate twice as high in deprived compared to affluent areas. Yet the fact of these health inequalities is nothing new. It is an uncomfortable truth that it has taken a pandemic with a death toll of 149,000 and counting for this to be considered a national concern.

This is the context in which our women-led savings groups have been operating: using savings as the glue through which women can address inequality and isolation with togetherness, fun and mutual aid. Together the savings groups build financial resilience, but also confidence, skills and collective social welfare responses which have the power to unite low-income women around locally-driven solutions that work for women and families.

Three groups who particularly focus on mums, families and older women are Brinnington Savers, Mums Mart, and Sheffield Social Savers. Since January, they have been able to benefit from support from the Smallwood Trust through the National Lottery’s ‘Frontline Women’s Fund’.

Sharon Davis of Mums Mart says “the funding couldn’t have come at a better time”. While groups have adapted their activities into COVID emergency response work, most of the weekly savings meetings had been put on hold with significant impacts on members mental health and ability to save or access support. This funding followed hot on the heels of the network’s Lottery-funded ‘Go Digital!’ project through which community group leaders have developed the ability to run activities online and support their members to increase their own digital skills for participation. Support from the Smallwood Trust gave leaders the boost to restart savings meetings either online using these new skills, or face-to-face in COVID-safe venues, as well as additional funding to be able to reach older women and families who were really struggling with isolation, or accessing essential items and financial support.

Photo of food delivery
Sharon and the Mums Mart team have supported women and families with food and basic essentials throughout the lockdown.

Georgie Mitchell from Sheffield Social Savers shared how one of the women they have been able to support “is a single parent who is really active with volunteering in the community even though she has a lot of challenges of her own. Her daughter broke her leg just before schools opened up again. She was in a plaster cast all the way up to her hip but the hospital said they couldn’t give her a wheelchair. To get a wheelchair she was going to have to pay £18 per week to rent one which she just couldn’t afford, and without it her daughter wasn’t going to be able to go to back to school. We were able to pay for the wheelchair for six weeks for her.”

Another group (left anonymous here) has been able to support a family fleeing a situation of domestic violence and provide crisis support to an older woman who was contemplating suicide due to months of isolation amidst long-term mental health challenges.

Sharon Davis, Mums Mart Treasurer, recounts how: “We have always had women of lots of different ages participate in Mums Mart – we’re not just mums we’re also grans, daughters and sometimes great-grannies! Some of our longest-term members are now getting quite elderly and one woman in particular called Jean is now 75 and she has no family nearby so during COVID she has completely relied on us for support. She has had a lot of health problems and been in and out of hospital for multiple tests and procedures. She has been isolating on her own at home since March 2020 – a whole year now. We have taken her to appointments and brought her home, we check in on her every week to see that she is ok and just have a bit of a chat, and we deliver her food and basic necessities regularly. She says she doesn’t know what she would have done without us during lockdown.”

Donna Varley, of Brinnington Savers reported that: “The Frontline Women’s funding enabled us to relaunch our weekly savings peer support meetings again. The place we normally meet has been closed since the first lockdown and some of us have been really struggling with our mental health after being stuck at home, some of us have children with learning disabilities and other mental health challenges at home through the school closures. Although they had Education, Health and Care Plans, some were too afraid to go to school even though they would have been allowed.

Being able to meet meant we could also do taster sessions on tablets with some of our members who are at home without internet or digital skills. We’ve been able to buy three tablets and two mobile wifi devices for three of our Over-50s members who developed the confidence and interest to use one independently. One of our members, Christine, doesn’t even own a mobile phone. Christine has enjoyed it so much she has just had BT internet installed at home.”

Christine at her first taster session.

We all want to say a big thank-you to the Smallwood Trust and the National Lottery Community Fund. But also: Community Savers groups are always looking for new communities to do learning exchanges with if you want to find out more. Feel free to contact one of the groups featured on our home page directly to set up an exchange, or contact CLASS for assistance.