One year since our office closed due to Covid-19, we caught up with Destitution Adviser, Jack MacLean, to find out what’s been happening behind the scenes.
Tell us a bit about your job
I support people who have had their application for asylum rejected and have fallen through the cracks. That includes everything from helping clients raise a fresh claim with the Home Office to putting them in touch with organisations that provide food, clothing and accommodation.
The system is really tough. It can take 20 years for someone to be granted asylum. It’s like they’re up against this really ominous opponent in the boxing ring and I’m their coach. I can’t throw the punches for them, but I can cheer them on from the sidelines, find them a pair of boxing gloves and help give them the best possible chance.
What’s the best thing about working for Scottish Refugee Council?
I love the diversity! Working with colleagues and service users that have backgrounds and experiences that are completely different from your own makes it a really dynamic environment.
How has Covid-19 affected your work?
Before, everything was done face to face. Now we’re having emotional conversations with really vulnerable people over the phone – often through interpreters. It’s hard to reassure someone and offer emotional support when you can’t make eye contact.
A lot of the services we’d usually refer people to are experiencing a lack of funding or have had to change the way they work during lockdown. Some just aren’t available.
On the up side, none of our clients are homeless right now. They’re all either staying with friends or have been offered accommodation in hotels – and because they don’t have to travel to our office for meetings, they’re saving time and money.
This situation has also forced us to rethink the way we do things. We’ve streamlined services to make them easier and more accessible. For example, digital inclusion was a massive issue. Lots of our clients didn’t have smartphones. Even if they did, no one can afford a contract, so they rely on top ups. We prioritised this and redirected funding towards making sure clients had phones and internet access so that we could stay in contact with them.
What’s helped you through lockdown?
I’ve been trying to read more for pleasure. I’d recommend Where the Crawdad’s Sing by Delia Owens, or The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I’ve also watched Schitt’s Creek about five times!