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Islington Tribune - by PETER GRUNER
Published: 27 March 2009
Former mayor of Islington Margot Dunn on her trike
Savings disappear, heating bills soar: how the elderly are feeling the brunt of the credit crunch

Peter Gruner speaks to former mayor Margot Dunn about the harsh financial reality now facing many of the borough’s pensioners

FORMER Islington Mayor Margot Dunn swaddles herself in layers of home-made clothes before switching off the heating – and swims for free three times a week at her local pool to save on water bills.
Margot, 79, a Lib Dem councillor for Holloway for 12 years until the local elections two years ago, spoke this week about the struggles she has to make ends meet in the recession.
Famous for gadding about the borough on a tricycle, widow Margot now lives on a state pension topped up by a “very small” private annual pension.
Margot, still a governor at Whittington Hospital and a member of the Legal Services Commission, estimates that she has lost at least £1,000 over a year from her “rapidly diminishing” life savings as a result in the drop in interest.
She said: “It’s important to remember that people like me can no longer replace what we’ve put into our savings.”
Her biggest shock recently was a £406 gas bill for just three months from December to February.
Margot said: “I thought I was being frugal by switching off the gas and hot water apart from one hour in the morning, from 8am to 9am, and one and half hours at night, from 5.30pm to 7pm.
“These have been among the coldest months for 30 years and I sat swathed in layers of clothes, including sweaters, a hat and mittens – which I made myself – looking like an Egyptian mummy.
“I switched off all the unnecessary radiators and thought I had saved myself hundreds of pounds.
“Not a bit of it. The bill from Eon was virtually the same as the same period last year.
“Despite having 100 units less than last year I was paying the same colossal sum.”
With a water meter installed in her home, Margot says she saves money by not flushing the toilet so often and swimming at Highbury pool.
“Every time you flush the loo you lose nine litres of water,” she said.
“By swimming at Highbury pool, which is free to pensioners over 65, I save on not having a bath or shower at home and keep fit.”
Islington council has just awarded pensioners £100 discount on council tax, but much of that is being wiped out, she said, with a council tax increase of 2.5 per cent – an extra £5 a month.
“I gave up shopping at Waitrose which I adored,” she added.
“It’s Morrison’s these days. I’ve stopped ordering wine from a wine club.”
When she wants an away day with a friend they go to a main line station’s advanced booking office and “negotiate” for the cheapest deals.
“We paid £2.50 return for a trip to St Albans not that long ago,” she said.
Margot had a much-loved mini car which was trashed by yobs in her street before Christmas. She sold it for £30.

‘We’ve got people coming to us in shock after losing their jobs’

“HOMELESS people today are not alcoholics or drug addicts”, said businessman and part-time Islington hostel manager, Louie Salvoni, this week. “We are now seeing those who have lost everything in the credit crunch. Jobs, homes and confidence.”
Mr Salvoni runs a homeless night shelter two nights a week for men and women in leafy Canonbury.
The project, Shelter from the Storm, has been given free accommodation by an Islington-based property millionaire who wants to remain anonymous.
The centre takes people by referral. The address can’t be given out in case it attracts too many clients and neighbours complain.
Mr Salvoni divides his time between working as a professional coffee machine adviser and running the scheme for up to 25 people. “We’ve been going for about 9 months and there’s a huge demand”, he said.
“I am extremely upset and angry at the numbers of people I meet who are on the skids.”
The shelter provides bed and breakfast Sunday and Wednesday, but is planning to expand to three and later four nights.
Sue McCann, manager of the Margins Homeless Project at Union Chapel, Highbury, who run a night shelter and free Sunday lunches, reports a
similar story.
She said: “We are getting more people who have lost their jobs and are just shocked because they didn’t think it could happen to them. Many quite simply can’t manage on their savings. They may have failed to claim benefits early enough. Housing benefits, for example, can take several months and by that time landlords have kicked people out.”
• Union Chapel Margin Homeless Project
• Shelter from the Storm. Contact Louis 0797 0848 457

THERE may be little in the way of money or jobs in depression-hit Islington, but at least there is an abundance of information.
Advice is available from sources ranging from professional finance consultants, who will charge a fee, to free debt councillors.
Clerkenwell-based independent financial consultant Marco Pietropoli said: “It’s a very worrying time, but if you are in debt the worst thing you can do is stick your head in the sand and do nothing.
“You must speak to your bank and building society.”
Advisers from the free EC1 Connect service visit estates in Finsbury and there are plans to open a similar scheme in Finsbury Park next month.
Advice worker John Warby said that part of the job is door knocking to find people who are not aware of the service.
He said: “A lot of people can hardly speak English. They are desperate and have no idea what to do.”
Advice workers have access to a foreign language line which they dial on a mobile phone when they meet someone with little English.
Mr Warby added: “There has been an explosion of cases since Christmas.”
He said that the aim was to show people that losing a job or being in debt was not the end of the road.
He added: “Benefit support is often available and many of the charities provide good clothes and even furniture.
“Most of all we want to instil confidence in our clients. They need to know that they can survive.
“There are training courses for new careers, childcare and classes for people with English as a second language. That’s a lot of support. “
The Archway-based Islington and City Credit Union has increased its membership by 35 per cent, with more than 300 new members in the past three months – partly as a consequence of Islington council investing £100,000 in the organisation.
Manager Martin Groombridge said the number of people coming for financial advice is soaring.
“People can come to us if they lose their jobs or if they just want financial advice. We can help them deal with creditors. We will even help them with letters.”
The union is noticing an increase in the demand for loans. “We are able to provide up to £5,000 for members with savings,” Mr Groombridge said.
At The City and Islington College Student Welfare drop-in service in Junction Road, Archway, the biggest problem is people unable to pay fees for courses.
“It means fewer people are taking up academic courses,” said Nikki Joof, Centre Manager.
“But a lot of people on benefits don’t realise that they are actually entitled to free academic courses.”
Legal workers at Islington Law Centre, dealing with an unprecedented workload, warn that the average waiting time to be seen is within two to three weeks.

Islington council is running two finance road shows. They are:

• Saturday, April 4, 11am-3pm, Centre for Lifelong Learning, City and Islington College, Blackstock Road, N4.
• Saturday, April 25, 9am- 1pm Whittington Community Centre, Yerbury Road, N19.

Information and advice centres:

• Islington and City Credit Union, 1st floor Caxton House, St John’s Way, N1. 7561 1786.
• EC1 Connect, St Luke’s Centre, 90 Central Street, EC1. 3142 5065.
• Islington Peoples Rights: 6-9 Manor Gardens, N7. 020 7561 3685.
• Islington Law Centre, 161 Hornsey Road, N7. 020 7607 2461
• 36 Junction Road City, (City and Islington College), 020 7700 9333. Every Tuesday, 9.30 and 11.30am.
• Black and Ethnic Advice Service, St Lukes Church (alternate Saturdays). Contact Margaret Fasanya on 020 7251 0000.
• Citizens Advice Bureau starting new telephone phone service April. (Details not yet available.)

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