SBA, the Solicitors’ Benevolent Association, has been working since 1858 to help ensure that no solicitor is unsupported in times of need or crisis. It provides help for current and former solicitors and their families when they experience personal financial hardship.
For an organisation with a long history, the pace of change for SBA in the last five years has been unprecedented. In fact, it’s hard to spot an area where things have not changed. The most significant has been a shift away from the Victorian model of “widows and orphans” philanthropy, towards supporting people actually working in the profession, who often have more complex challenges in their lives.
Pressures can build up for people sandwiched between two generations, with caring responsibilities for children as well as older parents. Redundancy is a much more common experience for lawyers these days. Add poor physical or mental health, which can affect anyone, at any time, and the strain of trying to keep homes and families together can become overwhelming.
Last year the SBA adopted the Joseph Rowntree ‘Minimum Income Standard’ as its threshold for assessing eligibility for assistance. This replaced an older system which was opaque and poorly understood. The new system is accessible to anyone online, is simple to use and contributes to a real improvement in SBA’s openness and transparency. It’s also brought consistency to our methodology, without losing the ability to react appropriately to individual circumstances.
Several new partnerships have also been set up in recent years. One is with careers consultancy, Renovo, which focuses on out-of-work solicitors, matching them with a dedicated careers coach as well as providing a wealth of resources to sharpen CVs, enhance job searches and hone interview techniques. SBA now also works alongside Citizens’ Advice Manchester (CAM) to provide eligible SBA beneficiaries with bespoke advice on state benefits. This is on a priority basis where they “jump the queue”, and it’s had a pleasing number of successes. The CAM contract has recently expanded to include debt management advice.
Our central partnership, however, remains with LawCare. In 2016, two out of three SBA beneficiaries had significant health issues, and poor mental health was the most commonly reported. LawCare’s lead on the subject of mental health and breaking down stigma is vitally important, as too is its helpline service, providing the space to talk things through in confidence. SBA supports LawCare with direct funding and will continue in productive collaboration so that no colleague in need slips through the net of our respective services.
The major challenge for both organisations in the future is to become better known to our respective constituency groups. Sharing blogs on each other’s websites is an excellent way to reiterate key messages, celebrate the joint work that we do and assure colleagues that there is a community of effective support available to them.
Tim Martin is Chief Executive of SBA www.sba.org.uk