The Seafarers Advice and Information Line (SAIL) has appointed a new manager and he’s planning some interesting developments. Michael Edwards joined SAIL, the specialist Citizens Advice service for seafarers, at the beginning of October last year and has now completed 100 days in the job. Michael brings 20 years’ experience of working in the charitable sector, including supporting the homeless in South London and managing a statutory mental health advocacy service for MIND in Croydon.
Talking about his background, Michael explained the connections:
“Over the course of my career I’ve worked with some of the most challenging and complex cases in the country, helping some of the most vulnerable members of society to understand their choices and assert their rights, empowering them to move forward in their lives and making sure their voices are heard. So I understand the issues faced by marginalised groups and I understand what it’s like to be on the front line of service provision. By bringing that experience to SAIL I believe I can help the service meet the current challenges and extend and develop the support we provide for clients.
Michael’s priorities for the first 12 months include:
- Meeting service users to find out what they need from SAIL and what works best for them
- Raising the profile of the service so that every seafarer in the UK knows where to go for help
- Making the service available to those who don’t currently access it
- Supporting the SAIL team so that their mental health is protected and they can continue to deliver the high quality service they’re renowned for.
“What drew me to work in the voluntary sector is that no two days are the same and you know that what you’re doing makes a huge difference to those who need it most. My role at SAIL is no different. SAIL provides such a valuable service and I thrive on the variety, but I’m also acutely aware of the toll the challenges place on the advisors who are on the front line of service delivery. I want to use my past experience in mental health services to create a culture here where staff well-being is a priority. That will be better for them and better for clients too.”
One of the most pressing issues for SAIL’s clients at the moment is the cost-of-living crisis.
“Debt and benefits continue to be the priority issues for clients but the cost-of-living crisis is just compounding the problem. For the families we work with there’s just no light at the end of the tunnel,” said Michael. “The margins have been pushed as far as they can go and people are going without. But there are levers we can pull, and funds we can access – we can always find a way to help in emergencies and then we work with our clients to help them secure a firmer financial future.”
As well as a new manager there is now a new senior team in place at SAIL. Daniel Barrett joined in October 2022 as a Senior Advisor bringing a wealth of experience from advice services across the public and voluntary sectors. Teresa Walshe joined in November 2022 as a Debt Casework Supervisor. Teresa has previous experience within debt casework supervision and brings years of advice service, benefits and debt experience to the role.
And the new team are making their mark. Daniel Barret recently attended a cross agency meeting with the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) about the Shellfish crisis in the North East. SAIL has been contacted by shell fishermen in the area who need debt and benefits advice as the crisis kills off their catch. Daniel briefed Defra officials about the impact of the crisis on fishermen’s livelihoods and explained how SAIL advisors have been helping fishermen and their families whose income has been badly affected. He said:
“We work with them to understand their situation, prioritise their debts and help them access as much support as possible. We’re also using clients’ experience to feed information back to policy and decision makers as part of Citizens Advice research and campaigns work.”
SHELL FISHERMEN CASE STUDIES (names have been changed)
Ben was working as a self-employed share fisherman up until last year but was forced to stop work due to the shellfish crisis. There was nothing to catch and no money coming in. He borrowed money from his mum (£5,000) and aunt (£2,000) but had no other debts.
Ben is now working full time onshore but money is very tight as he’s having to pay back his debts. He has two daughters who live with his ex-partner, but he’s struggling to support them. With Christmas coming up he can’t afford to buy presents for his children and asked SAIL if there was any financial assistance he could get.
SAIL advised Ben on benefits and debt and made a referral to a charity for help with the cost of the children’s Christmas toys. SAIL also made an application to the hardship fund for this client.
Charlie is a share fisherman and has been for over 19 years. He has partially retired and receives his state pension, but he still works. He says that due to the shellfish crisis there are no crabs to fish and he is losing income. He came to SAIL for advice.
Charlie wanted to know if he was eligible for the shellfish grant as he was finding it hard to meet his daily living costs. SAIL gave him benefits advice and referred him for charitable support via the shellfish grant administered by the Fishermen’s Mission in the North.
These are just two examples of the difference SAIL can make to seafarers in need of advice and support on a wide range of issues, wherever they are in the UK and whatever their role. To contact SAIL call 0800 160 1842 or visit www.sailine.org.uk for more information.