As the UK job market and economy continue to struggle, an increasing number of people working in horticulture are finding themselves faced with debt problems. Last year Perennial, the national charity for people working in horticulture and their families, saw a 25% increase in the number of debt clients it helped. The charity also reported a shift toward younger people seeking its help, with 86% of its new clients during 2012 under retirement age.
Perennial provides help and support during traumatic events such as major illness, debt, redundancy, homelessness and bereavement, as well as disability, severe financial difficulty and old age. During 2012, Perennial helped more people than ever, up 7% on the previous year, with a notable increase in clients from the north of England.
Sheila Thomson, Director of Services at Perennial, commented: "We are proud to have helped more people working in horticulture than ever over the past year, but given the current tough economic times, Perennial's help is needed more than ever. Our clients see Perennial's help as a real lifeline and, without it, many of them would see no future. The continuation of our work relies on donations and involvement from the horticulture industry and we have many opportunities for horticulture businesses to get involved and show their support."
Among the horticulture professions helped by Perennial, the highest proportion were qualified and unqualified gardeners who were not self-employed - these accounted for 27% of clients. The next most represented profession was landscapers, which covered almost 22% of people helped. A category that is on the increase is groundsmen and greenkeepers, which now represent over 12% of clients. Another 12% were jobbing gardeners and the remainder was a mixture of estate gardeners, designers, arboriculturists, market gardeners and nursery people.
As well as an increase in numbers, the increase in complexity of individual cases was also very marked in 2012. This has been attributed to the ongoing changes to the benefits system and the impact of the economic downturn on people's personal circumstances. Perennial caseworkers identified £636,000 worth of benefits that its clients were entitled to and assisted them in accessing these, compared to £543,000 in 2011.
The help Perennial offers includes financial support, debt advice, help with housing problems, care for the ill or elderly and support for children of horticulturists. Each individual's circumstances are different, but their contact with Perennial usually begins with a visit from a professionally trained caseworker to help find a solution and offer support for their particular situation. Perennial also offers bursaries for horticulture students who are in need of financial support through its Lironi Training Fund.
Originally established as the Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Fund in 1839, the national occupational charity for horticulturists was re-branded as Perennial in 2003 and now reaches out to anyone who works in horticulture, including landscapers, gardeners, tree surgeons and parks and grounds staff and their families for life.
A lifeline… What clients have said about Perennial:
"To be honest I was at the end of my tether and I thought if this is my life, I don't want it anymore. Perennial took the rock off me."
"I don't know what I would have done without Perennial. I was at the bottom of a pit, mentally, physically and financially. Perennial has been a real life saver for me."
All of Perennial's work depends entirely on voluntary donations from the horticulture industry and the garden-loving public. There are various opportunities for horticulture businesses to get involved and help the work that Perennial does, in particular by becoming a 'Perennial Partner' or by joining 'Investors in Perennial'. The work Perennial does also relies heavily on its teams of volunteers and people are being actively encouraged to get involved this way.