To deal with this tidal wave, we need to ramp up our support

Paperweight performs a vital service as we struggle to cope

February 17, 2021 12:23

The mental health fallout from the pandemic, or as it is called, The Other Epidemic, is huge. Every week, yet another survey confirms the bleak picture. A number of factors are at play, but the dramatic growth in unemployment and business failures is helping to drive up the numbers. 

Six years ago, I was involved in a business that had to close. It was hailed as the world’s number one kosher restaurant, with critical reviews and a listing in the Michelin Guide. I was certainly not prepared for the fallout that came: making ten loyal staff members redundant, dealing with understandably angry suppliers and then the dramatic impact on our family’s finances. Add the enormous shame I felt towards all those I had let down and it’s understandable that it took its toll on my mental health.

Ours is a community thankfully steeped in financial success, but sometimes this success can be too much a measure of self-worth. I have no doubt that the stigma of financial failure holds many back from seeking help fast enough.

The economic fallout from COVID means that many in the middle class are having to come to terms with claiming unemployment benefit for the first time and even accessing food banks. With some projections suggesting that unemployment will soon reach 3 million, several thousand more people in our community could be out of work. Add to this those family members already affected by the loss of a loved one to COVID and close to 20,000 individuals amongst us may be impacted. 

There are, of course, a number of communal organisations already addressing these challenges, but this is a tidal wave. Demand for support has rocketed in the last year and shows no signs of tapering off. If anything, it’s going to get worse. We need to ramp up our support for those charities operating on this frontline.

One of these charities is Paperweight, this year celebrating its tenth anniversary. It helps people with their paperwork. I know it sounds mundane – like a bit of book-keeping. It is anything but. 

Paperweight helps people when they are at their most vulnerable – after a bereavement, in the middle of a divorce or perhaps a person who is disabled and is struggling to get the benefits they’re entitled to. They have 200 caseworkers in London, Manchester and Gateshead, ready to offer free advice.

Their clients are often overwhelmed by all that is going on in their lives, and have neither the emotional wherewithal or the expertise to deal with the mass of financial and legal matters they are facing. Looking back, I wish I had known of them in my time of crisis. 

Paperweight helps its clients – for a few weeks, or months, or for however long it takes. It is life-transforming work, as this recent case illustrates. 

Last April, Shelley’s husband David was one of the first hospital workers to die from COVID. The day after, one of their sons was in a car accident that left him paralysed below the waist. 

A campaign by one of David’s surgeon colleagues and others led to Health Minister Matt Hancock announcing the compensation scheme for health and care workers killed by COVID. David’s photo was even featured in the accompanying publicity.

Under the scheme, his widow Shelley was due to receive £60,000 compensation. In such tragic circumstances, you would think the process would be swift and sympathetic. After several weeks of failed attempts, emotionally drained from the loss of her husband and the injuries to her son, Shelley contacted Paperweight. 

Their caseworker Roger then spent six months on calls, video conferences, emails, written submissions and even enlisted the support of the local MP, before getting the funds released to Shelley so that she could pay for the necessary adaptations to her disabled son’s flat.

[Full disclosure: I am very proud to work as a consultant to Paperweight, as I have done for some twenty other communal charities.]

Right now, hundreds of Shelleys in our community are turning to Paperweight. Demand for the charity’s support and advice has more than tripled in the last year and continues to grow. 

This Sunday, to strengthen its ability to support all those in need, Paperweight is holding a 36-hour appeal entitled, Lightening the Load Together. Thanks to the generous support of a group of donors, every donation will be matched, doubling their impact.

Paperweight is also bringing all of us some light relief from the lockdown. At 8pm on Sunday, live from New York, Modi, the Israeli-American comedian who The New York Times have called, ‘The next Jackie Mason’, will entertain us. Reserve your free place now at



February 17, 2021 12:23

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive