PARENTS in Glasgow have accessed more than £700,000 in unclaimed benefits thanks to an anti-poverty project.

Four schools took part in an initial trial working with a financial inclusion support officer (FISO) to help parents navigate the welfare system.

Now the scheme is to be rolled out to all 30 city secondary, an ASL school and two primaries following its success.

Gena Howe, child poverty manager at Glasgow City Council, said the project came about after a series of encounters demonstrated that parents and carers needed support accessing entitlements.

She had been at a meeting of the Calton Child Poverty Network where parents told her of difficulties with understanding and claiming benefits.

In the same week she spoke to a colleague who is an MCR Pathways mentor and was looking for advice to help her young mentee access financial support.

Days later teaching staff mentioned that parents did not know they could still claim child benefit once their children turned 16 so long as they were in full time education.

And, finally, she met with Bellahouston Academy depute head Murdo MacDonald who was interested in introducing anti-poverty measures in his school.

Gena said: "These four things all happened in the one week and I realised there was a real need there for information for parents.

"The parents at Carlton Child Poverty Group suggested a leaflet to be available in schools but that wasn't enough to make a difference.

"I work in the child poverty team and we knew that outreach work has the best results.

"Your traditional Citizens's Advice, Money Matters services, that are in fixed locations in the city, the vast majority of people who use those facilities are single people, they are not parents.

"We don't know the reason for that, but we knew we needed to take this to parents in an education setting if it was going to help tackle child poverty.

"So we looked at a welfare rights officer."

Gena approached GEMAP, a charity in Glasgow providing welfare advice and financial information, whose worker Sharon Graham became the first FISO.

Bellahouston Academy was chosen to take part in a pilot due to Murdo's ongoing work there while St Mungo's Academy was also picked as its headteacher is a member of Calton Child Poverty Network.

St Paul's High School and Rosshall Academy were also chosen.

A letter was sent out to the parents and carers of every child on the school rolls and this was followed up by a reminder text message.

In the first year, a staggering £400,000 of unclaimed benefit cash was accessed by Bellahouston parents with £700,000 in total generated across the four schools from November 2019 to January this year.

Some 70% of people using the service are from BAME communities and Gena said this is a figure they are "working to understand".

Tony Quinn of GEMAP said: "This project demonstrates if we can find ways to open up advice services through trusted partners like schools we can improve the quality of life, wellbeing and financial resilience of families.

"It also shows a collaborative approach is the most effective way to tackle poverty and inequality."

The city-wide rollout is being supported by Citizens Advice, Money Matters and will see nine FISOs work across Glasgow.

There is also involvement from employability services, digital inclusion and support services for fuel and food for families that need it.

During the pandemic, the service has continued to run successfully and has seen increased need with a rise in people who have never previously accessed the welfare benefit system.

Gena added: "The really critical thing here is having access to a worker to support the family and them being in a trusting setting because they trust the school.

"We understand how complex the welfare benefit system can be at times and at the moment there is up to a 12 week wait for benefits advice so this is a service just for families that they can access quickly.

"It's confidential, easy to access and we are seeing real returns from it."