The great equaliser


The great equaliser

How a small piece of plastic makes a big difference...

30 September 2021

The great equaliser

JRS introduced a pre-paid MasterCard during the pandemic as a way for refugee friends to have access to the hardship fund and to be able to pay for items safely; as shops stopped taking cash.  It was a huge adjustment for refugee friends. Asylum seekers aren’t allowed a bank account, so many refugee friends had never had a bank card since being in the UK and never used contactless payment before.

Joanna caught up with refugee friend Juliet (not her real name), to understand the impact of the pre-paid Equals card and how the JRS hardship fund is needed more now than ever.

What was it like when COVID first began?
“Everything changed – we couldn’t access going to JRS like we used to go face to face – we couldn’t see our friends the way we used to see them in JRS, we couldn’t eat together the way we used to eat together in the lunchtime, we couldn’t see any of our friends and things just changed suddenly.

“We couldn’t do any activity, like we used to do, those activities used to help us to keep going. It was really challenging and difficult, but we started to learn about the Zoom and starting slowly, slowly started to meet on the Zoom which wasn’t also easy for everyone, because we never used Zoom before, but we had to … it was the only way to communicate so that we started slowly slowly to get used to it.

“It was the challenge we were all facing!”

How was it when you first got the Equals card?
“The Equals card, the difference that it made, it gave me dignity actually, so I don’t have to worry about paying cash. In the beginning it wasn’t easy, because we had to understand what the Equals card is, how it works, and how to use it.

“I learnt how to use it in a safe way: for example, not showing anyone my pin code. The JRS team were always on the end of the phone – or Zoom – to help if I needed it.”

Juliet and three other refugee friends shared the impact the Equals card made in a new video, produced as part of the Stories of Resiliance Project.


With huge thanks to Refugee Action Godd Practice Team, Migration Exchange and the Respond and Adapt Programme for enabling the Equals cards to be introduced at JRS and for the production of this video.

Did it take some getting used to having a contactless card?
“It was a big change, a good change, it’s like giving my dignity back, is what I can say about that.

“It is very good to have the Equals card, as we couldn’t buy anything with cash – only card. We could do our shopping in the safe way, otherwise we couldn’t buy anything. We couldn’t do any shopping, so the Equals card came at the right moment!”

What difference has having the Equals card made?
“I only see positive differences: I can use it safely, I can use it as a sort-of bank account helping me to budget: I don’t have to start counting money when I do shopping anymore. It gives me dignity and I can shop online – which I’ve never been able to do before!

“Thank you!”

Today, please give generously to our Refugee Friends’ Hardship Fund so that we can continue to keep Equals cards topped-up with hardship grants.

Donate to our hardship fund

[All News]


Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310

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