Roundtable: Supporting our communities through the cost-of-living crisis
The innovation of district councils in supporting the vulnerable through this difficult winter was the theme of a DCN/Capita roundtable
The scale of innovation to support communities through the cost-of-living crisis was the subject of a District Councils’ Network roundtable event, supported by Capita.
The event brought together district council specialists in welfare, housing and community support to discuss the techniques and solutions they are using in their local areas to support vulnerable residents through the winter and the continuing cost-of-living pressures.
The discussion highlighted innovative solutions that local councils are deploying. These include mobile community supermarkets to offer cheap food to struggling residents in rural areas and ‘GoFundMe’ webpages to enable local businesses and residents to help fund the provision of electric blankets and slow cookers.
There was a strong consensus that councils’ performances during the pandemic – and their relationships with local partners which deepened at that time – provided a platform for action now.
The group discussed the crucial role of partnerships more widely: the importance of working with other public bodies – including GPs and Integrated Care Systems -, community groups and third sector organisations is paramount; district councils have a vital convening role.
The extent of the rise in demand for services was a prominent theme. Participants agreed that they were supporting groups of residents they had never previously supported – who can perhaps be characterised as the “just about managing”. It is the complexity and changing face of demand (not simply the level of demand) that is posing additional challenges. Several participants observed that their council’s success in targeting and supporting residents most in need was itself stoking an increase in demand through word of mouth. They also observed that a wide spectrum of service areas is experiencing rising demand, including abandoned vehicles and animals.
This prompted a debate about whether existing data and technology is sophisticated enough to identify residents most in need and how we can measure the success of our interventions. There was general agreement that councils have access to a lot of data but that improving the quality of that data is key. For example, official indices of deprivation data are only useful to a degree. To go further, one council has launched a social progress index, with 54 indicators of wellbeing including nutrition, shelter, access to medical services. There was enthusiasm about the potential to undertake predictive analytics to identify communities and individuals most likely to require assistance.
Finally, the group explored the impact of cost-of-living pressures on their own councils and staff. There was general concern about the sustainability of district councils’ work to support the vulnerable given wider budget pressures and the possible need to target interventions rather than unleash a level of demand for services which could not be met. It was widely noted that some council staff – especially those on lower incomes – are suffering as much as other people during the cost-of-living crisis together with the pressure of increasing workloads and the stress of supporting people in acute distress.