The sharp rise in energy prices has heralded what many call a cost-of-living crisis in the UK. The effects of high inflation can also be seen elsewhere as food costs increase and various strikes occur across the country. The government has made numerous announcements and promises about cost-of-living support for those most vulnerable. The Bank of England expects inflation to remain high for the next two years, only reaching its 2% target in 2024 (Source: Bank of England).
NALC believe local (parish and town) councils can play a key role in supporting their communities through the crisis.
WHAT IS THE COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS?
The cost-of-living crisis is more than high energy bills. As the price of goods and services inflates, wages struggle to keep up. This fall in real income, income adjusted for inflation, taxes and benefits, means people have to make tough decisions about whether to heat their homes or how to feed their families. Increased inflation will affect poorer households more acutely than the average.
The UK’s Office for National Statistics found that half of the adults surveyed in 2022 bought less food in the last fortnight due to higher prices (Source: BBC News). The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated – based on the share of budgets spent on different broad product groups – the annual inflation rate for the poorest 10% of households to be 10.9% in April. By contrast, the richest 10% of households had the lowest inflation rate, at 7.9% (Source: Institute for Fiscal Studies).
Local help to access basic amenities such as food and a safe, warm space is just one of the important ways local councils can help relieve some of the financial pressures. Financial pressure can reduce access to social activity, negatively impacting people’s mental health. This is why local councils must provide opportunities for the community to participate in social activities where possible.
COST-OF-LIVING CASE STUDIES
Warm hubs and spaces
The energy crisis and inflation force families, individuals, and communities to decide between food and heating. The Warm Welcome Campaign provides access to free warm spaces in community organisations, churches, businesses, and local authorities.
Many local councils are working to create warm hubs and spaces in their communities to provide a place for people to get warm and socialise with their community. This support is essential for residents most affected by the cost-of-living crisis.
Local efforts and communities are the driving force behind setting up and running these warm spaces.
Alfold Parish Council, Surrey
Alfold Village Hall is used every Monday from 9 January 2023 between 11 am and 3 pm. The warm hub will provide free warm drinks, biscuits, Wi-Fi, games, and books. Extending the warm hub into February and March is possible if needed.
Barton Town Council, North Lincolnshire
In Lincolnshire, Barton Town Council has agreed to create a Warm Spaces Grant with a £5,000 budget. Applications are open from organisations to fund heating and refreshments for warm spaces, they can be awarded between £500 to £1,000.
Bridport Town Council, Dorset
Various warm hub sessions held by Bridport Town Council provide social activity and a warm and friendly environment for the community. With the rising heating costs and challenging times, you can use these warm hubs to socialise with the community and enjoy a warm space and social activities.
Yate Town Council, Gloucestershire
In partnership with organisations from across the community, Yate Town Council launched Warm Welcome in October 2022. This initiative offers warm and welcoming places to drop in and use throughout the colder, winter months. The free service is operated with several faith communities, neighbouring parish councils and local authority premises at sites across the town. Numerous venues were opened, offering a lifeline for many community members who can drop into these warm spaces to enjoy free meals, hot drinks and other inclusive activities.
Northwood Parish Council, Isle of Wight
In December 2022, Northwood Parish Council introduced a warm space and community hub in Northwood Village Hall. During the cold winter months, this provided residents with free refreshments, support, and the opportunity to socialise with their community.
The warm space will transform into a cool one as the weather gets warmer. The space will still be open to the community to socialise, play games, and enjoy refreshments.
Councillor Martin credits the fantastic support from the community. Catering equipment from St George’s School was provided.
Flitwick Town Council, Bedfordshire
Flitwick Town Council run several initiatives targeted at those most vulnerable to the effects of the cost-of-living crisis. They have taken an innovative approach to warm spaces, attempting to combine cutting energy costs at home with providing entertainment for children. During the school holidays, warm spaces are showing free of charge three different films back-to-back, providing families with a day out and helping them cut back on heating.
The council also runs other cost-of-living related projects such as their popular community fridge which provides food for those in need, or their top up for hardship funds which provided additional financial grants to those most in need.
As prices soar, necessities such as food become increasingly expensive. The BBC reported that over Christmas, one in five adults had eaten either smaller portions or food past its use-by date (Source: BBC News).
Local councils have stepped in to help as families struggle to feed themselves. Many have set up community food banks to ensure that those most affected by the cost-of-living crisis have access to food.
Local volunteers, parish and town councillors, council staff, and residents are working together to help deliver goods to food banks and support them to meet the increase in demand.
Coxhoe Parish Council, Durham
In March 2021, Coxhoe opened a new community pantry. It aimed to tackle the food waste problem whilst providing those needing extra help. It operates like a shop, with residents encouraged to pay as they feel for what they need. Working alongside providers like the Co-op, Fareshare and Sainsbury’s, the pantry collects any food that might have gone to waste but is still fresh. Customers can then choose from available food to curate a tailored package of goods. If customers can, they are encouraged to donate. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the pantry even had volunteer drivers who supported at-risk residents with food deliveries. Other parishes, such as Ipstones Parish Council, have voted at council meetings to donate money to various local food banks to support them over this difficult period.
Plaistow and Ifold Parish Council, West Sussex
The council runs a small, locally operated food bank in their villages. Working with volunteers, the parish puts together supplies and delivers them personally to residents. They also work with the Trussel Trust to provide residents with the necessary vouchers to use a nearby Trussel Trust foodbank. Village stores have also been equipped with collection baskets to encourage shoppers to help others in need in their communities.
Salfords and Sidlow Parish Council, Surrey
Salfords village hall has been transformed into a food bank collection point, where residents who can afford to can donate food and welfare supplies. The council highlights that local food banks have seen increased client numbers and decreased donations. To help support them, the donation process has been made more accessible. Residents can drop off supplies any weekday morning at the local village hall, and volunteers will distribute them to the local food bank.
New and innovative ideas
The cost-of-living crisis has inspired new and innovative ways for local councils to support their communities.
Haywards Heath Town Council, West Sussex
Haywards Heath is demonstrating excellent community spirit in these challenging times. The local community has kindly donated various coats in many sizes (children’s and adults). The town hall is hosting the Haywards Heath Coat Exchange, available to anyone who needs a winter coat, no questions asked. It allows the community to collect a coat if residents cannot afford it or are struggling financially. Find out more about the council's cost of living work.
PARTNERSHIPS WITH PRINCIPAL AUTHORITIES
NALC believes partnership and collaboration between all local government levels are especially vital now. Since schemes, plans and actions to alleviate financial pressures like warm hubs and food banks are community-led. Thus, partnership and collaboration between all local government levels are essential to relieve the financial and social pressures of the cost-of-living.
Milton Keynes City Council
Milton Keynes City Council provides a fund of £180,000 to local councils so that warm hubs can be made available for residents across Milton Keynes. The city council is committed to supporting people through the toughest financial crisis in a generation. Working with parish councils to provide local community initiatives is one of the best ways. The warm hubs planned to be created will provide hot meals, game nights and socialisation for the community.
Surrey County Council
Surrey County Council, district, borough, and local (parish and town) councils have collaborated with the help of faith and community groups to create a network of Warm Hubs across Surrey. 70 warm spaces across Surrey have been set up in a range of community spaces like churches, libraries, and leisure centres. These spaces provide anyone in the community with a free warm space, the ability to socialise with peers, and the opportunity to receive free energy advice.
WHAT CAN YOUR LOCAL COUNCIL DO?
- Provide warm spaces for your community – find your nearest warm space
- Provide clothing banks – find your nearest clothing bank
- Provide food banks – find your nearest food bank
- Share resources, support, and advice with your community
- Support community businesses in your area
- Educate where you can on schemes and grants to assist residents through the cost-of-living crisis
- Ensure everyone in the council is claiming all the benefits they can, for example, the pension credit
- Support your community's mental health by sharing the mental health resources below