Volunteers at the Route 23 cafe

In a survey conducted by People’s Health Trust amongst community groups we fund, 66 per cent reported that residents were experiencing more financial concerns as a result of the pandemic.

In this blog the Trust’s Media and Communications Officer, Holly Beattie, will explore the findings from the survey and the role of community organisations in providing vital support in neighbourhoods that need it most.

People’s Health Trust invests in neighbourhoods already experiencing the highest levels of disadvantage in Britain. Financial concerns were most prominent for groups of people who were already fragile in terms of their capacity to withstand further financial shocks.

One project lead reported:

“The communities we work with are some of the most deprived and hard to reach. The pandemic has just added to the financial insecurities our communities face. Some have struggled to put a meal on the table.”

As a result of this added pressure on individuals, as well as the temporary closure of many statutory services, community organisations have taken on the role of providing emergency support to local residents.

At the time of the survey (April 2021), 41 per cent of funded partners were still engaging in providing emergency food packs and 30 per cent said they would continue to undertake emergency aid in the six months ahead.

This emergency support includes food parcels, household essentials, signposting to services and setting up fundraisers for those facing financial insecurity.

One project said:

“We have been involved in setting up and disbursing a crowdfunder to help people pay their energy bills, so that they don't have to choose between heat and food. We focused on energy because many were providing food but not half as many were helping with other essential bills. After all, no point giving people ready meals if they can't afford the electricity or gas to heat them up!”

Some key issues contributing to such insecurity include unemployment, rising food costs, pressures on household budgets, furlough requirements, low-paying work and insecure zero hours contracts.

This increasing financial insecurity is a major concern within these communities. This was the case prior to the pandemic, but of course significantly worsened over the last eighteen months. Most crucially, as COVID-19 restrictions ease and focus turns towards ‘recovery’, the key factors contributing to this precarity remain unaddressed.

In February 2021, funded partners told us that the £20 uplift to Universal Credit meant ‘being able to keep the lights on after dark’. Others have described it as needing to choose between heating and eating. The Legatum Institute estimated that the uplift protected 840,000 people from poverty in the second quarter of 2021. This uplift was removed on 6 October 2021, leaving 5.8 million people £1,040 worse off per year.

According to new research by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 3.8 million low-income households across the UK are in arrears and even more have taken on new or increased debt during the pandemic.

The aim of our funding programmes is to tackle health inequalities by addressing the factors that make us healthy (the social determinants of health). This work covers includes organising for better quality housing, campaigning for secure and well-paid work, providing a space for people to meet and learn new skills, and a huge variety of other activities.

Community organisations have played a crucial role in supporting people during the pandemic but they cannot maintain this level of basic but crucial support. The role of the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) sector should not be to plug vital gaps in welfare, such as ensuring people have access to food and electricity.

The community groups we fund have vital knowledge about the places they live, their assets and strengths, and the things they need. Policy makers must acknowledge the benefits of supporting the VCS sector to thrive and innovate and ensure that, through statutory service provision and equity-focused government policies, households can access and afford the most basic essentials required to live a healthy life.