The Cost of Living Crisis: What Can Communities Do?

The latest Resident Voice Index™ report, Cost of Living: Crunch Time is now out, with results gathered from the responses of over 5,700 social housing residents between August and October this year. Comparing these results to those in the ‘Surviving but not living’ report from Spring shows that the financial situation has become harder for many people during this time. There were, however, some glimmers of hope, which we’ve delved into further down.

Key findings:

  • 7 in 10 (69%) said that they were worse off financially than they were 6 months ago
  • Nearly 8 in 10 (78%) were worried all or most of the time about meeting monthly living expenses (10% more than Spring 2022)
  • 73% said they would not be able to cope with an unexpected household expense, such as a higher-than-average household bill
  • 8 in 10 reported being in debt
  • Approaching 9 in 10 (87%) under-35s reported being in debt, compared with 40% of those of pensionable age
  • A third of all respondents weren’t managing their debt
  • Almost one quarter (24%) of respondents were already in energy bill arrears
  • 15% said they were in rent arrears
  • Consistent with previous findings from the Resident Voice Index™, those under 35 are having the hardest time; 87% reported a high level of worry
  • Families are struggling more than other groups – 85% of those with dependants were worried all or most of the time compared with 69% of those without dependants

Shared consequences

The frustration that survey takers felt towards their situations was clear. Even those working full-time said they were struggling. For some, their income in full-time jobs was barely enough to cover rent and utilities. A stark theme emerged from the survey results of incomes simply not meeting outgoings for many people.

The results also made clear that many of those who are fully or partially excluded from work have particularly struggled to cover basic living expenses with their incomes. People of pensionable age, people with disabilities and carers are some groups that tended to report this experience.

Potential for change

There were some answers however, given by survey takers that suggested positivity and the potential to see change for the better. More often than not, the positives came from people supporting and helping each other, or from instances where they’d been able to get help from housing providers, or government and community support schemes.

Cause for positivity:

  • There is grassroots organising taking place all over the UK to deal with food prices and a lack of access to food. This includes community food hubs, pantries and community gardens where residents can grow their own food. For example, St Ann’s Food Hub, a volunteer-run scheme in North London, buys fresh produce at wholesale prices and turns it into food boxes for local residents at a reduced price compared with that of supermarkets. They also give free boxes to households in need.
  • Some housing providers are playing their part in making the sector more sustainable by committing to solar panels and other green technologies. Find out which ones in the report here.
  • Although financial support is available, we were told it is often hard to find. By encouraging people actively to seek support and help from councils, housing providers and government schemes, we hope that this report can help struggling households. Specific information about these schemes can be found in case studies in our report, including Hyde Housing’s Universal Credit Helper and the Lightning Reach portal where people can enter their details and find out what financial assistance they are entitled to.
  • Survey takers reported struggling with food prices, a lack of access to laundry services and a lack of ability to buy new household goods. There are community projects and organisations that exist to help people who are dealing with these circumstances, some of which are listed in the report and on the Resident Voice Index™ website here.

We hope that these examples show that there is help available for some of the key issues that people are facing.

Community Action Plans

One of our main goals with the Resident Voice Index™ is to find insights that can be used by communities and individuals to create real change. We have begun a series of ‘Community Actions Plans’, which turn the insights from our reports into simple step-by-step guides. These guides aim to give specific examples of how grassroots organising can tackle a range of issues that are affecting people at the moment. They are developed by working in partnership with community-led organisations. We hope that these Community Action Plans will be taken up by communities across the UK and shared as widely as possible by housing providers with their residents.

Finding answers to the cost of living crisis will not come from one place. The report highlighted the importance of working in partnerships to come up with solutions. Housing providers and residents, along with other organisations, such as charities or mutual aid groups can work together to create change and to tackle the issues facing communities.