When the safety net fails: Experiences of navigating local support services during the cost of living crisis
In Winter 2022/23 we surveyed and interviewed people of Shropshire to find out about the impact of rising costs on their lives. The people we spoke to told us they have to make tough choices with their money all day, every day, with no room for errors.
“We’re in a position where the income coming into the house is way less than the bills going out. We have been in an immensely difficult position for a very long period.”
For those we spoke to, this balancing act was often impossible. It was common for people to have gone without essentials such as adequate shelter and food.
In this report, we explore learnings from conversations we had on the local support system in Shropshire, along with recommendations for how we can work together to best support residents facing financial crises. By sharing lived experiences, we want to raise awareness of the stigma people face when accessing support.
Key themes that emerged from this research are:
- Navigating the social support system is not an easy task for people in Shropshire.
- Stigma is huge, but positive experiences of support can help to alleviate it.
- Not Having access to enough support has far-reaching implications for people’s lives.
- The cost of living is hitting Shropshire harder because of its rurality.
- The national safety net sets context for local support.
Based on those 5 key areas we recommend:
Shropshire needs a coordinated approach if we are to support our residents effectively.
- Our local system needs to effectively triage those seeking support.
- Shropshire’s key forum for partnership working, the Social Taskforce, must continue and be adequately resourced.
- Ongoing training for staff and volunteers to ensure they feel confident in helping people to navigate the system.
- Data sharing between organisations to help proactively identify local residents who may be in need of support.
Support system design
Local services should be designed to protect people’s dignity and help individuals to come forward for support.
- There should be multiple points of entry to access support. There must be alternatives to digital, and some face-to-face support available in each town.
- Services should be trauma-informed and raise awareness of the challenges and stigma caused by financial difficulty.
- Review and improve the design of application systems for local support to ensure it is distributed fairly. Clear and transparent criteria for local support schemes and simple and accessible forms are particularly important.
- There should be a preference for a ‘cash first’ approach when delivering local crisis support.
Recognition of the value of the local voluntary sector
The voluntary sector plays a vital role in local support systems, but resources are needed to be able to do this.
- Invest in building trusted relationships across sectors. Clear communication and recognition of the expertise, professionalism and reach of the sector will help to make sure that all players in the local support system feel like equal partners.
- Identify funding for local advice services. Local advice services bring more money to the local economy by encouraging uptake of underclaimed benefits. They also save other services money by preventing people from falling into crisis and costing the local system more in the long-term.
- Funding for the voluntary sector needs to be future proofed, to ensure the sector is able to recruit and retain the skilled staff it needs.
Advocating for ‘big picture’ change
While there is much change that can be effected at a local level, it is important to make sure the wider context of the challenges we face is not forgotten.
- Local leaders and decision-makers should advocate for changes in the funding formula for rural areas to ensure it accurately reflects the needs of a rural population and the additional costs of delivering services in rural counties.
We want to thank everyone who engaged with this research project. Most of all those who agreed to be interviewed. We recognise that sharing your personal experiences and perspectives was not easy. We want to thank you for your time, courage and openness.