Cost of Living Crisis
Monday 21st of November 2022
On a day that coincided with the Chancellor’s budget statement and all that came with it, including a 7% social housing rent increase and rising energy bills, I met up via zoom with Terry Leech, Customer Engagement Officer at Devon and Cornwall-based Westward Housing Group. Over the course of the conversation, we discussed what the organisation with more than 7,500 customers is doing to help people through these uncertain times.
So, tell us a bit more about the issues affecting residents at Westward.
Westward’s area covers a mixture of small villages, towns and cities that create a specific set of challenges. The lack of adequate public transport is a major obstacle for people. You can’t for example easily go into town to use a foodbank if there are only two buses a day from your village - or on some days none at all.
Public perception the region can act as a barrier at times says Terry, she goes on to say that people’s vision of Devon and Cornwall is of lovely sandy beaches and picture postcard villages, but we have areas of deprivation in the top 1% nationally. The energy crisis has had a significant impact here too with many properties on oil heating which has been difficult for people to afford to keep stocked up. The coming winter and the change of weather can be a huge challenge, says Terry. If we have for example a grid failure which can happen here, then the power can be off for days. If you have no heating and the nearest warm room project is in a local town, how can they get there?
What are people telling you about the cost-of-living crisis?
People tell us they are turning increasingly to foodbanks just to get by, many are people who have never used them before. We have also seen people applying more than once for our hardship fund. It’s a steady build up of people, you see more new faces.
How are tenants working with Westward on this?
We have some amazing people here that work with staff to make a difference. Our Customer Scrutiny Group have just completed a major piece of research into the cost-of-living crisis and made several recommendations on how we deliver help and support.
That’s interesting. What were their findings?
Communication was the main area highlighted by the group. From their research it was interesting to note that many people didn’t think of their landlord as a place to come for advice on cost-of-living issues even though we provide a lot. A lot of suggestions were submitted for those who are digitally excluded, such as having help advice information on our call waiting system and creating A5 guides that trades teams can leave with people after completing a job. We are taking a lot of these suggestions on board as we agree communication is key.
We are also lucky to have some mental health advocates on the group and it was identified how these concerns can affect mental health, especially for men who can often find it difficult to reach out for help. We are providing some extra support to projects that cover this such as some after school clubs. We’ve taken on board that some people prefer to watch and some to read so we’ve made a short film encouraging customers who may be struggling to reach out and talk to us.
Thank you for sharing with us today. Final question for you; with all that you are doing, how you are going to know if you’re successful?
That’s a hard one, it’s so tough out there for everybody. I will be happy if we can say that anybody who comes to us and asks for help, we will be there and help you with practical advice and information. We won’t let anyone lose their home so long as they talk to us and work with us to make a manageable plan.
Caritas Charles, Tpas Policy and Insight Manager