BLOG: One Coventry Response to Supporting Our Communities with the Cost of Living Crisis – Scrutiny Co-ordination Committee

Posted on 06/12/2022 by Admin.

One Coventry Response to Supporting Our Communities with the Cost of Living Crisis – Scrutiny Co-ordination Committee, a blog by Gennie Holmes, Scrutiny Co-ordinator at Coventry City Council

Members of Coventry’s Scrutiny Co-ordination Committee, as well as numerous other members, had raised concerns about the growing cost of living crisis, particularly on those communities and areas of the city already experiencing inequalities.

Coventry is the only remaining Marmot city, taking a “wider determinants of health” approach to public health, meaning we are already in a strong position to understand the inequalities being experienced across the city, including the widening equality gap as a result of the pandemic.

The Council is taking a “One Coventry” approach to addressing inequalities, bringing partners from all sectors, including the voluntary and community sector, across the city together.  The committee wanted reassurances that this approach was being extended to address the cost of living crisis and that the most vulnerable in the city were able to access the support that they needed when they needed it.

Scrutiny Co-ordination Committee invited the Leader, as well as other Cabinet Members, including Policing and Equalities, Strategic Finance and Resources, and Housing and Communities to report and update the committee. Senior officers presented and there were partner representatives from Coventry Building Society, or University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, the Food Network and the Poverty Alliance Network, a local voluntary organisation supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

A presentation covered the potential impact on Council services, including increased demand for services, recruitment of foster carers, health issues, increase in domestic violence and abuse as well as crime and anti-social behaviour. There was also likely to be an increased demand in business support as businesses and other organisations experienced increased costs and reduced income.

Overall, it is a very challenging picture. The committee agreed that this was a national crisis and that the ability for the Council to respond was limited. However, they were making best use of existing partnerships, building on the support structures and networks put in place during Covid.

Moving forward, key areas of action for Partners are:

  • Equipping people to provide immediate help or action
  • Maximising income
  • Integrated/holistic approach
  • Food distribution/procurement and other food support
  • Shared community and warm spaces
  • Pledges from organisations on actions and opportunities to work together
  • Outputs shared with attending organisations

Member of the committee raised concerns about:

  • There being no new financial support for the crisis and whether this could be a consideration as part of the policy and budget setting process for 2022/23
  • Where to signpost residents experiencing difficulties, particularly in relation to fuel poverty and crisis grant support available and the establishment of a single point of access for people in difficulty
  • Exploring every funding stream possible and supporting organisations to access those funding streams
  • Integrated service delivery not just within the Council, but with partners so messages were consistent
  • Ensuring the delivery of leisure and cultural offers during the crisis to improve the quality of life for residents and support mental wellbeing
  • The importance of the use of appropriate language to ensure that people don’t feel stigmatised or labelled
  • Information available locally and nationally to assist people shop and cook more healthily and economically
  • The use of buildings to provide people with both a warm and stimulating environment without stigmatisation – tying in with other positive activities but linking with information and advice
  • The accessibility of the information available to people who don’t have access to on-line information
  • The on-going communications campaigns being undertaken with partners with a view to ensuring information is available to all communities in the City via a range of methods and using Ward Councillors to help reach all residents in the City
  • Linking in with work being undertaken by the LGA on the cost of living crisis
  • Concerns in relation to energy companies switching people onto prepayment meters without asking them.
  • The need to empower people to access support, working with them to find solutions
  • Support being provided for victims of domestic abuse

Cabinet Members, officers and partners were able to reassure the committee on most of their concerns but underlined the fact that resources were extremely limited with no prospect of additional funding in the future and that the council and its partners were not immune from the pressures of the cost of living crisis either.

The committee supported the approach being taken but requested that consideration was taken to those who don’t have access to on-line facilities in communication campaigns and that hard copies of any information should also be available and distributed throughout the partnership. The committee also sought reassurance that nobody would be stigmatised or labelled for accessing support. Members also pledged to signpost residents to the information and support available.

This issue will be something that comes back to scrutiny again at some point, as Members will want to be updated on progress on implementing the approach presented at the meeting, as well as further data on inequalities and whether what is being delivered across the city has had any impact in protecting those most vulnerable to the cost of living crisis.