If we can’t tell the story about the scale and impact of financial insecurity and debt at a local level we won’t have the actions in place to tackle it.
Without a clear story even well intentioned local authorities and health organisations can end up taking a piece meal approach to trying to respond to need.
So, one local authority might put significant investment in welfare rights provision, another in food banks. A Clinical Commissioning Group in one place will fund welfare rights advice for people with mental health problems while another may not.
Despite government imposed austerity there is still a point to taking a more coherent approach – there are things we can do to help people access the welfare benefits they are entitled to from DWP and as importantly there is a continued to need to ensure that people are supported in resolving personal indebtedness.
I am not arguing that resolving financial insecurity and poverty is something that is solely within the gift of local players. However, there are actions that can be taken and by taking a coherent approach this exposes areas where Government Policy needs to change.
Lacking a clear narrative – lets call it a Local Financial Insecurity Strategy means that:
- links with other issues are not made – for example local housing, health inequality and adult social care pressures.
- money is wasted on public health prevention strategies by failing to recognise the impact of financial insecurity and debt
- it is harder to develop inclusive strategies to support people who find it hard to access the job market such as those with mental health problems. So, these initiatives may not include wrap around provision to ameliorate job insecurity and low wages.
- investment in supportive services at a local level are piecemeal, adhoc and naive. For example, it is easy to believe that the solution for the need for welfare advice is to invest in social prescribing without recognising that entry level benefits such as Employment Support Allowance or Personal Independence Payments often require expert, intensive and ongoing support and advocacy to help claimants fight their way through the system.
Developing a more coherent story
I am currently heading up a small piece of work which is funded by the Health Foundation which aims to develop a framework that will enable places to develop a more strategic approach to addressing financial insecurity and debt.
The programme is being coordinated by the Royal Society of Public Health in partnership with the Faculty of Public Health.
We will be working in partnership with up to three local authorities in England. We also have ONS, Public Health England, Step Change, Citizens Advice (national) and the Institute for Health Equity involved.
First, with one exception there is no data set which provides granular and real time data on levels of financial insecurity and debt in populations. The one exception is probably Experian – currently advertised on the television by Marcus Brigstock. I wrote about Experian and their data – a couple of years ago here.
It is unlikely that we will be able to develop an approach that has this level of granularity and focus because local authorities have to pay Experian for this data.
Nonetheless there is a reasonable evidence base that might allow us to produce a framework that by using synthetic estimates might give a best possible view on the financial insecurity and debt pressures within specific populations.
Second, we tend to focus on geography – and this may be valid particularly where financially insecure populations are concentrated in particular areas of local authority.
However, it might be as good to focus on particular communities of interest who are experiencing financial stress – I wrote about people who have experienced severe trauma in a recent blog here. But this also applies to people with mental health problems, cancer, head injury etc. This approach has the potential added advantage of developing shared ownership with other systems such as the NHS.
Third, I think don’t think that we need something really exact – frankly some credible data, clarity about about population size and some true stories will be better than what we have now and will help local decision makers develop a clearer approach – this is all possible! See the blog I wrote on food banks and welfare rights.
What do you think?
Declaration of interest – I am chair of Citizens Advice Sheffield