On Wednesday 7th September, iNetwork hosted its latest iN The Loop debate. The session brought together senior practitioners to discuss the pressing challenge of the cost of living crisis. The wide ranging discussion covered many different elements of the cost of living crisis including housing, physical and mental health, food poverty and energy bills. We were joined by three panellists all working in different fields covering housing, adult services and policy and public affairs. The event was well attended with over 40 members from across Yorkshire and Humberside and the North West turning in to listen to the debate.

Over the course of the session, discussion chair Tom Hindmarch, stakeholder engagement manager at iNetwork, posed numerous questions to the panel. Initially Tom asked “Within your role what aspect of the cost living crisis concerns you most?” Martine Boschat, team manager at Wythenshawe Housing Group (WHG) kicked off the discussion discussing the potential risks to people’s physical and mental health. Martine highlighted that this current crisis is affecting a broad range of individuals and not just the most vulnerable in our communities, in addition Martine raised concerns about the knock effects for the NHS. Karen Smith, director of adult services at Blackpool Council, added there is a growing concern for people’s safety as they start to cut back electricity usage of the autumn and winter months. Karen also raised the important issue of the stability of businesses, highlighting the potential knock on effect for the economy and people’s employment opportunities if companies were to fold. Chris Duncan, policy and public affairs officer and Bristol City Council, added the uncertainty around how this crisis could last is making it difficult to plan the level of support and providing people with significant anxiety. Additionally Chris stated that the cost of living issue is not new, however the intensity and complexity of the situation meant it is set to be felt by the majority of households across the country.

Later on in the discussion, Tom asked the panellists what their organisation was doing or planning to do to respond to the crisis. All the panellists were working on numerous schemes to support communities through the autumn and winter months. One of the key themes through all the answers was the importance of coming together with local stakeholders in partnership to tackle many of the key challenges head on. Martine highlighted WHG was purchasing less electricity intensive appliances such as slow cookers, air fryers and low energy dryers. In addition WHG has made small grants available for residents to support residents to pay their energy bills. Karen noted, Blackpool council has hosted a number of community forums allowing residents, community groups, elected councillors and council representatives to discuss measures and support needed in the area. Chris explained, Bristol City Council have been utilising their one city approach to engage and rally local stakeholders around shared aims. Chris stated that this approach has enabled the response to the cost living challenge to bottom up rather than top down.

Many more challenges and aspects of the cost of living crisis were discussed over the hour-long session. Click here to listen back to the cost of living webcast.

iNetwork is looking to continue the conversation around the cost of living crisis, exploring what the public sector is doing to combat the crisis. We will be hosting a seminar styled event with invited panellists from Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Smart meter provider Smart Data Communications Company and FareShare, a charitable organisation working to redistribute unwanted or unused food to those who need it most. Click here to register for our event.