The Cost of Living Crisis: How Are Cities Responding and What Policy Tools Work?

This Thursday, 20th October 2022 at 3 pm BST (UK Time), IPPO Cities hosts a free, online roundtable event on the cost of living crisis.  Our expert panel will feature speakers from the Centre for Cities, Glasgow City Council, and Westminster City Council discussing impactful actions that city leaders and policymakers can take in the current crisis.  The panel will share their insights and examples of best practice, as well as offering useable takeaways for the IPPO Cities audience.

Jeremy Williams

The ongoing cost of living crisis provides an unprecedented challenge to cities and localities already struggling with the dual challenges of rebuilding from the pandemic and confronting the broader unresolved structural issues that Covid itself magnified.  This context is particularly acute In the United Kingdom, where urban policymakers are negotiating the need to provide services and support to help residents through the current emergency without the necessary local autonomy to raise revenue.  Within this context, calls are frequently made for national governments to provide more funding for local authorities to institute both immediate and longer-term support projects.

Fast-Moving Responses and Access to Services

While such calls are to be welcomed, city and regional policymakers still have to respond to the situation as it currently is. This sees them navigating a fast-moving crisis in a constrained fiscal environment while needing to deploy solutions from within the existing policy toolbox.  Against this backdrop, organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in addition to re-iterating the need for central government support, note the importance of implementable local actions such as ensuring services on the ground are easy to access such as the benefits system, financial help, mental health, and GP services.  They recommend that information about these services should also not be confined to online resources, and that priority should also be given to helping families achieve full digital access.  To further encourage take-up, behavioural scientists at Hertfordshire County Council have also set out insights on how residents can be encouraged to access exiting support services, including improving access and reducing stigma on accessing them.

Partnership Working and Existing Strategies

Meaningful partnership working is also key in responding to the crisis at a local level.  This includes building and maintaining  relationships between local authorities and local stakeholders, which is important for building social capital through areas such as volunteering.  Connecting citizens in need to relevant organisations is also vital, with organisations able to follow Worcester City Council’s example in producing an extensive list of contacts of third sector organisations relevant to the crisis.  The Local Government Association also set out examples of how local authorities are adapting existing policy and strategy work to the ongoing crisis here, including examples of the enhancement and adaptation of existing anti-poverty work.

Food Insecurity and Warm Banks

Food insecurity has also been identified as a key element of the ongoing crisis, with one in four families now regularly skipping meals and up to 4 million children living in homes without adequate access to food.  This, combined with rising energy prices, sees city officials seeking to provide emergency solutions for those forced to choose between nourishment and warmth.  In this case, the provision of food banks, whose use became normalised during years of austerity, have been joined by the a proliferation of “warm banks”.  This national directory of warm spaces proves useful in providing a snapshot of where citizens can go to get heat.

Geographic Inequalities

Just as Covid both exaggerated and illuminated existing inequalities, so the ongoing cost of living crisis magnifies existing disparities between different areas of the country.  At the event, Guilherme Rodrigues of the Centre for Cities will present an overview of that organisation’s extensive work on the current crisis, including setting out potential actions to combat it. As well as calls for fruther activity by central government, this also involves the need for longer-term initiatives such as energy efficiency retro-fitting, and a meaningful implementation of the Levelling Up agenda.

Learning from Covid and Instituting Support

The panel will also feature John Sherry of Glasgow City Council, who has been instrumental in transferring that authority’s know-how from the pandemic into initiatives to combat the current crisis. The roundtable will further hear from Ezra Wallace, Director Partnerships and Projects at Westminster City Council.  Westminster formally declared the cost of living situation an emergency last month, and have implemented a Cost of Living Strategy intended to mitigate against its worst effects.  In common with other authorities, they have also instituted a Support Hub, bringing together resources for residents struggling in the current situation.

Useable Takeaways and Best Practice

The event will provide an opportunity for attendees to share knowledge of current city responses, as well as insights on which policy tools can be effective in addressing the ongoing crisis.  Join us via Zoom on Thursday, 20th October 2022 at 3 pm BST (UK time) for 60 minutes by signing up for free via Eventbrite here.