How might a local area stop people experiencing deep poverty and destitution – and what would this look like?

August 23, 2022  

The current cost-of-living crisis adds to the urgency to not only mitigate the impact of poverty, but to fundamentally rethink how systems can prevent people falling into the deepest forms of hardship. Together with Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), New Local is launching a Call for Learning & Ideas to explore local approaches to addressing these challenges, and we need your help!

Even before the pandemic, life was getting harder for many people in the UK. Recent work by JRF found that between 2002/03 and 2019/20 the number of people in very deep poverty (below 40% of median income after housing costs) rose by a fifth, from 4.7 million to 6.5 million. Looking at destitution, the most severe form of hardship, around 2.4 million people were destitute at some point in 2019 – a 54% increase since 2017.

How does this shape the lives of the people it affects?

From skipping meals to being unable to pay bills, experiencing deep poverty means facing significant financial hardship. People in deep poverty are at increased risk of destitution, meaning they are unable to afford food, shelter and warmth, and the means to keep clean.

The impact of rising inflation and the cost-of-living crisis means this situation is set to worsen. Back in May, a JRF survey with Savanta ComRes showed the stark hardship already facing lower income households. The findings revealed that 60% of low-income families had gone without essentials in 2022, or someone in the household had cut down or skipped a meal or not had enough money for food in the previous 30 days

Today we’ve launched a new project with JRF exploring how to design out deep poverty and destitution in a local area. We’re really interested in different models and approaches to preventing and addressing deep poverty locally, and looking to build relationships with key partners. We’re helping JRF work towards an ambitious, practical, and large-scale piece of work to design and learn from ways to tackle destitution and deep poverty in one or more places.

Your invaluable insights will help shape the direction of the project and inform our findings. We’d love to hear about any projects you’re involved in, plus your ideas and experiences on this topic. Our Call for Learning & Ideas makes it easy for you to get involved. More details can be found on our project page.

Why focus on local and ‘place-based’ working?

This project is about the power of people and organisations coming together in a place. This is a scale where there can be a real focus on shared purpose, multiple layers of action, and the relationships, connections, and energy to make change happen. It is a scale where the public sector, voluntary organisations and communities can meaningfully collaborate and put people at the centre of their work. Through the lens of place, attention can be paid to context and history, and to listening to and working with communities and people with experience.

Action in local areas is focused not only on mitigating the impact of poverty, but also on tackling its underlying causes. Our focus on preventing poverty at place-level is not to underplay the significance of national policy, but rather to better explore the potential of local action. Local systems are inevitably constrained by the limits of national policies – most notably social security – with strict parameters. So, while this project is ambitious for the potential of local approaches, it will seek to understand the interplay with national policy and how policymakers in Westminster, and the devolved administrations, could better enable and support local systems.

What is meant by ‘designing out’?

‘Designing out’ is a statement of intent, asking what it would look like for a local area to be able to stop people experiencing deep poverty and destitution.

Here are some of the questions an approach might explore:

  • How are services and wider networks of formal and informal support in a place coordinated so that people don’t fall between the gaps in provision?
  • How are people with experience of, or at risk of, deep poverty and destitution listened to and involved in the decisions that affect them? How are they supported to share their experiences and ideas to inform and shape the system more widely?
  • How can the services, organisations, social infrastructure, communities, and assets in a place together ensure people don’t experience deep poverty or destitution? How can broader strategies, such as those around local economic growth, contribute to tackling the underlying drivers of poverty?
  • How does the design of projects that tackle the underlying causes of deep poverty and destitution differ from the design of projects that act as emergency support?

This isn’t about any one organisation having all the answers, but rather how those within a system translate this shared mission into reality.

Such ambition should by no means diminish the scale of the task. This kind of deep, long-term place-based work isn’t easy and requires persistence, learning and iteration.

We hope this project will open up the space for a conversation exploring the learning from what is already happening in local areas, while building on this collective knowledge to consider what could be possible in the future. Your contributions to our Call for Learning & Ideas will be an important starting point.

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