Navigating the Cost of Living Crisis: Frontline Insights and Initiatives from Settle
I’m Alice, one of the Senior Programme Officers at Settle. I lead Settle’s Cost of Living project, which we started in October 2022 to ensure the young people on the Settle programme, including our graduates, were given the information, tools and support they needed to manage in the cost of living crisis.
The young people we support at Settle are already vulnerable to homelessness and we knew that within the cost of living crisis this vulnerability would only increase. This includes our Settle graduates; despite 97% maintaining their tenancy after 12 months in 2022, we could foresee the added risks the crisis was going to have on them sustaining their tenancy successfully beyond this point.
1. Many young people are living in fuel poverty
Like much of the population, the majority of the young people we worked with this year spent far more than 10% of their income on utility bills, which is the threshold for fuel poverty in the UK. 79% of the young people who started Settle in the last year were claiming UC and receiving £262 per month (up to £292 in April 2023). Some were spending as much as £190 per month on gas and electricity in their one bedroom flat. We saw that those who suffered the most with unmanageable bills were those with caring responsibilities and those who had variable income due to low security jobs. One young person told us 'I don't want to go into debt, but I feel like I have no choice right now'.
2. Reliance on emergency food vouchers
Young people told us that they felt like they had to rely on emergency food vouchers from services like Settle, food banks or their local authority more regularly, because they could not afford to buy food as well as pay for their bills. Many were concerned that they were becoming reliant on these to make it to the end of the month. We found that more young people who participated in Settle workshops asked for food vouchers instead of Amazon vouchers for compensation as they were struggling to afford essentials. This included Settle Graduates, who were requesting food vouchers after ending the programme.
3. The cost of living crisis has increased the need for support
In 2022/23 young people stayed on the programme for an average of 5.6 months, which is longer than any other year since we started operating in 2015. We also saw more Settle Graduates returning to our service when they were struggling, seeking support with their finances,mental health and wellbeing.
In response, we created a whole organisational response across delivery, comms and fundraising to make sure the young people we support had the information, tools and resources they needed to manage living in the cost of living crisis and that our teams felt knowledgeable in this area. We were clear from the beginning that this didn’t just include the current young people on our programme, but also the Settle Graduates.
This is what we’ve worked on:
Enhancing our programme delivery around financial wellbeing.
We created new programme resources to support young people to manage their ‘Financial Wellbeing and Mental Health’ in response to increasing numbers of young people on the programme living with negative budgets and making impossible decisions about how to pay for priority bills and food each month. We also helped young people build their confidence and resilience in the face of changing costs by implementing a new ‘projected budgeting’ session. This gave young people a framework to look at how impending increased fixed costs like energy bills and rent would impact them and the changes they could make to protect themselves from financial hardship.
Graduate Drop In Service.
We created a weekly drop in service for Settle Graduates who are struggling with the cost of living crisis. We’ve supported Graduates to increase their income through applying for additional benefits and getting into work and training, as well as supporting young people to manage problematic debt - predominantly with utilities. We’ve completed 42 drop in sessions since starting the Cost of Living Project in December 2022. We have made this Graduate Drop In Service a permanent offer for our Graduates based on the uptake and success of this initiative.
Mental health support service.
We increased our mental health support service for young people and graduates who wanted to work with independent qualified therapists, despite our grant funding for this project coming to an end. Whilst there are many reasons for extending and growing this work, a key one is because we understood the potential impact of the cost of living crisis on young people’s wellbeing and mental health and saw an increasing need. We spent £12,371 compared to £7,019 in 2021/22.
Raising awareness and knowledge within the team and young people.
We share regular updates across our team about the impact of the cost of living crisis to ensure that our Programme Officers have the latest information to support young people to understand how changes may impact them, as well as the support that they’re entitled to. For example, preparing young people for the changes when the Energy Price Cap Guarantee was removed and what social tariffs or hardship grants they’d be eligible for. We make sure our Graduates are aware of this by sending out updates in our Alumni newsletters.
Increased direct funding to young people.
We successfully fundraised additional grants to support young people over the winter period after identifying the need for immediate financial support. We distributed £6,710 supermarket vouchers last December to our young people and graduates. “Thanks to Settle, I was able to do my Christmas shopping and get lots of food for my first Christmas living alone.” We will be sending supermarket vouchers to all our young people and graduates this year too.
One of our values at Settle is Young People First, which means putting the young people at the centre of everything we do. We’ll continue the Cost of Living Project as long as the need is there and learn what works for our community. For example, we’ve made the cost of living drop in service a permanent feature of our Alumni Programme, as we’ve seen the positive impact this has had on our graduates over the last year.
Thank you to all of those who’ve supported these initiatives, as we couldn’t have done this without your support. We’d love to collaborate or connect with other services who have supported people through the cost of living crisis to share what has worked and what we could all be doing even better. If you want to discuss this area of work please contact Alice on firstname.lastname@example.org.