The cost of living crisis is being felt in Coventry and Warwickshire as much as anywhere in the UK. At Grapevine, we are seeing the financial concerns of people with a learning disability or autism intensifying as the weeks roll by.
In April, inflation reached its highest recorded level since 1982*, pushing food, energy and fuel prices beyond what is affordable for an increasing number of people.
People can’t afford transport, so are stuck at home. More people have started to use food banks because of food prices. Low level mental health issues are on the rise too, directly related to worries over income versus outgoings.
In Coventry, in partnership with Central England Law Centre, we convened a consortium of local agencies, services, charities, voluntary and community groups and organisations to look urgently at how to not only improve signposting for people who are struggling, but also the navigation between different types of help in the city.
How can all of us combine and collaborate around a person or tackle common issues experienced by lots of people?
A Grapevine case study
Lorraine and her chronically ill husband sit with blankets and hot water bottles on their laps and candles lit to “warm” the room.
Shielding with her husband since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and having worked all of her life, Lorraine was forced to leave a job she loved, her support network and purpose there to rely solely on his small pension and Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
Nagged constantly by money worries, living in rented housing, stopping showers and washing machine usage, buying the cheapest, least nutritious food, coping with a broken oven and kettle and going to bed early to get warm. Lorraine is anxious and fearful for the future.
A referral for counselling (Lorraine has anxiety, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) translated only into practical help nine months later. During the third session, she was told it wasn’t right for her.
Lorraine participates in our Help and Connect project for people with a learning disability or autism but no support from services.
From the people we work with, we know financial services do not always work well when you have a learning disability. Much of the information isn’t easy to read or understand. And many services focus on responding to debt and hardship but not so much on the
prevention of these things – especially for people with a learning disability.
Could a cross-sector alliance mitigate the impact of poverty better and also prevent some of its worst impacts? A city-wide stance on poverty has potential to lobby and campaign at a strategic level too.
At ‘We Need to Talk About Poverty’ in March, 52 of the 80 attendees from 37 organisations agreed to form an alliance to take this forward for Coventry.
At our second event on Tuesday 14 June we will look together at three things:
- Our vision and purpose – working towards building a shared, stated commitment.
- A clear and easy to find and use offer that we can mobilise as soon as possible in response to the cost of living crisis.
- Issues that come up frequently, where we feel stuck and start to build better joined up onward pathways for those issues.
It is not too late to join. Email our CEO Clare Wightman for more information or a copy of the initial report at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How we are responding right now
Grapevine has been responding to concerns by increasing links with other organisations that can help including Act On Energy (who provide grants and practical support) and our team have worked with National Energy Action to become more skilled in energy-saving tips and money saving ideas. We are staying up-to-date with money advice websites to help pass on any crucial information.
We support signposting to ensure people with a learning disability can engage with other services successfully. We also add these into the plans we make with people to create bespoke plans of action. We have started to ask people more about their financial worries to identify issues as early as possible.
We have supported with disability bus passes and reduced travel for people where possible to access local services rather than travelling across the city. We’ve researched cheaper deals on different items and helped them access food banks. The work continues.
*House of Commons research briefing, published 27 May 2022. Click this link to read the briefing paper.