It’s the time of year when we’re made to confront extremes in society.
Christmas TV ads are choc-full of families round roaring fires or fully-laden tables, while at the same time charity appeals urge us to remember those who are vulnerable or lonely and for whom winter is anything but a season of good cheer.
Between these two extremes, however, there’s a different story to be found.
'Heat or eat' dilemma
For many families Christmas is indeed a time to celebrate, but with that comes hard choices and debt.
This is a time of year when the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma becomes acute and when many try and ensure their children enjoy some seasonal magic in the full knowledge that there’ll be a painful financial hangover come the New Year.
It’s the time when even the most prudent are drawn to be financially cavalier with the Money Advice Service estimating that some 1.4 million people will resort to payday loans.
The changes to the benefit system and the advent of Universal Credit mean that it’s also a dangerous time for landlords.
Many of these families would not show up on lists of the most vulnerable or be prioritised by interventions aimed at troubled families.
As public spending budgets continue to be reduced, these frontline services will increasingly be targeted on those in most desperate need. So how do we help those caught in between to ‘live well for less’?
The answer has to be in cross-sector collaboration.
When no-one has enough money to provide a universal service then we all need to get smarter at pooling our resources and using our collective capacity to address issues that can impact adversely on a number of fronts – from rent receipts to NHS admissions.
We also need to make the most of every intervention and interaction. This in turn means understanding who is best placed to get the best reaction from residents.
Charities have a clear role to play here – able to operate entirely neutrally and build trust, unencumbered by also being seen as the rent collector or the gateway to social services.
For example, Hastoe, the leading rural affordable housing specialist, had commissioned Groundwork and its Green Doctors to support older people living in off-gas properties to improve their energy efficiency and warmth.
Based on overwhelmingly positive feedback, the service was extended to vulnerable families with 87% of those receiving support saying they would recommend it to others.
This is mirrored in Leeds where, supported by the City Council, Green Doctors have helped 1,600 residents benefit from energy efficiency measures with the potential to save nearly £375 on their utility bills.
So, this particular charity appeal is to think about how we - third sector and housing sector - can work together to improve the properties and prospects of people trying both to make merry and to make ends meet at the same time.
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Post by Graham Duxbury, Chief Executive, Groundwork UK
This content originally appeared on the Inside Housing website