The cost of living crisis is hitting families hard and is set to get worse, so it is no surprise that those in local government are looking for options. Many are building on UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) interventions around domestic and commercial energy efficiency. SPF business support offer may focus more on cost savings rather than scaling up. Others are looking at bolstering support to community and voluntary services – e.g. through food banks, warm banks and other kinds of support.
Unfortunately, with limited policy options and with inflation placing increasing pressure on local authority finances, there is a limit to how much these initiatives can achieve.
The conversations we’ve had amongst our team and with people across local government have echoes of similar discussions around youth unemployment during Covid. Two years ago, we published Covid-19: Local responses to youth unemployment and scarring. It was the September after the first lockdown, after Eat Out to Help Out, and the future of the furlough scheme was uncertain. People were concerned about youth unemployment and the long-term impact that might have on their careers and the wider economy. But local government had limited policy options and faced incredible budget pressures.
For youth unemployment, we concluded that local government efforts were best focused on amplifying and signposting to national programmes – for example, promoting take-up of Kickstart and apprenticeships. We emphasised the role of coordination of local players around skills, and the importance of local knowledge of how to target programmes effectively.
Somewhat reluctantly, we reach much the same conclusion on the local response to the cost of living crisis. Local government again find themselves in a position where amplifying and signposting to national schemes may be one of the most effective options. The role of convener is also important to make the most of resources, share data to target programmes, and ensure effective support to those who need it most.
As always, we’re keen to learn from local areas about the local policy response. Are there local policy options that might scale and be copied by others? More prosaically, can we use this as an opportunity to learn about what works in helping increase the take-up of national schemes? We know that take-up is a problem across many policy areas and the cost of living crisis serves as another reminder that we know little about how to increase take-up. If you’re working on innovative approaches, or are interested in trying to assess the impact of what you are doing, please get in touch.