Belfast City Council blog on their approach to helping alleviate the impact of the cost of living crisis and poverty on its citizens.
The lived experience of both the cost of living crisis and poverty is multi-faceted. Food poverty, fuel poverty, and inequalities in health, housing, education and employment, are deeply intertwined. Just as spiralling household costs are felt differently across different communities, many people and families are often impacted by a combination of these factors.
We recognise the need to provide immediate and targeted support to those most in need during these challenging times. Equally there is an urgent need to work in partnership across government and with our communities to develop a long-term and sustainable approach to alleviating poverty and building resilience within the city and across our households. We have developed holistic and effective programmes that seek to tackle multiple aspects of the cost of living crisis, as well as providing a package of support and advice services to those who need it most.
Empowering communities through social supermarkets
Take for instance how we have supported households struggling from the rising cost of food. Belfast City Council has worked with community organisations and the Department of Communities in Northern Ireland to develop a city-wide network of 16 social supermarkets.
Community based organisations operate a range of models such as running small, discounted supermarkets on their own premises or providing food vouchers or community meals to those who may need them. These important community-based resources not only help address food insecurity locally, they also provide (or signpost) important wraparound support and advice to those who may visit the social supermarket. This is about more than providing people with good quality food, it is about improving wellbeing, creating a sense of community, and connecting people to benefit and debt advice, employability and training services, and volunteering opportunities.
Through these different models, the social supermarkets aim to give people empowered choices on how they manage the entirety of their household budgets, not just food.
Improving health and wellbeing in response to rising fuel costs
Another example is our approach to fuel poverty which affects over one third of households in the city, as recent Centre for Progressive Policy research has shown. Our Warm and Well Project has supported vulnerable people struggling to keep their home warm by providing advice and practical support to stay warm and well, and where appropriate, the provision of heating measures and discretionary financial assistance to alleviate the effects of living in cold and damp homes. The scheme is delivered through National Energy Action and local community and voluntary groups.
But fuel poverty isn’t just about energy efficiency. It links to wider challenges around mental health and social isolation. For older residents, often living alone, the coldest winter months can be a particularly difficult time. Across 26 community centres over three months, Warm and Well Spaces provided a welcoming, free and inclusive space to help people stay warm and socialise through drop in sessions and a calendar of community events.
Belfast City Council is one of 14 members of the Inclusive Growth Network. To access further resources and learning from the network, click here.