Insights from our in-person cross-sector panel and roundtable event on Monday 20 June 2022
With the cost of living crisis compounding financial difficulties for millions of households in the UK, it’s more essential than ever to ensure they receive much-needed support.
On 20 June 2022, we co-hosted a panel and roundtable discussion with Lambeth Council, bringing together a group of cross-sector organisations to share ideas and perspectives, and explore opportunities for collaboration to improve access to financial support - and the role technology can play in this.
Speakers from the Association of Charitable Organisations (ACO), Southern Housing Group and the Royal British Legion joined Lightning Reach and Lambeth Council on the panel. The event was attended by over 30 organisations representing charities, local councils, housing associations and community groups such as The Children’s Society, Money and Pensions Service, Age UK Lambeth and the Big Issue Foundation.
Panel of speakers (L-R): Ren Yi Hooi, Lightning Reach; Steve Baynes, Royal British Legion; Donal Watkin, ACO; John Gleeson, Southern Housing Group; Chris Flynn, Lambeth Council
There was lively discussion from the group, with several key themes and insights:
We need a proactive approach to support people earlier in their journey
A common challenge raised by many organisations is identifying and reaching those in need of support before they fall into crisis. With the cost of living crisis projected to push 1.5 million UK households into facing food and energy bills higher than they can afford this year, many people will be falling into hardship that may never have had to seek support before.
This underscores the urgency to provide preemptive and proactive support, reevaluating approaches to enable people to access help earlier in their journey.
“I want to challenge the notion that people have to get to a point where they are desperate before they are made aware of the support that is available to them. If people don’t know they are entitled to help then they will be at risk of losing their homes. The solution must be easy and inclusive…We need proactive and preventative grant making.” Steve Baynes, Head of Grants, Royal British Legion
Collaborating across organisations to flag issues before they become major problems could mean that “we can catch people when the wheels are wobbling, and before they've fallen off” - as suggested by Jeff from Clean Slate Training and Employment. Holistic, wraparound support should ideally be provided to ensure that the root causes of hardship are being addressed.
Raising awareness of the support available to people is also key. As Donal Watkin, Chief Executive of ACO highlighted, there are over 1800 benevolent funds and charities in the UK providing over £360m per year in grants to individuals, often alongside broader wellbeing support. Of these, a large proportion are occupational funds who struggle to reach people they can support, even if charities supporting broader audiences are heavily oversubscribed.
Getting people to the support they need as quickly as possible
Long, convoluted processes can mean that people lose faith and don’t pursue applications. For others, being handed off to multiple organisations through the journey can mean information is lost and they’re left telling their story multiple times. This means people either don’t get the support they need, or end up waiting months to receive it - leaving them at risk of further hardship.
“Our platform of partners causes residents to get lost in the menu of options…It's unfair that residents have to repeat their story time and time again.” Chris Flynn, Assistant Director of Housing, Lambeth Council
Application processes should therefore be made as simple and frictionless as possible - and technology can play a crucial role here. Tools such as the Lightning Reach portal aim to streamline the application process, enabling people to use one profile to apply to multiple sources of support. By centralising applications in one place the portal also facilitates collaboration and reduces duplication between organisations.
Having said so, the full benefits of these tools can only be fully realised with change at an organisational level. For councils, large charities or housing associations for example, reviewing internal processes and systems to ensure better coordination between departments is crucial to enable support applications to be processed quickly.
Collaboration is challenging, but critical
There’s often a lot of talk about collaboration, but too often the tangible results of efforts can be limited. Within councils for example, large cross-departmental working groups can get bogged down by strategy, but can be disjointed. There’s a need to engage with more grassroots and community groups to understand the problems faced on the ground and build solutions within existing service delivery that are more coordinated across departments.
“Our resident needs are going up, our costs are going up, cost of living is rising – all of which is making it harder to invest in services.” John Gleeson, Head of Funding and Innovation, Southern Housing Group
Organisations are already stretched for resources and have limited funding for new collaborative projects. As Amy from the Children’s Society highlighted, better funding needs to be provided from central and local government for cross-sector collaborative projects, and should be properly ring-fenced to ensure collaboration is a core focus - rather than running alongside/as part of existing projects or workstreams.
With space carved out for effective collaboration, organisations have the opportunity to leverage their own strengths and weaknesses to complement and learn from each other, instead of duplicating efforts and trying to recreate everything on their own.
Technology can complement, not replace, human interaction
The pandemic has already prompted many organisations to adopt digital processes, but migrating from an offline to online journey itself isn’t sufficient. Technology needs to be delivered in a simple, user friendly and accessible way to streamline and improve the process for people seeking support.
“Technology is critical for occupational funds to increase their reach, and spreading demand across providers so that the support available reaches the people who need it.” Donal Watkin, Chief Executive, ACO
By connecting people and helping to triage needs across a range of support providers, technology has the potential to enable people to access personalised, relevant support. It can also help organisations save time, free up capacity and reduce fraud. The Lightning Reach portal for example can help to reduce paperwork and manual administration, and speed up assessment through the use of financial and identity verification technology (e.g. open banking).
While technology is essential, the need to retain human interaction and support digitally excluded segments was widely acknowledged. Rather than replacing human touch points, digital technology can serve to complement them. By enabling those able to self-serve to do so, staff can be freed up to spend time on more complex cases. It can also help to harness the power of the community, connecting people and groups with creative solutions to residents who could benefit from them.
“There’s an opportunity to be bold and creative.” Chris Flynn, Assistant Director of Housing, Lambeth Council
It’s clear that there’s a huge appetite for change - accelerated in part by the cost of living crisis - to change the status quo, and the best way to do this is by working together. There’s a need to continue the dialogue, and find ways to collaborate and make tangible steps forward to improve access to financial support.
While technology has a clear part to play in this process, there is also a need to balance and integrate it into existing processes to ensure a well-rounded, streamlined and personal experience for people needing support.
Find out more about our collaborative approach to streamlining the digital journey for people in need of support through our Social Innovation Council, and sign up to receive monthly updates here.