East Devon District Council: Creating a social resilience dashboard

Cost of living

The Initiative

East Devon has a strong economy driven by small and medium sized businesses, agriculture, tourism and the service sector. However, even before the rise in the cost of living, East Devon District Council had identified a growing number of households living on low incomes or in poverty.

Poverty prevention and alleviation is a priority for the district council. A working panel was set up in 2020 to lead the creation of a poverty strategy and action plan, and then to monitor progress against it. The strategy has five objectives – including to help people on low incomes build financial resilience and reduce indebtedness.

As part of this work, the council set up a financial resilience team and has been developing a social resilience dashboard. Sharon Church, Benefits and Financial Resilience Manager, explained:

“One of the team’s key tasks is to understand and help address the root causes of poverty. We needed a way to record information and outcomes to see if our work was effective, and to enable us to provide updates to the senior management team and councillors.”

The social resilience dashboard

The dashboard is a work in progress but is already helping the council to:

  • Overlay data to identify patterns, trends and hidden poverty.
  • Ensure that funding is targeted to those most in need.
  • Understand the local picture.
  • Inform future policy and strategy, supported by data.

It contains revenue and benefits data, as well as some open source data from the Office for National Statistics and Department for Work and Pensions. This includes housing benefit, council tax reduction, hardship and Household Support Fund (HSF) applications, council tax arrears and Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) data.

‘Economic shock’ dates such as COVID-19 lockdowns and inflation rate rises are continually being added to monitor their impact. An interactive map means caseloads can be seen geographically, as well as different data sets being overlaid to help target support.

Application forms for the hardship fund and HSF include optional monitoring questions allowing better understanding of a household’s demographics. This has revealed, for example, that people with disabilities are the largest group of residents asking for extra support. This data can be broken down further into rural/urban areas and whether the household includes children or carers.

These application forms revealed that the top three underlying causes of people seeking help were budgeting, mental health and physical health. The top reasons for referrals were ‘unable to afford food’, ‘energy costs’ and ‘health’.

Targeting support

This work is helping to identify vulnerable households and ‘hot spots’, which in turn is feeding into the distribution of some discretionary funds such as HSF and the discretionary energy rebate scheme (ERS). For example, people in four groups were sent a letter inviting them to make an ERS claim if they are:

  • in receipt of council tax reduction and living in a band E-H property
  • in receipt of council tax reduction and receiving a disability benefit or carer’s allowance/premium
  • receiving a council tax disregard or discount due to a disability/being a carer.

Data was combined with EPC information to help inform some of the spend for the HSF 3, to include people not on mains supply for heating and people living in low energy efficiency rated properties.

Councillor Jack Rowland, Portfolio Holder for Finance, said:

“Combining data is helping us to understand the needs of different groups and how we can better tailor support, as well as who we need to work in partnership with as a council to provide that support. Ultimately, it’s about using data to drive better outcomes for our residents, helping to lift them out of poverty and become more financially resilient going forward.”

Datasets from other services, such as housing and environmental health, will be explored for inclusion in the dashboard. The eventual aim is to include external data sets such as fuel poverty and food bank use, but this will be some way down the line. Early discussions are underway on how to involve health partners and others to build better collaboration and to help with the mapping of key data.

A public-facing arm of the dashboard is planned, with metrics by electoral ward level, providing councillors with a better understanding of their wards. East Devon is planning to commission some independent evaluation, probably later on when the public-facing dashboard goes live. The aim of this will be to look at factors including the formulas used, how effective and easy to interpret the data is, and any improvements that could be made.

Learning points

  • Data cannot be used in isolation and must be used in conjunction with real-life case studies to inform policy and strategy.
  • Solving the root causes of hardship needs to have greater focus alongside the provision of emergency support.
  • Collaborative working with partners in their areas of expertise is essential to get better outcomes for residents, rather than just signposting.

Contact

For more information contact:
Sharon Church, Benefits and Financial Resilience Manager, email: 
schurch@eastdevon.co.uk