East Suffolk Council has worked with partners across sectors, through a series of workshops, to develop a wide reaching programme to support local residents with the rising cost of living.
About the programme
The East Suffolk ‘Ease the Squeeze’ programme focuses on four key areas – money, food and essentials, energy, and fuel and housing. The full programme includes more than 60 projects but 15 priority projects have been initially developed.
These include a new financial inclusion strategy, which sets out the Council's ambitions around increasing financial inclusion and capability, and three new Financial Inclusion Officers to help residents to manage their money better, focusing on maximising income, reducing debt, access to ethical credit and developing more sustainable money habits.
The food and essentials theme includes the innovative Comfort Food Project where the Council funds local cafes to provide a hot meal and drink for people, based on the Access Community Trust ‘Thin Ice’ winter pilot in Lowestoft. It also includes funding for additional Community Pantries across the District, based on the pilot in Kirkley, as well as 'Food to Fork' projects to encourage communities to grow food on spare land and for individuals to grow edibles in planters and window boxes. In addition there are Cooking on a Budget classes to help people to learn how to cook nutritious, healthy and cheap meals – ideally using the food that they have grown.
The Council are also looking at increasing access to slow cookers, microwaves, small hobs and ‘kettle packs’ – food items for those who only have access to a kettle.
One of the priority projects under the energy and fuel theme is a network of Warm Rooms. Warm Rooms are community spaces that will be open this winter with multiple benefits – saving people money because they can have their heating on at home for less time, reducing carbon emissions, tackling isolation and loneliness, and providing opportunities for services to engage with people about their energy costs and wider financial issues.
The Council also wants to fund the cost of a handyperson to help people to make energy efficiency improvements e.g. fit draught excluders and LED bulbs where they are physically unable to do so themselves.
The Housing theme focuses on maximising access to the housing-related funding available for both tenants and non-tenants and building on existing programmes such as the Council's Self-Neglect and Hoarding project.
The emphasis of the programme is on striking the right balance between prevention and crisis support, and doing the former on the basis of data – reaching people before they get to or even near crisis point. Next winter will be hard, but the Council are working with partners like Suffolk County Council, key VCSE organisations – including the new Citizens Advice East Suffolk, town and parish councils and, of course, local communities to try to ensure they can reach and support as many of our residents as possible.