Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has been seeking to add value to the work of its 10 member councils by leading a whole system response to the cost of living pressures. This includes data gathering, sharing information, and practical advice for particular groups of residents.
A monthly cost of living response group brings together more than 50 people from across the city region – including council officers, housing providers, police and the voluntary sector – to share good practice, raise on-the-ground issues and showcase some of the support available. Cost of living is a ‘golden thread’ running through GMCA’s work.
A cost of living dashboard is produced each month using information from the 10 councils, providing real-time data on issues such as food insecurity and council tax arrears. Elaine Morgan, GMCA’s Principal for Strategy Reform, said:
“As well as helping councils to target their support, this helps them to look at future-proofing – what they would do in the event of economic changes such as inflation or interest rates rising. We have just begun using a piece of software that will indicate down to postcode level where this will impact, to help focus our early intervention work.”
This case study highlights some of the work that is being done and how it has approach has also supported Trafford and Stockport councils
Support for older residents
One example of how this has worked in practice is through support for older residents. GMCA worked with national charity Independent Age to produce a printed resource for older residents which incorporates winter wellbeing and cost of living messages. Jo Garsden, Programme Manager for the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub, said: “We know from evaluation of our previous ‘Keeping Well’ campaigns that there is a need for printed materials for older people. Even those who are online do not necessarily access this type of information online.”
The first ‘Keeping Well’ booklet was produced early on in COVID-19 as a result of feedback from organisations supporting older people – and from older people themselves. “Key information around the practicalities of living through the pandemic was not reaching older residents and there was a lot of fear. We produced the first booklet as a direct result of this feedback from the ground.”
The new booklet, ‘Winterwise – a guide to keeping well this winter’, was designed and written by Independent Age in partnership with the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub, with input from older people and local partners. Older residents were consulted on the design, look and feel of the booklet. There is a national guide and a Greater Manchester version, with an additional four pages, including a phone number for cost of living support in each council.
It contains practical advice and messages from Greater Manchester partners including the police (on scams and fraud), NHS, and the fire and rescue service (promoting their home fire safety assessments). Organisations were asked to contribute towards the printing costs in return for having their key messages shared with an older audience. There are sections on staying warm, staying safe and staying well.
This informative and engaging booklet was designed to be kept in people’s homes throughout the winter of 2022/23. Jo Garsden said:
“We have to remember that although there are good reasons for the ‘digital first’ strategy, there are people who miss out on important information. Some of the feedback we had from the previous booklets is that older people felt they were not forgotten, that somebody cared about them.”
The print run of 326,000 English-language copies was distributed by services including North West Ambulance Service, housing providers, pharmacies and Transport for Greater Manchester. Each council had a lead officer overseeing local distribution, making use of community resources such as libraries, social care and warm spaces. The guide was translated into Urdu, Bangla and ‘easy read’, while Independent Age produced large-print and audio versions.
Pension top-up campaign
Another strand of GMCA’s work is the ‘Pension Top Up’ campaign, developed in partnership with Greater Manchester Housing Providers to encourage people to take up their entitlements. Around £70 million in pension credit alone goes unclaimed here each year. A one-hour training session, delivered by Independent Age, gives frontline staff and councillors an introduction to pension credit and attendance allowance, along with a demonstration on using an online benefits calculator.
Analysis of an earlier phase of the campaign revealed that it generated more income in attendance allowance and housing benefit than pension credit – showing the range of benefits going unclaimed.
Jo Garsden said: “We know that the most effective way of getting older people to take up entitlements is through one-to-one conversations with family, friends and trusted individuals. With local advice centres overwhelmed, there is massive potential here to upskill the wider workforce and try to make every contact with an older person count.”
Trafford and Stockport councils were happy to share how the GMCA city-region approach has helped them to support residents and businesses with the rising cost of living, and their experience is highlighted below.
Stockport Council attends the GMCA-convened monthly cost of living response group alongside representatives from across the city region. This provides a useful opportunity to share good practice, raise on-the-ground issues and showcase some of the support available.
Taking inspiration from Oldham Council, Stockport held a cost of living roundtable event in October 2022 which brought together a range of organisations to discuss collaborative approaches to support. Following this, Stockport issued a ‘call to action’ open letter which confirmed its commitment to continuing to lead, mobilise and coordinate a ‘One Stockport’ cost of living response across the borough – working alongside the voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise (VCFSE) sector, businesses and public sector partners.
The GMCA ‘cost of living dashboard’ has been useful in helping Stockport Council understand some of the challenges faced by local residents, including food insecurity and council tax arrears. Alongside this, support from the GMCA data and intelligence team and its Ageing Hub has helped to shape Stockport’s approach to increasing uptake of pension credit.
Julie Jarman, Head of Fair and Inclusive Stockport, said:
“We were concerned that many residents were likely to be forced onto prepayment meters in the winter of 2022/23 as a result of not being able to pay their energy bills. We were really pleased to hear how the GMCA and Mayor Andy Burnham were working with utility companies to try and mitigate the impact of the cost of fuel over the winter, and in particular to address this issue of prepayment meters.”
Pension credit uptake
GMCA’s ‘Pension Top Up’ campaign estimated that 3,163 Stockport residents were eligible but not claiming pension credit, equating to around £5.8 million per year in unclaimed benefits. In July 2022, Stockport Council began rolling out this campaign, reaching out to residents who were likely to be eligible through door-knocking, community groups and drop-ins, a dedicated telephone line, and through its partnership with Age UK.
This work was also supported by the council’s public health protection team, and officers received free online training from Independent Age so they could provide advice and guidance on claiming pension credit. The campaign engaged with 968 pension-age residents, of whom 207 were identified as eligible for pension credit.
Tom Plant, Senior Neighbourhood Management Officer, said:
“We directly supported 59 people to make a claim, worth around £203,363 a year in total, and many more are applying themselves without support. The campaign has also provided a useful pilot for further benefit uptake campaigns, and we are now looking at attendance allowance.”
Practical support for residents
During ‘Challenge Poverty’ week in October 2022, the council published its ‘Stockport money advice & referral tool’ (SMART). This is based on a pilot initiative led by Greater Manchester Poverty Action and takes an issues-based approach to listing the support available.
The aim is to enable colleagues and volunteers from across the council and its partners to have more meaningful conversations with presenting individuals. Copies have been distributed digitally to over 300 partners and 1,000 council colleagues. Printed copies have been distributed to teams and organisations including Greater Manchester Police, adult social care, libraries and Stockport Food Network.
There has been plenty of positive feedback, including this from the Stockport Support Hub, which issued the SMART tool to its key workers: “They have been a big help and really useful for giving on-the-spot advice and signposting.”
Engaging with the Greater Manchester (GM) Warm Spaces Network has helped inform the ‘Warm Stockport’ programme. Julie Jarman said it was useful to hear from other councils and share best practice. “Conversations with other councils supported us in introducing a light-touch and non-onerous approach to measuring the impact of our warm spaces. As a result we now have information about how they are impacting on communities and what is working well. We held a peer learning event in January for warm space providers to share learning about what was working well.”
Councillor Malcolm Allan, Stockport’s Cabinet Member for Finance & Resources, said: “We welcome support from the GMCA. As evident in this case study, the insight and knowledge that we gain from other local authorities in Greater Manchester are very valuable and have helped to inform our actions in tackling the cost of living crisis.
“For example, the data provided by the GMCA’s ‘Pension Top Up’ campaign helped identify a cohort of eligible pensioners in Stockport not claiming pension credit, and through this campaign we have been able to support people to maximise their income. For some individuals, gaining this entitlement has been life-changing. We are also grateful for the opportunity to share our best practice with other councils through the GM Warm Spaces Network, coordinated by the GMCA.”
Supporting people out of poverty is a major corporate priority for Trafford Council, along with reducing health inequalities and addressing the climate crisis. Trafford Poverty Action Group (TPAG) has led on development of the ‘Trafford poverty strategy 2022-25’. A broad range of organisations and partners were involved in co-developing the strategy, including through a series of workshops.
TPAG – which is chaired by Councillor Jo Harding, Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Strategic Partnerships – is collectively developing an action plan and sharing responsibility for delivery of the strategy.
The new strategy identifies six keys to success in implementation:
- partners committed to working together
- clear and shared priorities
- focus on action and impact
- open and honest communications
- joint working and investable projects
- willingness to drive change and challenge how things are.
Involving the local community
Trafford Council is directly involving people with lived experience of poverty in delivering the new strategy through the Trafford Poverty Truth Commission. Launched in 2022, this brings together 15 community commissioners, who have personal experience of poverty, along with 20 civil commissioners from the public, private and VCFSE sectors, meeting once a month.
The commission is jointly funded by the council, partners and trust funds and managed by Stretford Public Hall. Working groups were formed to focus on three priority themes: isolation; cost of living; and connecting services and access to information. Key recommendations were due to be published in the spring of 2023, at which point the poverty strategy would be reviewed to incorporate the commission’s findings.
Trafford has been sharing intelligence with other councils via the LGA cost of living webinars, including Cllr Jo Harding presenting the poverty strategy and the longer-term approach to preventing and reducing poverty. Cllr Harding said: “Trafford Council is totally committed to supporting people out of poverty and helping those struggling through the cost of living crisis. We work closely with partners to achieve this and, through our Poverty Truth Commission, we put people with lived experience of poverty at the centre of our approach to inform and design our response.
“Working with partners from across Trafford and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority we can drive change and help ensure as many residents as possible access the support that is available.”
Trafford has been utilising the GMCA cost of living dashboard data in its work – producing a localised borough-wide profile and presenting the latest findings to the council’s strategic cost of living coordination group. Officers have worked alongside GMCA data leads on developing the council’s response using the latest data, evidence and insights.
Dom Coleman, Senior Policy Officer, said the Greater Manchester Cost of Living Network had been useful in convening a group of active collaborators working across the system to innovatively respond to the crisis.
Practical support for residents
Trafford Council distributed ‘winter wellbeing packs’ to more than 3,000 vulnerable residents during the winter of 2022/23. Each pack contained a thermos mug, hot water bottle, gloves, hat and blanket, word search puzzle, pen, magnifying glass and printed advice on where best to access help.
Around 1,000 packs were sent directly to residents, including vulnerable people who had been in hospital in the past year; the rest were distributed via Trafford’s community hubs, partners and the British Red Cross. Community volunteers and council staff packed and distributed the packs, which included a copy of the ‘Winterwise’ booklet produced by GMCA.
There are six permanent community hubs in Trafford which provide a range of practical support. They have been connecting and coordinating a network of more than 50 ‘Living Rooms’, designated spaces across the borough where people can go to be warm and safe and access activities, refreshments and meals at certain times each week. The projected impact includes:
- 13,000 hours of access to warm, safe ‘Living Room’ spaces.
- Improving people’s mental health and reducing isolation,
- Helping to reduce people’s energy costs and money spent on food.
Trafford Council agreed in January 2023 to pay its staff the Real Living Wage (RLW). This means that 320 eligible staff employed by schools and the council will now be paid the RLW rate of £10.90 per hour – a boost for those struggling through the cost of living crisis.
Looking ahead: Next steps
- Continuing to respond to the crisis by working in partnership across the public, business and VCFSE sectors.
- Jointly driving, developing and delivering the new action plan, with partners working together on shared commitments.
- Continuing to amplify the voice of lived experience through the Poverty Truth Commission.
- Applying for Real Living Wage accreditation and working with eligible contracted suppliers to work towards paying the RLW to their employees.
For more information contact:
Elaine Morgan, GMCA Principal – Strategy Reform: [email protected]
Jo Garsden, Programme Manager, Greater Manchester Ageing Hub: [email protected];
Julie Jarman, Head of Fair and Inclusive Stockport: [email protected]
Dom Coleman, Senior Policy Officer, Trafford Council: [email protected]