Navigating the cost-of-living crisis – how you can help out
01 October 2022
Read time - 5 minutes
Our Director, Donna Scully, spoke to Insurance Business UK about navigating the cost-of-living crisis
"Love it or hate it, use it or avoid it – Twitter has proven conclusively that you do not require great tomes of literature to move readers to pity, to outrage and to action. After all, the Tweet that brought the reality of the cost-of-living crisis crashing down to earth for so many was less than 300 characters.
Earlier this summer, Donna Scully, director and co-owner of Carpenters Group, was volunteering at the Charles Thompson Mission in Wirral when, appalled by what she was seeing, she posted the below Tweet which has been viewed well over one million times.
“Oh god it’s getting so bad. At breakfast club more people with accommodation than homeless but can’t eat & pay energy bills. Very thin elderly man this morning hadn’t eaten for FOUR days. In UK in 2022. We gave him cereal, 2 breakfasts & food to takeaway. He can’t make ends meet.”
The Mission has run a breakfast every Sunday morning for the last five years, and when it started it was aimed at homeless people unable to find alternative assistance on Sunday mornings, with many hostels only open Monday-to-Friday. In recent weeks and months, however, its uptake has spiked, while the profile and requirements of those coming in have also changed significantly.
“There are people coming in now who have got accommodation,” she said, “some who are working and quite a few on benefits and state pensions. And they just can’t make ends meet. It’s not surprising when you see how the cost of food has risen which is making it particularly hard for people on a state pension. Then there are the energy bills. Some people are telling us they’ve switched off their gas and electricity because the standing charge is too high.”
To support these newcomers, the Mission is giving them food to take away with them but this is raising additional challenges as the food has to be something that cooks quickly. The Sunday in question was the most stressful she has seen in five years, Scully said, because everybody was coming in early as they were afraid to miss out on what was available. Where normally, the volunteers would have leftovers for people to take away, they found themselves having to ration second helpings.
The reaction to her post – which spawned over 6,000 retweets and almost 18,000 likes – is testament to the growing concern of many around the inflationary environment and the far-reaching consequences it has for families and individuals all around the UK. A crisis like this will impact so many, she said, regardless of whether they’re working or on benefits, and it feels like a tsunami that hasn’t yet broken.
“It’s coming down the road and it’s dragging more and more people in society with it,” she said. “And when you think of the insurance industry as well, this is going to have real implications. I recently read the Consumer Intelligence report that talked about people not insuring their houses or driving without car insurance. We know those are such important insurance products that provide real protection but when you see people who haven’t eaten in four days, it’s a different matter.”
There’s no easy fix for that problem, she noted, not least because insurance companies themselves are seeing the impact of rising bills – Carpenters itself is certainly not immune. As bills are going up, companies are going to see their profits take a hit and so the ideal fixes of lower pricing or bigger pay rises to keep up with the cost-of-living are becoming more complicated for many firms. It’s a perfect storm of factors, and she’s frustrated that business owners and charities are being largely left by politicians to carry the can.
“And then you also have the insurance fraud angle,” she said. “We do a fraud charter every quarter and one of the big things on our agenda at the next fraud meeting is that the cost-of-living crisis means that fraud is increasing. Because the more desperate people are, the more desperate action they’re going to take. So, it has such a knock-on effect across all industries.”
But it’s not all bad news, Scully noted, as evidenced by the wave of support and backing that her post about the devastation she was seeing generated, both across the UK more widely but also in the insurance profession. In the aftermath of her speaking with Radio Merseyside about the report, a foundation led by a high-profile footballer got in contact to make a financial donation to the Mission.
“Interestingly,” she said, “after the Liverpool Echo piece that Liam Thorpe wrote after visiting the Mission following the tweet, donations went up hugely and the four people featured got £100 cash each. It all helps.”
Meanwhile, insurance professionals from the likes of Covéa Insurance and Autonet have stepped up to the mark to support the “army of volunteers and supporters” it takes to run the charity initiative Fans Supporting Foodbanks. In addition to all the aid and good wishes that have come in, she said, a real ray of light is the people themselves who avail of this support.
“Volunteering on a Sunday has really changed my life,” she said. “I’ve met amazing volunteers and amazing people at the breakfast who display the most incredible fortitude and humour through the worst deprivation I’ve ever seen. And they’re laughing at it and they’re nice to deal with. And being part of this is just so incredible, for all that it’s so tough right now.”
For those looking to get involved or to further their engagement, Scully has two messages – education and prioritisation. It’s critical that people develop a very keen understanding of the reach of these challenges, she said, and that they don’t allow stigma to get in the way of themselves or those around them getting the help they need. On the prioritisation front, while people are still in the thick of this turmoil, businesses should examine their list of chosen charities and make sure these reflect the most urgent aid required.
“We’re in a different position now, where we have so many who are going to go hungry and going to go cold,” she said. “So, things like foodbanks and community charities may need to be jumped up that list… My advice to companies is also to look inward, and look at your people on a lower income because they will feel this more.
“If you’re an individual, every supermarket has a foodbank and there are charity shops that need warm clothes for the winter. And the great thing about these initiatives is that their reach is so wide – they will provide whatever support they can, so whatever you can give will not go to waste. I also think having access to advice is essential so it’s great to see citizens’ advice bureaus, etc. producing information about the energy crisis and the support that’s available to you.”
Overall, she said, her advice is for everybody not to bury their heads in the sand – whether or not they think they will be impacted themselves. If everybody can pull together and help each other through this, that will make all the difference.
“I think it’s amazing what you can do together,” she said. “And what you can achieve when you all work as one. And, as I say, I’ve never experienced anything as rewarding as being part of this in my life. It’s incredibly sad on one level, going out there and [seeing what’s happening] but it’s also an amazing feeling just to realise how many people care.”
Donna Scully, Director
Credit: Insurance Business UK