Women and Digital Inclusion

What we learned at the cost of living conference

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In June, WODIN attended a cost of living conference that was equal parts frustrating and inspiring. Here’s what we learned about how grassroots organisations can help vulnerable people during this current period of economic uncertainty.

On 28th June 2023, we embarked on an all day event hosted by Liverpool Hope University’s Dr. Vicky Dabrowski and Dr. Natalija Atap. This conference was titled “Rethinking Poverty, Insecurity and the Cost of Living Crisis in the North West and Beyond”.

Topics on the conference agenda included included: 

  • The Citizens Advice Bureau’s work and impact on the Cost of Living Crisis (COLC)
  • Understanding the COLC
  • Ending furniture poverty
  • Rethinking food security and food access

The panel of speakers who spoke to various issues related to the the COLC and inflation included: 

  • Councillor Liam Robinson – Liverpool City Council, Kensington & Fairfield
  • Heather Jessop – CEO of Citizens Advice Liverpool
  • Dr Alison Briggs & Prof Sarah Marie Hall – University of Manchester
  • Sonia Bassey MBE – CEO of Liverpool Charity and Voluntary Services
  • Brittany Mulhearn – Save the Children UK

In addition to WODIN, the conference brought together 87 other organisations. We loved connecting with the Citizens Outreach Coalition, NHS Mersey Care, Greater Manchester Poverty Action, The Trussell Trust, Feeding Liverpool, The Big Help Project, and more.

Over the course of the day, a picture was painted of destituion and abject poverty in communities across the United Kingdom, especially Liverpool. It’s clear that the UK welfare state is on a cliff’s edge and it is failing to support the mounting demand on its already stretched resources.

The needs of the people pushed into crisis and poverty by the current COLC, inflation, and the hostile economy has become truly scary! And third sector organisations like WODIN and all those mentioned above are left to pick up the pieces while also running on empty. We’re doing our best, but this isn’t sustainable, so we must advocate for wider, systemic change.

At the conference, the suggested strategies to end the current stream of poverty and austerity were not new, but they very much needed to be stated. Suggestions such as:

  • Furniture packages to end furniture poverty
  • Increasing income across the board to living wages
  • Increasing housing and reforming existing housing strategies
  • Offering free school meals to all children in school
  • Funding third sector organizations better to serve grassroots communities

How to take action to support people affected by the cost of living crisis

WODIN CEO Julie Syl Kalungi takes a selfie of herself at the cost of living conference, showcasing, in the background, the crowd of people sitting in their seats waiting for the conference to begin.
WODIN’s Julie Syl Kalungi at the Cost of Living Conference.

That said, there were no political decision makers present to take those suggestions on board and put them into action. That begs the question: HOW can the lessons and recommendations of events like this be shared with the powers that be? And HOW can the ‘people’ actually bring about the change we desire?

See, WODIN attended because we agree with the energy and ideals behind the event. The COLC has caused huge disparities, inequities, and poverty in communities in Merseyside and the North West in general. We see it every day in the communities we serve. The COLC is causing destitution amongst whole generations of people in the UK. 

Our community of Black immigrant women, who were already struggling and considered ‘hard to reach’, have been hit even harder. Mainstream services weren’t even reaching them before the COLC and now things have gotten so much worse. 

As a third sector organisation focused on a specific, region- and demographic-specific community, we know who the people in our orbit are who are struggling and we know exactly how to serve them. But we don’t always have the funds to do so. If you have the capacity to donate to WODIN, we will make sure that your money makes a difference.


How grassroots organisations are fighting the cost of living crisis

As a grassroots organisation, we at WODIN resonated with every challenge and frustration shared by the speakers of the day. Larger organisations receive 90% of government funding, and while they often get in contact with grassroots organisations like us, it’s usually to deliver their projects/programs/research, and not to provide us with resources and funding for our own ongoing community work. It can be overwhelming to try to stay afloat as a small organisation while helping everyone who is suffering. Burnout is very real for the people serving communities at this level. 

While the strategies and recommendations shared by the majority of the speakers sounded truly amazing, they weren’t all practical. It was established that priorities for grassroots organisations and their beneficiaries were financial stability, government awareness, and decent housing. What’s frustrating is that these possibilities are so far out of our hands, and there are few practical steps we can take to make them a reality without the people who hold the keys to the economy taking action themselves.

PRAN: an exciting new cost of living advocacy organisation

WODIN CEO Julie Syl Kalungi takes a selfie of herself at the cost of living conference, showcasing, in the background, the crowd of people sitting in their seats waiting for the conference to begin.
WODIN’s Julie Syl Kalungi at the Cost of Living Conference.

Still, a lot of good came out of this event. In addition to networking and connecting with other organisations with a potential for future collaboration, we learned that the conference hosts have created a whole organisation dedicated to fighting the COLC.

This movement is called the Poverty Research and Advocacy Network (PRAN). PRAN invites all third sector organisations in the UK to join in this movement to reduce the number of people being pushed into crisis and destitution. 

PRAN will bring together organisations, stakeholders, and researchers to build a movement via a knowledge-sharing platform focused on solutions to poverty and inequality, leading to systemic change. PRAN will carry out collaborative research and take action on reducing exclusion that leads to stigmatisation.

If you are a forward thinking individual or run an organisation and are willing to join the network, Dr. Natalija Atas encourages you to simply email info@pran.org.uk. You can also follow her on social media (details can be found at the end of this post).

Finally, PRAN launched its website, which will also host a podcast for the advocacy network. The podcast will discuss key issues facing people and communities affected by the COLC and highlight the important work that local people and organisations are doing in an attempt to tackle those issues.

Join the conversation on social media by following these accounts:

PRAN: Twitter

Dr. Atas: Twitter

Dr. Dabrowski: Twitter

Citizens Outreach Coalition: Twitter / Instagram / Facebook

WODIN: Twitter / Instagram / Facebook / LinkedIn / TikTok / YouTube / Pinterest

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