Why we need a Covid-style response to the cost of living crisis

Cllr Mariam Khan, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, talks about why we need a Covid-style response to the cost of living crisis.

The effects of the cost-of-living crisis are immense and threaten the health and wellbeing of more Birmingham citizens than ever before. It is much more than people 'not having enough.

Let’s look at this more closely.

We’ve become so used to saying ‘cost of living crisis’ or ‘cost of living emergency’ that it’s almost frightening that we need to even think about this.

We are ultimately talking about people not being able to afford to live. That is the stark reality of what we are facing right now.

The impacts of this crisis on our citizens are far-ranging: the return of Victorian diseases that are avoidable with healthy food options; the mental health burden of not being able to provide for your family; the impact on your mental health of needing to ask for help even though you are working - such as many healthcare workers and teachers to name just two professions who 12 months ago were considered comfortable incomes.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there will be people who will be experiencing for the first time what it feels like to make the impossible choice between heating your home and putting food on the table. There are worries here also of people making choices due to difficult circumstances, compromising their safety in order to stay warm when the temperatures drop. Whether that is our vulnerable, elderly residents using unsafe appliances and heaters, or parents choosing to put a new-born baby in bed next to them in order for the baby to stay warm. People should not have to take risks like this.

And this crisis will affect the health of our population considerably, whether it is families in temporary accommodation without the means to cook, or parents not eating for days so that their children don’t go hungry, or children in this city who turn up to school hungry, not quite qualifying for free school meals whilst there is surplus food going to waste because of no infrastructure to get it to those who are most in need. This is an absolute crisis situation and why we have called on Government to declare a cost of living emergency with a Covid-style response to support all of our residents.

As a council and city we are already supporting those most in need and we need to absorb the learning from the Covid-19 pandemic response so we aren’t reinventing the wheel; we need to bolster and empower those leading in this area and reaching our most vulnerable citizens already; and we need to ensure that we are acting not just in the short-term but building something better. This is why the work that is taking place right now in our Emergency Response to the Cost-of-Living Crisis are underpinned by these principles –

  • it is not just feeding those starving with any unhealthy food available, but providing people with food that is healthy, nutritious, dignified, and culturally appropriate;
  • it is not just giving people a warm place to be, but a place they feel safe and can access further support and opportunities;
  • it is not just helping people where we can, but also doing so in a way that reduces the shame and stigma associated with getting them help that they need;
  • it is not just reinventing the wheel, but building on the brilliant work, services and support already available in the city, continuing to work closely with our partners who are also focussing their efforts on doing the best for residents of Birmingham;
  • it is not just short-term short-lived outcomes, but long-term ongoing support that will strive to fix a broken system and work to stop the crisis we face this winter becoming the norm for winters to come.

And remember, while winter pressures have always existed in the health and social care sectors, we must never let this extreme level of crisis become the norm for winters to come.

This blog was posted on 2 November 2022.

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