A broken fingernail and the #forgottenmany in Richmond

Monday 8th May 2017 by Caroline Masundire
chipped fingernail polish on fingers

Why we need to rethink how we fund need and look beyond the Indices of Multiple Deprivation. A few months ago, I was chatting to a group of my peers at a networking event about all things London. It was going well until a wave of incredulity swept over me followed by a collective rolling of eyes, when I revealed that I was leading a project to understand unmet need in the London Borough of Richmond.

“Need? Poor loves… Did someone break a fingernail and couldn’t get to the nail bar in time” exclaimed one, “Or perhaps they tripped over a grape at Waitrose” chortled another. Usually when I talk about my work, it often piques some professional interest from others, feigned or otherwise. I was certainly not expecting derision.

When we started this work last summer, we had to really think about what need looks like in an area measured by high wealth and low deprivation. We also had to think about the implications of that need in terms of funding, service delivery and public sector investment.

Nearly ten years ago, we conducted a similar piece of research, albeit different in approach, for the Cripplegate Foundation. Invisible Islington clearly illustrated the dynamics of need and challenge in a borough where wealth and poverty live side by side.  We anticipated that we would reach similar findings in Richmond, although we did not expect need to be so heavily impacted by the local economy and housing market.

There is a price to pay for living in the borough when you are in need.

  • Choices about how you spend your Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment are restricted as the cost of services are high, leaving you unable to pay for all the care to which you are entitled.
  • Care costs are at a premium, driven up by competition, and demand exceeding local supply as care workers have to commute because they cannot afford to live locally.
  • Despite strong transport routes in places, in others, many people find it difficult getting around and cannot spare money for a bus fare.
  • Disabled people unable to access services, living in fear of benefit sanctions and experiencing hate crime.
  • Mental health issues being exacerbated by a disjointed system as vulnerable people ‘bump’ around services, having multiple assessments but experiencing little follow-through and action.
  • Many just about coping but living On the Edge of crisis. A change in circumstance, a charity closing or a service restricting access could tip the balance and put them in a crisis. Not just a terrible cost for them but also creating greater costs on the public purse. Resolving crisis is far more expensive than preventing it in the first place.

Admittedly this pattern of need could be found anywhere in any place. But Richmond is one of the last places one would expect it to be so marked. Our work in other London boroughs, is highlighting a growing issue of increased polarisation between poverty and wealth. This is something we identified in Islington in 2008, but it is getting worse as a consequence of the compounding effects of the London housing market, welfare reform and cost of living.

The problem with places like Richmond and other outer London boroughs, is that deprivation and need is dispersed over a wider area and not concentrated within a particular postcode. Rural areas face similar challenges as do many other places across the country.

Making funding or investment decisions based on where an area scores on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) ignores the fact that need still exists. This means that people in need who live in these areas suffer a double disadvantage – they do not get access to funding others can get and are less likely to be able access services to help them either because they do not exist or are too far away.   We are calling these people the #forgottenmany.

Many of the charities we speak to are not able to access funding because IMD is used to make funding decisions and therefore their applications fall at the first hurdle. These charities, often smaller, provide vital support and services to the #forgottenmany, but face greater risk of cutbacks and closure as they cannot get funded.

We know the competition for funding is getting harder and harder and that IMD will continue to be used a way of knocking out deserving causes. So we have to find new ways of harnessing investment and resources to address need. But we also have to rethink how we make decisions on funding need. Whilst IMD is one instrument, it has its flaws.

Finally, we must reset our thinking, perceptions and prejudices about places.  Okay the broken fingernail comment was in jest and in a small group.

But I bet many others would have thought the same thing. Did you?

Our research in Richmond was funded by Richmond Parish Lands Charity and Hampton Fuel Allotment Charity included; a review of data, consultation with over 80 organisations and interviews with residents to capture their story what life feels like when you are in need in Richmond.  ‘On the Edge’ officially launches on the 9th May 2017. Contact me if you would like more information.

Caroline is an Associate Director at Rocket Science based in our London office.  You can check out her profile here.

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