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January 2023

The cost of a pint of milk … the cost of living crisis, system pressures and safeguarding

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Do you know the cost of a pint of milk?

Over the years this has often been a killer ambush question to politicians, to test them on how well (or not) they understand the experience of the people they seek to represent. Get it wrong and it is a very successful and effective way of making a politician look out of touch.

But this isn’t an abstract or tongue in cheek question. It really matters to millions. The cost of a pint of milk and many other daily living costs (groceries, fuel, transport, rent, mortgages) have seen huge increases. In mid-December the BBC reported that the cost of living is still close to a 40-year high, squeezing millions of households and businesses. A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (June 2022) starkly sets out the scale and impact of the cost of living crisis:

‘about 7 million households – equivalent to every family in the north of England - have missed out on essentials like heating, toiletries or showers because they couldn’t afford it this year [2022], or didn’t have enough money for food last month’
New evidence of the ‘year of financial fear’ being endured by UK’s low-income families, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Coupled with system pressures across social care, health services, housing, policing, community and voluntary sector, services are struggling - some would say failing - to meet the need. We are seeing a perfect storm.

Last October the Norfolk Safeguarding Adults Board (NSAB) discussed the impact the cost of living crisis on safeguarding adult concerns. We learned about:

  • increased activity from loan sharks in the health system
  • increased threat of financial scams particularly linked to help with fuel costs and energy efficiency scams
  • a small number of anecdotal reports of carer theft from people they are supporting, exploiting those they care for (low pay/cost of living)

The board partners took action to make sure there was increased communication to highlight the range of services that can offer support.

There is real and rising hardship, for example all 250 Citizens Advice offices across the country have reported record demand. Alongside Citizen Advice, lots of people across many Norfolk agencies (and up and down the country) have been working hard to support a coordinated response to assist those struggling and get information out to all communities about the help that there is on offer.

Norfolk County Council’s website provides an array of information about support with the cost of living and Just One Norfolk’s keeping warm and well this winter. There is a list of places to go to keep warm. Please share these resources with anyone who may be in need.

This growing pressure for many millions will inevitably also increase the vulnerability to abuse and harm for some adults with care and support needs.

For example, over these winter months, further strain is not just on resources, but also on relationships, wellbeing and health. We have press reports of county lines gangs exploiting hardship to recruit vulnerable children using burgers and coats and criminals using the cost of living crisis to scam the public.

Important safeguarding questions to be asked

Faced with such a perfect storm of the cost of living and system pressures, how do we focus in on the adult safeguarding questions?

When does living in a cold house become a safeguarding concern as set out by the Care Act and within the remit of a safeguarding board? When does a 12 hour wait on the floor for an ambulance become a safeguarding concern because all the ambulances are waiting outside A&E? A patient who is medically fit to leave hospital but there is no care available to support them at home. The patient stays longer in hospital with reduced activity leading to reduced functional ability, deconditioning, as well as worsening of cognition - is this a safeguarding concern?

How we might think about these examples from a preventative point of view is another challenge for our safeguarding adults board. The ‘prevention of abuse and neglect is a core responsibility of a SAB and it should have an overview of how this is taking place in the area’ (14.140 Care Act Statutory Guidance).

For all these tricky questions there may be different views from different partners and consideration of safeguarding will always need to be on a case by case basis - every situation will have a specific context and set of circumstances. These are also the sort of discussions your safeguarding adults board has. What is clear already is that these wider pressures can impact on our valuable partnership working, and everyone across the workforce from frontline to boardroom needs to guard against this.

Alongside these wider system questions, where it can feel difficult to make a difference, there are 2 simple things that we can all do, and encourage others to do:

  1. Know where to signpost people to for support with the cost of living pressures
  2. Check in on a friend or neighbour who may be struggling. Have a chat with them about the support that is out there

Two actions for practical preventative safeguarding, safeguarding with a small ‘s’.

Actions like these help permeate safeguarding through every part of our workforce, across our communities and through our voluntary & social enterprise sector. Safeguarding isn't just everyone's business, it's everyday business. From the start of your career to the end, in every conversation, in our working lives to our leisure time, we are all responsible. When done effectively we can ‘feel’ it in all contacts we have with an organisation and its people.

Thank you.

Walter Lloyd-Smith

NSAB Board Manager

Email: [email protected]

03 January 2023


PS The last time I check a pint of milk cost £1.30 for 2 pints (1.13L) of semi skimmed milk