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Practical comms lessons for the cost of living crisis

7 June 2022

Soaring energy, food and fuel prices. UK inflation at a 40-year high. Cost of living is now the dominant concern for UK households. But how do we tackle this as charity communicators in a way that is practical and useful for our audiences?

Here are three ways for charity communicators to adapt their work as we respond to the staggering impact of the cost of living on our clients, our donors, and our service delivery.

1. Reflect that cost of living is impacting everyone but don’t be afraid to keep asking for help.

Cost of living is a problem for everyone. According to the Office for National Statistics, 9 in 10 adults reported an increase in their cost of living, with nearly a quarter finding it very difficult or difficult to pay their usual household bills. We need to recognise that it’s likely our target audience is under stress from these financial pressures.

Emma Ballu, fundraising and communications manager at Aberdeen Cyrenians, who support people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and who have services that have been hit by rising food costs, explained how they have thought through the language of their asks: “We’ve placed more emphasis on ‘if you can give’ and on small acts of kindness adding up, i.e., just one tin donated at your supermarket shop”.

https://twitter.com/Abdn_Cyrenians/status/1525053450475786241?cxt=HHwWgsC-sY-CiqoqAAAA

2. Explain how your charity can help to people who may not have needed you before.

Charities are reviewing their existing resources to make sure there is a clear journey to relevant advice and support and using their channels to signpost to these frequently.

Sara Willcocks, head of external affairs at national poverty charity, Turn2Us explains their approach: “We have stepped up our efforts to make sure people can find, and access, the right support and information at the right time to get them through this desperate situation. We have created a dedicated cost of living hub on our website containing a wealth of information about what support is out there.”

Other examples include The Association of Charitable Organisations, who represent the benevolent sector, who have also created an info hub – Support during the Squeeze. And Gateshead charity, Foundations Furniture, who are using their social channels to explain the impact that the cost of living crisis will have on furniture poverty and to share their widened eligibility criteria with residents.

3. Show that this crisis is not being experienced equally.

The impact of the cost of living crisis is being felt sooner and harder for people on the lowest incomes, who spend a high proportion of their income on essentials like food and fuel. As the Trussell Trust explain through their Impossible Decisions campaign, for people who are already struggling, this is about having to skip meals, turn off heating, and miss bill payments.

Charities are having to explain the knock on impacts for their clients and members. Charities like Kidney Care UK who are calling on government and energy companies to recognise the increasing numbers of home dialysis patients that are having to choose between dialysing, heating their homes, and putting food on the table.

As Katy Styles, founder of We Care Campaign,  a group who have gained over 15,000 signatures for their petition for Government support with energy costs faced by disabled people and people with a medical condition explains it is important to consider the inequalities the crisis is widening. She said: “For carers and their families with little to no ability to earn any more, the rising cost of energy is extremely worrying. Many of these same families have higher energy needs due to the lifesaving medical equipment they are running at home. We wanted to make sure people understood it wasn’t a question of us all pulling on an extra jumper, turning off lights when we walk out of a room and turning our heating down. We have gained a lot of traction and media coverage, highlighting the impact of energy bills going up on families like ours.”

Remember – As storytellers, we play an important role in challenging the narrative on poverty

Too often, people experiencing inequality and poverty are spoken for, rather than being able to tell their own story. As the author Mary O’Hara explains, in 2020’s The Shame Game, we need to counter the pervasive toxic narrative that poverty is caused by personal flaws or ‘bad life decisions’ rather than policy choices or economic inequality. To tackle this, Mary says: “The voices and stories of those of us with first-hand experience of poverty should be central to challenging the status quo and to creating an alternative narrative about the poorest”. Involving people with direct lived experience and co-production shares these stories. This is important work in a sector starting to get to grips with its own class problem.

So how do we tackle this? Alice Fuller, head of child poverty at Save the Children, said that to inform their campaign work: “We’re getting public insight from polling, recruiting and training people affected by poverty to speak truth to power, and gathering stories of the far-reaching and devastating impact this crisis is having on people on low incomes. By making this shift in our comms and approach, we’re hoping to create an opportunity to tell the real story of poverty that plagues children’s lives and land a policy package that is serious about eliminating it”.

It feels like right now is a key moment to challenge unhelpful narratives and campaign to address the root causes of poverty and financial inequalities. Campaigners for those hit hardest have successfully influenced the Chancellor to introduce a £15bn package to help people with energy bills, but the fight continues to reverse years of cuts and unhelpful narratives about poverty and its causes. To join a coalition of charities working on this, contact Alice at a.fuller@savethechildren.org.uk.


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Banner Image: Ussama Azam on Unsplash

Helen Deakin

Helen is a freelance communications specialist who helps charities to get their message across.