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Using integration and storytelling to support those affected by the cost of living crisis

27 May 2022

Charities exist to help people when they are in times of need. The cost-of-living crisis is creating a situation where people are having to make tough choices and the needs they have may be exacerbated; for people on dialysis in particular these choices are becoming increasingly inhumane. As communicators, our job is to make sure the public knows we are here and that we can help even if the ‘how?’ is not immediately obvious.

There are about 30,000 people with kidney failure on dialysis in the UK and 5,000 of these have their dialysis treatment at home – which inevitably comes at a financial cost. Rather than having to go into a hospital for hours at a time, at times that might make work or childcare difficult and expose themselves to unnecessary risks due to Covid-19, they are able to make their treatment work for them and this allows them to live their lives to the full. It saves the NHS money, but the costs of utilities have to be covered up front by the patients themselves.

Kidney Care UK believe that home dialysis should be an equal choice for all, regardless of income or location, but sadly reimbursement for utilities is not consistent across the UK, and many people don’t receive anything at all. This is unacceptable. After hearing from increasing numbers of dialysis patients that they were having to choose between dialysing, heating their homes and putting food on the table, we knew we needed to act. What did we do? We created an attention-grabbing campaign in record time to show our support for our beneficiaries who are often silenced and marginalised, and here’s how…

Flexing workloads and prioritisation

We immediately created a working group that united every department in the charity and identified immediate actions we could take, including faster ways we could share data, trends, potential case studies and patient advice. From the top down, it was clear that this was the priority and all other work could be paused whilst we focused on this.

The primary aim of the activity was to raise awareness of the fact kidney patients are disproportionately impacted by the cost-of-living increases, and to highlight that Kidney Care UK is a charity that is there for anyone affected, offering immediate financial and psychosocial support. In order to do this, we created an online hub of support and a patient-led film to share on social media to help raise awareness of the situation real people were experiencing.

One of our Advocacy Officers shared the story of a home dialysis patient in their area and after speaking to him we knew we needed to put his experiences at the heart of this campaign. Phoenix coined the name of the campaign ‘Priced out of existence’ himself and he described his experiences of home dialysis under layers of clothes and blankets in such a way that we knew telling this story in a visual way would be so much more powerful than anything we could write. 

We made a film centred around Phoenix’s story and used it as an opportunity to recruit new potential supporters and beneficiaries, and to highlight to utility companies, MPs and decision makers the true ‘cost-of-living’ crisis that kidney patients were experiencing. This was in order to raise money, so that we could support more patients facing immediate and crushing hardship, and to secure changes that would reduce the impact of rising costs.

Patient voice at the heart of what we do

We worked with a videographer who we’ve worked with across a number of projects. Having that existing relationship and understanding of the charity meant that we were able to take the film from concept to completion in just 15 days. We kept the process flexible to ensure Phoenix was able to tell his story and share his experiences – this also meant that we didn’t overwhelm Phoenix and his family with too many people in his home at the same time. The film featured on our YouTube channel as well as being embedded on our website. We also cut shorter edits, breaking the film into snippets for social media of between 10 and 30 seconds in length. The aim of these was to drive people to our hub of support and to watch the full video. The video was also shared with the UK Kidney Association Patient Safety Group, who are responsible for drawing up reimbursement guidance to really set the context for why the work they are doing is so important.

Integration and working together towards one goal

Whether it was our Policy and Campaigns Team working with the NHS or MPs and Ministers; our Advocacy Service directly supporting patients with advice or fuel/food bank vouchers; our Grants Team providing emergency £300 grants; our Kidney Kitchen team working on advice for how to shop and cook a kidney friendly diet on a budget; or our Marketing & Communications Team working on social media and collating our digital content into one central hub; we mobilised very quickly to get a campaign together on this. We also linked it to our work on our spring fundraising appeal.

Within a month, the video had been viewed over 5,440 times and engagement across all of our social channels has been well above targets (over 10% engagement rate on Facebook and over 6% on Instagram and Twitter). Phoenix has been featured on both ITV and BBC News as well as in a report put out by National Voices and he and the name of our campaign were directly referenced by Keir Starmer during a recent PMQs.

Empowering others through story sharing

This is the first time we’ve run such a ‘social issue’ led campaign as well as the first time we’ve been able to integrate so many threads of work into one combined piece. There have been a lot of learnings but one of the things we’ve found particularly inspiring is the way it’s encouraged others to share their stories.

By sharing Phoenix’s story across our channels, we’ve been able to recruit more case studies, with people coming forward to say that they have the same issues. We’ve been able to support them to tell their own story too, such as George who spoke to the Press & Journal.

Our Policy Team have been using stories like these when they meet with MPs and ministers. The collateral impact it is having is creating tangible changes because the specific issues raised by the film were referenced directly by the Prime Minister in his Good Morning Britain interview in early May and again by Keir Starmer on 18 and 25 May.

So far we’ve already had a great impact with increased profile, a boost in hundreds of new supporters and the campaign has generated six-figures of financial support for the charity that will enable us to continue to sustain and advance our support for our community of kidney patients and their families at a time when they need us most. We’ll continue to work on this throughout the rest of 2022, particularly given the increases due again on 1 October. We continue to meet regularly to review progress internally and look for additional opportunities to improve life for kidney patients.

Find out how communicators are engaging in new ways at our Seminar: Comms campaigns that are changing the world.

For inspiration on how charities are using comms to tackle some of the biggest issues society faces every day check out our Social Issues Hub.

Banner Image: Jasmine Carter on Pexels

Sharon Woodward

PR and media manager, Kidney Care UK

Sharon is the PR & media manager at Kidney Care UK. She has been at the charity for the last five years and has over 20 years working in PR, media relations, celebrity management and social media roles across the charity sector.