Purpose of the strategy
The purpose of this strategy is to ensure that we help to build resilient communities where everyone in Wealden is engaged and able to live safe and healthy lives. We aim to do this by ensuring that individuals have the financial help and skills they need, but also to support them during times of financial difficulties/emergencies.
There are three reasons why the financial wellbeing of our residents is important to us:
- Firstly, the wellbeing of our residents underpins our core aims (see background below) and research has shown that there are clear links between financial insecurity and poor mental health. Reflecting on the impact of financial insecurity on mental health in later life | Independent Age
- Secondly, because of the way our services are funded we need to ensure that residents are able to pay for council services such as council tax and rent if they are a council tenant or leaseholder. This is because we rely on this income to deliver our services; and
- Finally, the availability and access to services to support our residents is fundamental to our core aims (see background below). Therefore, as well as the direct support provided by a number of our services, we do provide funding to some third sector organisations so that they can deliver support to our residents.
Our Corporate Plan sets out the direction, aims and priorities for the Council.
Wealden District Council is a high performing council. It achieves this through being ambitious and agile in its operations. The Corporate Plan builds upon this culture of ambition and focusses on four main themes:
- Ambitious council – We will continue to be an ambitious Council that is dynamic and forward thinking.
- Engaged communities – We want to see all the communities of Wealden engaged and able to live safe and healthy lives.
- Sustainable environment – Our environment is an important asset, and we want to see it not just preserved but also and enhanced.
- Thriving economy – In order for our communities to flourish we need a thriving local economy where there exist opportunities for vibrant businesses to set up and grow.
In understanding how we can ensure residents receive financial help, financial skills and support during financial hardship we need to understand the current position of residents and the issues facing some of them. Therefore, to inform this strategy we have developed the Research Paper.
The purpose of this strategy will be delivered in the following ways:
Through ensuring Wealden’s residents:
- In the short-term are aware of and able to access support during times of financial difficulties/emergencies.
It is essential that residents are helped to resolve their current situation to prevent things getting worse. This needs to be done as quickly as possible to prevent the situation becoming out of control and to minimise the impact on their mental health and wellbeing. The ‘Surviving but not Living’ report from early 2022, worryingly found that 56% of people did not know that help or support would be available to them if they faced a financial struggle.
- In the long-term are able to improve their financial situation and build financial skills and resilience to prevent the need to access short-term support.
Personalised plans are needed so that households recovering from financial difficulties/crisis are better able to withstand temporary financial challenges and difficulties, including coping with the current ongoing cost of living crisis. This can include support to improve their current employment situation, ensuring they are claiming all the benefits and assistance to which they are entitled, help with budgeting through understanding income and expenditure, ensuring affordable borrowing where needed and affordable savings and much more.
Delivering our Vision
Having considered the intelligence, we have regarding the national position and our own residents, our purpose and vision for this strategy, our corporate priorities and our resources (both staff and financial), Our vision will be delivered in the following ways:
1. Partnership working – We will work in partnership with and support other public bodies and local third sector providers to improve the financial position of those residents in need. We will do this by improving the financial skills of our residents as well as providing direct support during times of financial difficulties/emergencies. In addition, we will support businesses.
The Wealden Strategic Partnership is a community partnership which brings together the different parts of the public, private, community & voluntary, and special interest sectors to work to help improve the life of the residents of Wealden. We will work with the Wealden Strategic Partnership to develop an action plan for delivery of our vision.
In addition to the Wealden Strategic Partnership we work in partnership with many organisations both statutory and voluntary to ensure services and advice are available to residents. This includes partnership projects, pooling resources, bidding for funding and providing outreach services. Some of the current partnership projects includes:
Use of our office space – We are currently working with a number of organisations, including Hailsham Foodbank and DWP to explore how we can provide a shared space on the ground floor of the council offices in Hailsham. This will help improve the accessibility of services to our residents.
East Sussex Library service – We work closely with the Library Service to enable residents to access free Wi-Fi and computers, free IT support, employment support, math’s, and literacy support and much more.
Employment support – We work with voluntary organisations such as People Matter and ESTAR as well as DWP and the local Job Centres to ensure residents can access employment support and to ensure appropriate Wealden staff receive up to date training on welfare benefits.
Providers of financial support – The main provider of advice, support and improvement of financial skills is Citizens Advice who have 3 offices across the district. Whilst we directly fund the Citizens Advice through a Service Level Agreement there are also a number of other organisations who also provide some basic financial advice and support.
Street Learning – This project works with training providers in Wealden and Eastbourne to provide access to free courses to Wealden and Eastbourne residents. The project provides a wide range of courses which are free to anyone aged 19+ including online courses. Courses are designed to help residents develop new skills or enhance existing ones. They can help improve employment/career prospects, financial and digital skills, improve mental health and wellbeing, confidence and much more.
Emergency Support – In emergencies residents can access food parcels though one of the foodbanks in the district if they are referred by a number of organisations within the district, including the council. They can also access fuel vouchers through the food banks.
Funding – We work in partnership with other organisations and provide funding advice to maximise access to funding. This has in recent times included access to accommodation and specialist support for rough sleepers. The council also signposts voluntary organisations and charities to funding opportunities when they are maximising resource. As well as delivery of Covid support to individuals, community and voluntary organisations, charities and businesses.
East Sussex Financial Inclusion Steering Group –This partnership constitutes of a large range of statutory and voluntary organisations operating across East Sussex. The group was set up by East Sussex County Council as a consultative, advisory, and peer learning forum for cross-sectoral knowledge sharing, planning and partnership working in all matters that involve Financial Inclusion.
Wealden Cost of Living Pressures Group – This is an internal group of Officers across different frontline council services has been set up to work together to see what we can do to help residents. To date this has included sharing intelligence and information, developing a hub on our website of information and resources.
East Sussex Funding Advisors Network – This partnership constitutes of a number of funding advisors across local authorities, voluntary action groups and local funders in East Sussex. This was re-established in 2022 to identify gaps and trends across East Sussex and to adapt funding programmes and opportunities accordingly. Wealden District Council co-ordinates these meetings.
Wealden Community Network Partnership – This partnership constitutes of a number of community groups across Wealden and provides opportunities to share information and advice to support the voluntary sector. 3VA co-ordinates these meetings.
Food Partnership – the partnership has been set up with public health funding to create networks of people and organisations in Wealden who are passionate about creating a stronger, more resilient, equitable, healthy, and sustainable local food system. The partnerships vision is that every person in Wealden should have access to healthy, tasty and affordable food.
2. Communication /Awareness – Raise awareness of the services available locally to improve the financial position and skills of our residents.
It is essential that residents are aware of and can access services when they need them, to ensure that we reach as many residents as possible we use a range of media to raise awareness of what services and what support is available.
Website. The main way in which we share information with customers is through our website as this is a quick and easy way to get information out, however, not all our residents are online, and this requires them actively looking for information. This includes new areas dedicated to the cost of living and the range of support and services available.
Social Media. Social media is another way that we can share information quickly and easily and is a particularly useful way to reach our younger residents.
Newsletters. Some services still produce newsletters including the housing service. This is a valuable way to communicate directly with customers.
Wealden Weekly. Over 20,000 residents subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter. This is one of our most effective ways to directly engage with residents.
Funding database – 350 Wealden organisations are on the database and is used to send through funding opportunities and relevant information.
Outreach. The benefits team are one of the main services who undertake outreach in order to promote take-up and signpost to other services.
Press Release. Although less popular than they used to be, press releases are still used to communicate important information to our residents.
Radio. We have several radio stations covering the area and in the past some of these have been used to make residents aware of services/events and much more.
Partnerships. Through our work with other organisations, we can utilise their channels of communication with our residents as many have their own websites, outreach services and newsletters, for example East Sussex County Council who send newsletters to every household in Wealden.
3. Supporting residents
In supporting residents, it is essential that we enable them to be able to access services when they need them. We do this in 2 main ways. Firstly, through our own Council services and secondly through funding other support services.
Because we are a rural district, we have to consider barriers to access services due to transport and as such it is important that residents are offered a variety of ways to access services including in-person, over the telephone and online.
Council services – All frontline staff, no matter how they are communicating with residents, need to be aware of what services exist for our residents so that they can sign-post residents to the most appropriate service. We therefore ensure officers have appropriate ongoing training. Additionally, through internal groups and other channels officers share information.
In some services we have specialist officers who can help residents. For example, our Housing Tenancy Sustainment Officers who can help residents in council or private housing retain their tenancy through a hand-holding service to address issues including financial issues by dealing with debt, money management and much more.
Funding – Through Service Level Agreements with third sector providers we provide funding for them to deliver a range of services across Wealden to our residents. Those relevant to the delivery of this strategy are Citizens Advice, Clued up, Wealden works and People Matter although some others provide a limited amount of financial advice. In addition, we fund Cuckmere Buses and North Weald Community Transport who provide transport services within the rural areas, to ensure residents can access services.
Citizens Advice delivers a range of services to residents including welfare and debt advice. The service provided includes a whole range of assistance to help residents manage and retain or regain control of their finances.
People Matter are the main providers of employment support, training and coaching for long term unemployed and vulnerable people and provide outreach across the district. In addition, Wealden works supports vulnerable 16-24, who are not in education, employment, or training. This enables residents to improve their long-term financial position.
Performance and Review
An action plan will be developed in conjunction with the Wealden Strategic Partnership to ensure that we deliver the vision set out in this strategy. Delivery of this will be monitored and reported back to our Cost of Living Pressures Group and Councillors via Cabinet with information published on our website.
This strategy will be kept under review and updated as necessary.