Supporting vulnerable communities is essential – but how do councils go about it?

5 Feb 24

Supporting vulnerable communities is a public and social sector imperative. But are organisations in a position to deliver their services effectively? 

Pound coins Shutterstock 632790128

Image © Ink Drop/Shutterstock

In the past year alone, the UK has faced political uncertainty, unprecedented strike action and the prevailing cost of living crisis. While the UK inflation rate may be on the decline, the implications of this backdrop – for vulnerable citizens and deprived communities in particular – are unfortunately profound and long-lasting. As a result, many of the UK’s most vulnerable communities are at risk of becoming more marginalised and face more hardship.

The public and social sector has a responsibility to react to this fiscal pressure and the challenges that have grown through inflation, and provide support for vulnerable people, communities and service users who are facing a myriad of struggles. However, the sector itself is facing its own challenges within the current climate, hindering its ability to deliver public services in the current climate, and this is clearly worrying.

Barriers blocking better support

Almost all sectors have been impacted by the current economic backdrop, and the public sector is no exception. Mazars surveyed over 300 UK public sector workers, with 81% believing a lack of funding is the biggest barrier to their organisation supporting vulnerable people and communities, followed by a lack of staffing resources (61%).

Without sufficient funding and resources, organisations will always struggle to make a real impact, and unblocking these issues is clearly crucial. Promisingly, the sector is taking proactive steps, with 61% seeking new funding or income streams to maintain services and 54% reassessing the breadth and depth of services. Organisations should consider creating hardship funds, diverting critical services, and streamlining internal processes to drive change.

Innovation and collaboration is key

Organisations within the public and social sectors are facing similar fights against financial constraints, and there is an argument that working together will allow them to meet the rising demand for their services with renewed vigour. External collaboration could strengthen the response to these deep-running fiscal challenges, and engaging with third parties and leveraging internal networks could improve efficiency and productivity organisation-wide.

We found that workers advocate a unified approach, which values the existing workforce’s skills and insight, and supplements this with external perspectives to diversify thinking and continually improve.

In addition, both innovation and technology offer potential opportunities for improved service delivery. Digital transformation strategies, sharing good practice and using artificial intelligence are needed to identify the people and communities most at risk.

Efficient and digitised services have the potential to free up resources, and our survey shone a particular spotlight on self-help tools for their dual function in creating capacity and empowering citizens.

Looking to the longer term

During an economic crisis, many service providers focus on short-term problems, and while funding and resources are lacking this is particularly understandable. Organisations do remain alert to issues on the external horizon that could impact success in future, with uncertainty both in relation to energy costs and inflation (90%) and the current UK political landscape (79%) being key concerns for most respondents we surveyed, as well as instability in the workforce, with 77% saying that higher level skills shortages were having a high or medium impact.

Employees need to be nurtured, new funding streams secured, and significant efficiency gains made in order for the sector to be able to support vulnerable communities in future. Upstream investment in people and relationships should intrinsically support the achievement of outputs and outcomes, maximising medium-to-long-term impact. However, it is apparent that the sector needs an injection of confidence that there will be the financial and political security to deliver this success.

Supporting vulnerable communities is undoubtedly a public and social sector imperative, and organisations have a good understanding of what the issues are, as well as opportunities to address the challenges. However, making the move from reactive awareness to enacting the change needed is now not only logical, but essential. Innovation and collaboration in particular will be key to strengthening the support and service delivery to deprived communities, not just now, but in the future too.

Mazars’ report can be found here: Fiscal pressure and inflation challenges for the public & social sector.

Did you enjoy this article?