In two weeks, the 2016 Quids In Financial Wellbeing Survey will be live and social tenants will start telling us how they’re getting on with their money. It’s the third national survey and this year, we’ve included social landlords who don’t take Quids in! magazine itself – so don’t call it a reader survey. It will update the shocking statistics we found in 2014 when the big headline was how money worries were impacting the health of low income households with more than half feeling anxious or afraid and a third feeling physically ill. Respondents told us it was no longer a case of often choosing whether to eat or heat, many couldn’t afford to do either. We predicted a surge of demand on the NHS and in October, the Independent reported:
“NHS statistics show that 7,366 people were admitted to hospital with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition between August 2014 and July this year, compared with 4,883 cases in the same period from 2010 to 2011 – a rise of more than 50 per cent in just four years.”
In the run up to the general election, the Social Publishing Project put together a manifesto on behalf of social tenants and people on low incomes across the UK. We drew directly on the findings of our previous research. We called on whichever administration took office to give people the financial means to stay well and to ensure the health service could better support those whose ill-health had a root cause in debt or financial hardship. We said financial services should provide better access for poorer people who will depend on them more, for example as Universal Credit comes in. We also challenged the lazy assumptions specifically around moving services and help online when over a quarter of our (least well off) readers told us they had no access to the internet and, linked to this, policy decisions that have clearly no understanding of how real people live their lives.
We’ve used the data to feed into our own business development, making the magazine fitter for the purpose of improving readers’ financial wellbeing. It has informed our response to Universal Credit – the group who were suffering worst, according to our 2014 study, were working age people not in full-time employment… those most likely to claim benefits, then. As well as helping us prioritise content to help readers avoid the pitfalls as they migrate to UC, it led too our new Guide to Universal Credit and a strategy template for partners looking at practical steps to help local residents facing welfare reform. We’ve also toured the data across the country, speaking at financial capability forums and financial inclusion network meetings to help share the insight and improve services everywhere.
I had an interesting conversation with friends the other night about the polarising effect of Facebook. It tends to prioritise updates from people whose previous posts we’ve liked or commented on. This creates a kind of rarefied bubble and, we speculated, goes some way to explain why so many people were so shocked at the outcome of the election. Social media of all types is increasing our news intake but it enables us (and forces us, when time is tight) to stick our fingers in our ears and screen out the objectionable and dissenting noise.
At this point, the most valuable asset to decision makers everywhere must be empirical data. Leaders who do not source objective intelligence and build it into their plans are doomed to failure. It’s the basic premise of commerce and one good reason why we run our surveys. I’d have thought, with all the giants of business among their ranks, it’s what the Tories would know best. No-one wants to be called out for not knowing what’s going on, especially if you’re Prime Minister, presumably.