Home Health The Public Health impact of the cost of living crisis 
A woman stands at a window cradling a toddler checking to see if the radiator is warm.

The Public Health impact of the cost of living crisis 

by Emily Maguire

Knowsley’s Director of Public Health has published a report on why the cost of living crisis is a public health issue.

The report looks at who is most affected and at risk,  why living in a cold home is bad for health, how food insecurity affects health and why being able to access and afford transport contributes towards good health.

The report highlights that while the cost of living crisis may have affected most households it has not impacted everyone equally and has contributed towards increasing existing health inequalities and worsening health and wellbeing.

On average, low income households spend a greater proportion of their income on essentials such as energy bills and food and have less flexibility to manage price increases and cut back further. As the report outlines, this means that low income households are more affected by higher inflation rates and the cost of living crisis.

As Knowsley is the second most income deprived borough in England, with 25% of the population on a low income, it is likely that those residents who were just about coping or those who were already struggling to make ends meet will have been pushed further into crisis.

To live a healthy life, people need to have a certain level of income to be able to afford the essentials.  For example having the choice to afford good quality and a sufficient amount of food,  living in well maintained, safe housing and having enough money to pay the bills to keep warm during the colder months. When these needs are not met there are significant negative impacts on both mental and physical health for people of all ages.

Cost of Living support 

The report also highlights how the Council and partners have worked together to support residents through these challenging times through support with fuel and utility bills and food and other essentials. Also, additional financial support to those most at risk, affordable warmth programmes, access to warm hubs across the borough and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s winter warmth campaign to highlight but a few.

During winter 2022/23 a support package was ploughed into providing support and services tailored to the needs of Knowsley communities, ensuring that they got the right support at the right time. This consisted of £3.415m from the council’s own Knowsley Better Together Hardship Fund, along with £5.586m from the Government’s Household Support Fund, along with an additional.£3.724 millon allocated for 1 April 2023 and 31 March 2024.

In addition, the Council ensured that help and support was easily available in one place on its news website as well as having a dedicated Cost of Living Helpline number for residents to call if they needed help and support.

Regular updates were shared across all partners involved in programme delivery to ensure all were aware of the different types of support available including support for mental health and wellbeing.

Next steps

The Council has noted recommendations outlined in the report to continue to mitigate against the negative health consequences of the cost of living crisis, including:

  • To fund a winter wellness grants programme for 2023/24;
  • To continue to provide warm hubs for residents within the borough’s libraries not only during the winter months but year-round;
  • To roll out Environmental Health damp and mould training to staff beyond the Local Authority such as in health services;
  • To continue with engagement and promotion plan to increase the uptake of Healthy Start vouchers for eligible families in the borough;
  • To develop a food security plan for the borough to reduce emergency use of food banks and sustain a community model;
  • To continue to monitor the data and impacts relating to financial insecurity on health and wellbeing;
  • To strengthen the promotion of income maximisation opportunities to residents.
  • To continue to work with partners to actively call upon the Government to allocate additional and sustainable funding to address the ongoing impacts of the cost of living crisis. Including an improved and fairer approach to local government funding with needs based funding.

Cllr Christine Bannon, Knowsley Cabinet Member for Health, said:

“Many people believe that cost of living crisis, which continues to affect many people up and down the country, is the second major health-related emergency following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As with COVID-19, the impact across the country has not been equal. People living in more deprived areas, like Knowsley, who are already struggling to afford food, pay the bills or keep up with the rent or mortgage payments are now facing additional pressures as prices rise.

“We experienced during the pandemic how everyone in Knowsley pulls together when times are tough and the cost of living crisis has been another example of the great partnership working and community resilience which we have in Knowsley.

“The Council and its partners have listened to what residents need to help them through the cost of living crisis and ensured that we provided support and services in line with those needs.

“The support provided has been extensive and covers not only access to essentials such as food and heating, but also ensuring that residents who need mental health and debt management advice, get the support they need. Everyone’s needs are different and the extensive package of support reflects the wide range of what local people actually need.

“We will continue to do all that we can to make sure that our residents have the right support at the right time and will continue to support them through these challenging times.

“It’s important that residents know they are not alone and that help and support is available to everybody in Knowsley.”

The annual report reproduced by Knowsley’s Director of Public Health was noted by members at a full meeting of Knowsley Council on Wednesday 18 October 2023.