Access to Services & Fuel

Addressing digital exclusion

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By Erica Roscoe, Senior Research Fellow, IPPR North

Digital access is essential to our everyday lives. But our recent research into digital exclusion highlighted the barriers that many face to accessing online resources, and the challenges they encounter as a result.

Our research, which focussed on the North East but had nationally relevant findings and recommendations, found that the reasons for digital exclusion are complex and varied, and that digital exclusion often exists on a sliding scale. In our work we characterised digital exclusion as a lack of connectivity, access to appropriate devices, lack of skills and confidence and a lack of online accessibility. This broad definition encompasses individuals who, for example, may be able to use their smartphone to check social media but not have the device or appropriate skills to complete routine tasks through a laptop or desktop computer.

Our work further found that groups often disproportionately affected by digital exclusion are those who are already marginalised, including groups such as disabled people, asylum seekers, people living in rural locations and people experiencing poverty and for many, digital exclusion exacerbates this broader marginalisation. For many living in poverty, digital exclusion is often a matter of affordability; both of devices and of connection. But things are compounded by the fact that being digitally excluded often reduces access to things like job opportunities and precludes you from accessing the full marketplace when needing to make purchases, meaning it’s not possible to find the cheapest deal.

While work has been done throughout the pandemic to combat digital exclusion, we argue that a more coordinated, long-term approach now needs to be adopted to support anyone at risk of digital exclusion. Given the broad range of reasons that someone might experience digital exclusion, we can’t rely on a one size fits all approach to resolving the issue, but need to support people in a range of scenarios. Key recommendations include the need for a minimum standard of access available to all, as well as coordinated signposting and a safety net for anyone identified as being at risk of digital exclusion through access to other public services. We suggest that support should be offered in a range of environments, from one-stop physical digital support hubs, to ongoing support from employers and outreach opportunities to communities most at risk. We also put forward that digital inclusion must be at the heart of other strategies focussed on poverty reduction. Without this, those living in poverty who are facing digital exclusion will continue to face restrictions in access to things like job opportunities, skills development and access to the marketplace.

Eradicating digital exclusion won’t happen overnight and it can’t be done without a joined-up approach. We call on government at the national, regional and local level, alongside VCSE organisations and the private sector to prioritise this agenda and affect change.

To read our report in full click here.

 

i3oz9sAddressing digital exclusion
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The Green Homes Grant

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By Ryan Tute, GMCA

Have you got the itch to make the switch and save money on your energy bills?

Residents in Greater Manchester could be missing out on grants of up to £10,000 on home improvements which could save money on energy bills.

The Green Homes Grant scheme aims to tackle fuel poverty by increasing low-income homes’ energy efficiency rating while reducing their energy bills. While also delivering cost effective carbon savings to progress the city-region’s eco ambitions.  The grants can be used towards the cost of installing insulation, including external wall, loft and cavity wall insulation, and low carbon heating systems, for example an air source heat pump.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) is working with energy provider E.ON to deliver the scheme, although residents do not need to be E.ON customers to apply.

How much can you get?  For owner occupiers, the grant will cover 100% of the cost of the improvements up to a maximum government contribution of £10,000.

Who is eligible for a Green Homes Grant?  You’re eligible for the Green Homes Grant and Local Authority Delivery Scheme if:

  • Your home has an EPC energy efficiency rating of E, F or G
  • Your household income is less than £30,000 or someone in your home receives benefits such as Universal Credit, Income Support, Disability Allowance and more.
  • Your property is in Greater Manchester
  • You own your own home (including long-leaseholders and shared ownership)
  • You own a park home on a residential site (including Gypsy or Traveller sites)

What energy efficiency measures are available? If eligible, the scheme provides money towards energy efficient measures, such as:

  • External wall insulation
  • Air Source Heat Pumps
  • Underfloor insulation
  • Room in roof insulation
  • Window replacements (single glazed)
  • Smart heating controls
  • Solar PV
  • Door replacements

If successful, what next? E.ON will find approved installers in your area to complete the work for you.

How do I apply for the Green Home Grant? Head online to the website  Call the Green Homes Grant team at E.ON on 0333 202 4820  or send an email.

 

i3oz9sThe Green Homes Grant
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Groundwork GM: Out of bounds

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Severe inequalities in access to parks and greenspaces

Groundwork GM logo for GM Poverty ActionGroundwork Greater Manchester have published the ‘Out of Bounds: Equity in Access to Urban Nature’ report, drawing on evidence and insight from contributors across the green space, health and equalities sectors.

Key statistics brought together in the report show that:

•  Only 5% of adults say that access to nature has never been important to them or their
mental health

•  40% of people from ethnic minority backgrounds live in the most green-space deprived areas

•  29% of people living with a long-term illness or disability had not visited a natural space in the previous month.

But what does the report mean for Greater Manchester?

Michaela Howell, Head of Communities at Groundwork Greater Manchester, explores this question, drawing on three of the reports’ recommendations:

•  We must reimagine urban nature to ensure that it meets the needs and desires of communities today.

•  We must rebalance power in the management of green and blue spaces and build better partnerships.

•  We need to integrate urban nature solutions fully into efforts to tackle health inequalities, climate change and
biodiversity loss.

Read more here

 

Why Groundwork is important:

  • 89% of community groups say their work is needed more than ever, but more than half say it has got harder for them to operate in the last ten years.
  • 75% of people say they feel unable to influence decisions about what happens in their local area.
  • Nearly half of young people say they feel they don’t belong to their neighbourhood.
  • 2.69 million people do not live within a ten minute walk of a green space. Those who are at greatest risk of poor physical and mental health are more likely to miss out on the benefits of green space.
  • Around half a million young people were ‘economically inactive’ – not in learning or employment and not looking for work.
  • One in ten households in England is experiencing fuel poverty, rising to almost one in five for ethnic minority households.
  • 76% of adults say they are concerned about climate change.
  • 40% of young people admit to feeling ‘overwhelmed’ by the climate crisis.
  • 90% of SMEs said being sustainable was important for their business but more than half said they were finding it difficult to take action.

 

i3oz9sGroundwork GM: Out of bounds
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Supporting fuel poor households in GM

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By Andrew Pinches, Groundwork Greater Manchester

Fuel poverty affects a significant proportion of the UK population and is associated with negative effects on both physical and mental health. It is currently estimated that approximately two and a half million households in the UK live in fuel poverty. Fuel poverty is measured using the Low Income High Cost (LIHC) indicator, which considers a household to be fuel poor if:

•   they have required fuel costs that are above average (the national median level of £1,378); and

•   were they to spend that amount, they would be left with a residual income below the poverty line.

Greater Manchester currently has the highest number of households in fuel poverty in the North West, with Gorton currently having the highest percentage of households in fuel poverty (20.5%) in the UK. It can also be noted that more than 80% of Greater Manchester’s parliamentary constituencies sit above the national average for proportion of households in fuel poverty.

One of the main issues in GM currently is that 80% of the houses in use are over 40 year’s old and deemed energy inefficient. As energy efficiency is a driver for fuel poverty, low income families in Manchester are already in danger of fuel poverty from just moving into an energy inefficient home

Energyworks image for GM Poverty ActionIt can be seen from this graphic, that that there are 3 main drivers for fuel poverty: Energy efficiency, energy prices and income. If a household has high energy bills, low income and an energy inefficient house then they will more than likely be classified as fuel poor.

Improving any one of these parameters can help bring a household out of fuel poverty and alleviate the associated stresses.

Energyworks supports the residents of Greater Manchester with all three drivers of fuel poverty:

•   Energy Prices – Providing support and tailored advice with switching tariffs and providers, helping set up affordable payment plans and supporting residents with energy debt to find affordable solutions.

•   Energy Efficiency – With the installation of FREE small measures such as low energy lighting (LED bulbs), draught-proofing and the installation of radiator panels, residents can use less energy to achieve the same level of heating and lighting in their homes. Larger measures, including Cavity Wall Insulation, Loft insulation and Boiler Replacement, are also available through grants for eligible residents.

•   Income – Through trusted partners, referrals can be made to secure additional income for low income families through increased or additional benefits, grants for essential items/white goods and food and fuel vouchers.

Energyworks is funded at both national and local level with funders such as Ofgem, LEAP and the Local Authorities across GM. Having multiple funders at all levels allows us to go that extra mile for customers ensuring that we give the best possible tailored service to every person. Each customer we speak to is also offered an information pack that they can refer back to at their leisure.

To refer in to the Energyworks team please email  or call us on 0800 090 3638.

 

For details of fuel poverty across Greater Manchester by Local Authority and LSOA, please refer to GMPA’s Poverty Monitor

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Help with your water bill

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Income affected by COVID restrictions? Get help with your water bill

By Colin Gallagher, United Utilities

United Utilities is appealing for customers who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 to get in touch so they can help. Their ‘Back on Track’ scheme is aimed at customers who receive benefits or tax credits and are struggling with their water bill payments due to their income being affected by COVID restrictions.

Jane Haymes, affordability manager at United Utilities said: “We know that many of our customers have already been impacted by coronavirus over the previous seven months and even more will be affected by new restrictions being introduced across many parts of the North West.

“Our Back on Track scheme is a way we can help those customers who need our support the most by reducing their annual bill until the end of March 2021.

“We would encourage customers to get in touch with us whether they’ve been previously furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme or are likely to be affected by the Job SupportScheme introduced on November 1st. Even if you don’t meet our criteria for the Back on Track scheme there are other ways we can make your water bills more affordable until these restrictions are eventually lifted.”

For further details about the scheme download the full application pack from the United Utilities website.

To apply, customers can either return the application form included in the pack or compete the online affordability form here.  Customers can also call the affordability team at United Utilities on 0800 072 6765 to apply.

 

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Salford Building in Warmth

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by Aneaka Kellay, Carbon Co-op

Carbon Co-op launched a video to coincide with Fuel Poverty Awareness Day 2019, showcasing Salford Building In Warmth, a partnership project with charity National Energy Action (NEA), Helping Hands and Salford Council that brings together energy experts, local handy people and neighbours to tackle fuel poverty.

With effects on health, education and employability, fuel poverty affects a growing number of people, with a staggering 15% of households in the Broughton area of Salford classified as fuel poor (figures taken from the Salford City Council – Affordable Warmth, Strategic Action Plan – 2018/2021).

As part of Salford Building In Warmth, Carbon Co-op bought in Energy Consultant Diane Hubbard to conduct airtightness testing on four energy champions’ homes, highlighting the coldest, most draughty areas. The tests enabled local property maintenance and repairs service Helping Hands to make targeted and affordable improvements to homes with follow up airtightness tests used to investigate quality and impact.

Megan, one of the Energy Champions said “Having those problems resolved, it’s a lot cosier. I’ve told almost everyone I’ve met because it’s been so exciting, I feel quite evangelical about the benefits, just getting small things done makes a difference

Diane Hubbard, Energy Consultant, Green Footsteps said “It is vital that those undertaking energy efficiency home improvements for vulnerable householders are trained to undertake work to the highest standard. Without this training they not only risk their work not achieving the results they want, but more importantly they can put those living in homes at risk. It’s great to see community initiatives in Salford doing things differently.”

As Aneaka Kellay, Carbon Co-op said “It’s been great to work with Helping Hands, Diane Hubbard and the Community Champions in Salford. We’ve shown that by bringing communities and expertise together, we can make a difference.”

Rebecca Long Bailey MP said “I’m very pleased to see the initiatives Carbon Co-op, other Salford social enterprises and community energy groups are taking to find ways to tackle this real issue, and give people safer and warmer homes .”

Read more about Salford Building In Warmth  here

 

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Campaign for Better Transport

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By Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport

Imagine not having any transport. No car, no affordable train service and no buses. How do you get to work, or to college or to medical appointments? For many people on low incomes this is all too common a reality.

According to the Office of National Statistics, households spend an average of £79.70 a week on transport, making transport the biggest household expense. For people on low incomes, the cost of transport is just one more expense that must be at best juggled, or at worst sacrificed. Whilst there is no official definition of transport poverty, or any agreed figures on the number of people affected, it is a problem more and more people and organisations are being to recognise.

Transport poverty is not simply a question of being able to own a car, combinations of poor transport provision, high fares and car-based housing and other developments, all contribute to creating social isolation and poverty. Nor is this just an issue for those without cars; those with access to cars find that they are forced to use their cars more than they want to, or more than they can afford to.

Lack of transport options impacts on people’s health and wellbeing, as well as their education and employment opportunities. A recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report looked at the transport issues facing out-of-work residents in six low-income neighbourhoods, including Harpurhey in Manchester. It found that ‘transport is a significant barrier to employment for many residents living in low-income neighbourhoods’ and ‘public transport is often seen as something which constrains, rather than enables a return to work’.

Last year we published our seventh annual Buses in Crisis report. It showed local authority supported services are at crisis point, with £172 million cut from bus budgets in England since 2010/11. Local authority bus spend in the North West region dropped more than a fifth (21.54 %) in eight years, with 77 bus services altered, reduced or withdrawn in the last year alone. The loss of a bus service can have a devastating impact on both individuals and whole communities, especially those on low incomes who are already disadvantaged.

Buses connect people to jobs, health services, education establishments and shopping and leisure facilities, not to mention enabling people to visit friends and family. When a bus service disappears, so does a person’s and a community’s only link to the outside world.

That’s why Campaign for Better Transport wants to see a national investment strategy for buses, like already exists for rail and roads, to ensure buses remain part of the public transport mix.

We also need to make sure public transport remains affordable. Bus fares are rising far higher than that of any other public transport mode, and far higher than the cost of car ownership. Even rail fares, which are rising less than bus fares but still higher than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which is the official inflation figure used to calculate things like benefit increases, are an increasing unmanageable burden on people’s pockets.

Darren Shirley, CEO Campaign for Better Transport

Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport

One way the Government could help is to introduce a season ticket for part-time workers. Currently a season ticket offers a discount if used to travel for five days a week. If you work part time, or on a zero hours contract, or work part of the week from home because you have caring responsibilities, you must either choose to buy a season ticket and lose money on the days you don’t travel, or buy more expensive individual single or return tickets. We want to see more flexible ticket options which reflect modern working practices and don’t disadvantage people commuting less than five days a week.

Even people who do need to commute five days a week can find the cost of an annual season ticket too much to pay out in one go, meaning they are unable to take advantage of the discount offered by buying your year’s travel up front. Some employers offer season ticket loans which allow people to borrow the money for their annual ticket and pay it back in smaller amounts from their wages over the course of the year.

So far these type of schemes generally only apply to rail season tickets, but we’d like to see this extended to cover bus tickets as well. Low income families are more dependent than others on bus travel and the cheaper fare deals which involve paying larger lump sums are often unavailable to them.

Transport poverty, like other forms of poverty, does not just impact on the individual or their immediate family; it has far reaching consequences that affect whole communities, even whole regions of the country. Ultimately there is also a national economic impact which should, if nothing else, spur the Government on to tackle the issue.

 

i3oz9sCampaign for Better Transport
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