The cost of living crisis needs a strong locally-led response

By Jessica Studdert | 12 April 2022

The cost of living crisis is affecting most of us, hitting the poorest the hardest.

In our unequal country, the impact is unevenly distributed geographically and demographically.

In common with other existential threats that have global roots, such as pandemics and climate change, real-life consequences are worsened by Government choices.

Our centralised governance culture overlooks the potential for mitigation through empowered communities and a responsive local state. Our national debate about how to renew our welfare state to be fit for purpose for the challenges of the 2020s is stuck in the past. Too many cling to outdated ideologies that offer solutions for yesterday when met with the complexities of today.

Despite its apparent levelling up ambition, the Conservative Government persists with spending restraint and reductive efficiency drives. Although austerity has left public services weakened, the Big Society fantasy persists that civil society will magically step into the void vacated by the state.

For many on the left, the Dickensian echoes of this rhetoric rightly loom large, but blinker any faith in the very concept of community. More than a decade of resistance to austerity hasn’t left much room to develop ideas about how to reform the state, beyond that it needs more funding. The value of community power, in which the local state shifts its role from paternalist to catalyst for change, is defensively resisted.

So, we are left with tired choices between less state or more state, and little intellectual energy committed to what a better state would look like. Yet grassroots evidence abounds from dynamic local public services and communities working together in new ways despite being overlooked at Westminster. From community-owned energy schemes, to GPs nurturing social support networks that promote wellbeing and reduce clinical demand, these examples demonstrate how an active local state can collaborate with communities to produce more sustainable outcomes.

Some are beginning to see this potential, but there are too many who still do not. We need more collective imagination, overcoming the limitations of outdated ideology, to build a more adaptive and empowered local state that can work in new ways with people to respond to current crises and ensure greater community resilience in the future.

Jessica Studdert is deputy chief executive of New Local


comments powered by Disqus
Fuel poverty Austerity Communities inequality Poverty New Local Levelling up