New research has found that the vital work during the pandemic continues as prices rise across the country.
Voluntary organisations that were mobilised during the pandemic are still providing critical support to those facing food and fuel poverty as the cost of living rises, new research shows.
A report published by the University of Hull highlights that there are vital lessons for policy makers as mutual aid provides a template for engaging communities in a more meaningful way.
The project, Mobilising Volunteers Effectively (MoVE), found that as more and more families and communities turned to charities for support during what was termed an “impossible” winter, the mutual aid groups – many of which were formed in response to the needs of their communities during the pandemic – stepped up to bring much-needed relief to those in need.
As the cost of living is set to rise with increasing fuel and utility costs, it is likely more families will reach out for help.
Mutual aid groups are self-organising groups of people who come together to address challenges in their communities, through mutual support. This type of support came to the fore during the pandemic.
There is a distinction from traditional charitable models, focusing on building bottom-up structures of co-operation.
Co-investigator on the project, Professor Joe Cook, said: “Informal volunteering and ‘good neighbourliness’ were key to providing support and serving communities during the pandemic and now we are seeing this kind of support meeting essential poverty-related needs proliferating in their communities.
“The nature of their work has changed from providing food parcels and access to medicines, to trying to deal with huge uncertainties around food and fuel as people face reduced income and the cost of living increases. But should these groups be taking responsibility in this way?”
As inflation is expected to rise to eight per cent in April, economists predict that the cost of everyday goods – including food and other essentials – will leave some families forced to make difficult choices in the coming months.
Exhausted volunteers are continuing to plug welfare gaps for fear that if they withdraw their support, people will fall through the cracks of statutory support.
The project worked with local authorities and voluntary and community sector organisations in England, Scotland and Wales to examine how community support was coordinated during the pandemic and produced a series of reports reflecting key innovations that shaped new collaborative ways of working.
Recommendations for governments of all levels are far-reaching, offering a blueprint for bringing critical welfare support to struggling communities and providing guidance for how national policymakers, local government and the voluntary and community sector can best support the vital work of these groups.
Principal investigator, Dr Jon Burchell from the University of Sheffield, said: “While these community, mutual aid groups have plugged large gaps in welfare provision, these informal groups must not become a sticking plaster for wider societal problems.
“The value and contribution of the volunteers who provided an essential and caring support during the pandemic must be recognised, and welfare support must be strengthened in the face of the cost-of-living crisis. In this way, we can learn from the experiences of the pandemic to tackle whatever challenges lie ahead.”