Building residents’ resilience, a shorter version of this blog post, was published in The Municipal Journal on 27 March 2019.

With falling income and rising demand, two councils are using their data in innovative ways to identify vulnerability, target scarce support funds and prevent crisis before it happens.

Finding hidden pockets of poverty

With finite funds, councils are keenly aware of the need to target limited support to their most vulnerable citizens.

Mark Fowler, Director of Community Solutions at London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, explains, “Effective use of data can identify struggling households and offer proactive, tailored support to help boost their incomes before they hit crisis point. This can accelerate employment, prevent homelessness, improve health and alter the trajectory of low income families.”

Sue Nelson, Luton Council’s Service Director for Revenues, Benefits and Customer Services, echoes, “Bringing clarity to the ways multiple teams across an authority may all be working with a single household is a challenge, so a council-wide, data-led approach to preventing vulnerability makes sense.”

Barking and Dagenham has aligned 17 key service areas into a single Community Solutions service to focus on prevention. Luton is making the case for prevention by working with families identified as at risk of homelessness.

Investing in prevention at the front door

Over the past five years Luton has invested in front-facing universal information, advice and guidance services. Immediate, personalised support packages encompassing financial, employment, skills, housing and health and wellbeing services are now available to people who present with any one of those issues.

The speedy creation of such support packages through the Luton Access partnership shows how far Luton has come, yet the council recognised its response was still reactive rather than proactive when dealing with acute need. Luton is now investing in a data-led approach to identify households before they reach crisis point.

Nikki Middleton, Head of Customer Service, explains, “The datasets councils routinely collect can give us an accurate picture of how financially resilient families are and how we can help them.”

Internal alignment at Barking and Dagenham

Faced with similar challenges – rising demand for services driving up costs, coupled with falling budgets – Barking and Dagenham responded by restructuring internally, aligning teams to look outwards and focusing resources on helping families to help themselves. Community Solutions is responsible for 17 key service areas including housing, money, debt, children, families, and health.

Mark Fowler said, “Our holistic service means we’re better able to respond to the Homelessness Reduction Act and our falling temporary accommodation numbers are a testament to this. We’ve seen a 10% reduction since April 2018.”  

The secret ingredient: household level data

In depth analysis of household-level data has been critical to the holistic, integrated and prevention-led approaches developed by both councils. This capability has grown through its partnership with Policy in Practice, a data analytics organisation that understands the complexity of government policy.

Sue Nelson said, “Data is already used to detect fraud and chase arrears, so why not use it to help citizens?” Luton uses household-level data to identify people facing a cash shortfall and en route to crisis. They can see when people move into debt, and who will be among the 34% of claimants worse off under Universal Credit.

“We started with a small group of 78 households data analysis identified as vulnerable but who hadn’t yet presented themselves to the council. We reached out to them and were able to speak to 52 people in the first wave of calls.”

All those contacted welcomed the support: “I found this service helpful, it has brought relief – it feels like someone cares.”

Of these, 24 were feeling the pinch but able to cope and 22 families took up Luton’s offer of support to increase income, or budget more effectively.

Policy in Practice’s analytical tools make the approach scalable to other authorities, while experience fed back from Luton’s frontline ensures that the ability to target and support people improves over time.

Next steps for Barking and Dagenham and Luton

Barking and Dagenham’s next step is to build community capacity in health and wellbeing, education and skills.

Mark says, “Data is central to building the case for change. We need to understand how well we’re doing. Policy in Practice is helping us track the outcomes of the 1,800 people we’ve been working with and compare them to people we’ve not engaged, to evidence the impact of our new approach.”

Barking and Dagenham’s Community Solutions programme has saved £3m since its inception and is on track to save a further £2 million over the next two years. While making these savings they have also seen a number of considerable service improvements such as a 13% reduction in reported anti-social behaviour incidents, a 15% improvement in those helped into work and assisted over 2,000 households in dealing with financial difficulties or welfare reform impacts.

Luton Council is evaluating the impact of their service by tracking the outcomes of those they have supported and comparing them to a control group.

Proactive prevention of hardship

Evidence-based decision-making is more important than ever in frontline organisations, where every penny spent is increasingly under scrutiny. By looking at their datasets for patterns and links, councils can proactively identify vulnerability, pinpoint support and track changes over time.

Sue Nelson says, “Luton’s successes can be repeated elsewhere because other councils have the same types of household level data.”

Deven Ghelani, Policy in Practice, said “I firmly believe these approaches are the future of social policy. We’ve loved working with Luton and Barking and Dagenham, showing how proactive support, identifying who needs help and how, can drive savings and more importantly, change lives.”

Sue Nelson is taking her experience to the third sector, as the Social Interest Group’s Chief Operating Officer. SIG provides services for vulnerable people across London, Brighton, Luton and Bedfordshire and is in many ways a larger, deeper version of Luton Access.

Find out more

  • Read our case study: Luton Council’s data-led approach to tackling homelessness. View here.
  • Sign up to join our webinar Using data analytics to understand child vulnerability on Wednesday 17 April at 10:30. More details here.
  • See a live demo of our LIFT Dashboard in action on Wednesday 1 May at 12:00 to 12:45. More details here.
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