In a first for local government, Kent county and district councils collaborate by sharing their data to get insights that are helping them to tackle poverty across the county.

The information revealed by the council’s data is now driving nearly fifty poverty prevention campaigns and early indications are very encouraging. Two district councils so far have completed three campaigns aimed at boosting the financial resilience of older people, resulting in over £400,000 extra income for these residents. These results suggest that a potential extra income of over £6million can be secured for Kent’s residents by March 2022.

The data-driven campaigns are helping to target a wide range of support to vulnerable residents such as free school meal take-up, employment support, public health interventions, housing initiatives and benefits.

Districts have the data, knowledge and expertise. County has size and scale. We had to combine the best of us to come up with something that’s going to help many in a positive way.

Zena Cooke, Director of Corporate Finance, Kent County Council

Zena Cooke, Director Corporate Finance, Kent County Council, joined a recent Policy in Practice webinar to talk about the background and drivers to Kent’s work and lessons learned from how Kent county and districts collaborate.  Watch Zena Cooke’s presentation below and read the transcript here.

Kent’s social and financial case to act

Perhaps the greatest challenge councils have faced in the past two years has been the strain the pandemic has placed on resources. As the number of people claiming Universal Credit reached an all-time high of over 6 million people, supporting those struggling financially was and remains a top priority for local authorities.

In summer 2020 Kent Districts and Communities Recovery Cell set up a group to focus support to residents at risk or already experiencing financial hardship because of the pandemic. Residents unused to facing financial hardship suddenly needed help to navigate support and advice systems. The group knew that things are likely to get worse for Kent’s residents before they get better as furlough ends and families who were just about managing are tipped over the edge.

Kent county and district councils have boldly chosen to collaboratively share their data to get powerful cross-county insights to drive their poverty prevention activity. In practical terms, this means that district councils share their administrative data, in aggregate and including Universal Credit data, with Policy in Practice who built a new Living Standards Index for Kent platform with it.

The LSI-Kent platform allows those with upper-tier oversight to see changes at a district level and target support accordingly. Users can track Council Tax support spend across all districts, compare caseloads and see benchmarks to assess local demand, view average caseloads across districts, view changes over time and drill down from county, to distrcit to household level to accurately target support.

Importantly, the project has transparency built-in so that councils can very easily benchmark with each other to identify and share best practices in a safe, collaborative way.

County and districts collaborate to tackle Kent’s unique challenges

Kent has a large population of around 1.6 million and its location means it bore the brunt of Brexit challenges such as Operation Stack and high numbers of asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors. House prices in Kent are higher than the national average and the cost of living is very high, a challenge for people living and working locally. At the same time, incomes are much lower than other south-eastern counties so Kent faces unique challenges in improving people’s earning opportunities.

At the start of the pandemic both county and district councils shared the objective of supporting as many residents and businesses as possible. Kent County Council was keen to make sure that funding was used wisely and targeting residents most in need. Key to this was finding a way to help families immediately whilst also securing a sustainable way to help vulnerable residents in years to come.

The Low-Income Family Tracker was a no-brainer because we knew we could do with it would be far more longer term and sustainable than just something that was an immediate reaction to the pandemic

Zena Cooke, Director of Corporate Finance, Kent County Council

Kent’s success can be replicated elsewhere: 5 lessons learned

With early successes achieved and the promise of more to come, the approach taken by Kent County and District Councils is a great example of collaboration between local government to address inequality and of levelling up activity in action.

Zena Cooke’s lessons learned for other Tier 1 and Tier 2 councils looking to replicate this approach are:

  1. People on the ground know the situation best. When you’re in a two-tier area you have to recognize and respect the knowledge and expertise of each of the parties and what you’re bringing to the table
  2. Don’t reinvent the wheel. If something similar already exists, for example Data Sharing Agreements, borrow from this and expand where needed. We were shameless about trying to find out who’s already using this data and who we can contact about what they have already done. We found out what the bear traps are. This saves a huge amount of time and energy. One of the beauties of working in local government is that, generally speaking, we’re always happy to share with each other things that we’ve already done. I definitely recommend this as a way to accelerate your implementation
  3. Learn from the success of others. We were very clear that we wanted to hear from other councils. We talked to people like Barking and Dagenham and others to find out what they were doing and what they’d achieved because they were much further ahead of us. Also, how we could apply what they were doing in a two-tier context
  4. Focus on benefits for residents. If you get your shared objectives right it makes it really clear that even in a two-tier area you are all trying to achieve the same thing. You might go about it a different way and you might have access to different things but actually, without the engagement and support of our district colleagues, we would not have been able to achieve as much as we have
  5. Don’t wait to get everyone on board. You don’t have to start big; we took an approach of three districts at a time. The thing that probably made this happen as quickly as it did is the fact that we, as the county council, acknowledged how small district council budgets are. We therefore agreed to pay for the system and the support needed to implement it on a rolling basis, over a two-year period, so that we could pilot it, demonstrate its worth and then evidence why districts would want to continue doing that

Learn more

  • Watch the full webinar, How Kent County and District Councils collaborate with data to tackle poverty, view slides and listen to other guest speakers here
  • Explore a similar Living Standards Index (for London) here
  • Learn more about data-led poverty prevention campaigns here

If you would like more information contact or call 0330 088 9242.

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