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Data collaboration to understand the needs of people experiencing financial hardship in a post pandemic world

Jo Kerr, Director of Impact and Innovation at UK national poverty charity, Turn2us, comments on how coronavirus has affected people’s ability to get by; and outlines a new project focusing on the role data can play in getting them the support they need

The coronavirus pandemic is having huge negative impacts on the UK population. Everything from our financial resilience to physical and mental wellbeing is under threat. People who are already vulnerable and marginalised in society will feel the worst of the effects. Not just in terms of the health impacts of the virus itself, but also the financial devastation it has left in its wake. 

UK civil society must understand these changing needs over the short and medium-term in order to shape appropriate responses in policy and programme design; and help people find solutions that can get them back on track and without the fear of losing their home or not being able to put food on the table for their families. This is where the Needs Analysis Project comes in.

Charities working directly with people to address such needs are well positioned to collect data on the issues people experience. By bringing this data, never before shared collectively by charities, together in a cross-sector collaboration, we hope to provide a far broader oversight of the wider issues impacting vulnerable and marginalised people, particularly those affected by financial hardship.

Turn2us already has access to powerful data and has used it to gain insights. For example, we can see how women, young people, people with disabilities and people from ethnic minorities are particularly impacted financially by the effects of Covid-19. It also tells us that more than half of people on zero hours contracts have seen a drop in their income and that wellbeing has taken a hit.

By combining our data and insight with others - like Buttle UK and the Trussell Trust - we can better understand the needs of people and communities and co-design with them new programmes that best meet their needs.

Co-design is particularly important because it’s vital that people can shape the services that will work best for them.  Like many other charities, Turn2us is invested in a participatory relationship between charities and the people they are set up to serve; and will explore ways for people affected to co-produce data analysis with us too, and ensure that the resulting interventions have people at their heart.

By sharing this data and insight openly with the wider sector, including funders, we can better focus our resources and design the most effective solutions for both policies and programmes. Although this can’t replace vital support from the government, it does ensure that where the charity sector is bridging the gap left by the state, the money is deployed for the greatest possible impact.

Policy-makers can also benefit from access to data and insight on financial hardship.  Stronger links between local and national government and charities through this data can help support and justify more focussed policy change.

Understanding who is affected

This new data collaboration will explore which groups are affected most by the financial impacts of the pandemic. And whether the impact is temporary, or whether people will be pushed into longer-term poverty. We are aware that the most vulnerable are often least likely to report their needs, so our methodology will look to overcome underreporting. 

It will also examine the impact of the government’s response to the outbreak in terms of investment in the social security system, including an analysis of what this means for individual households’ ability to afford essential goods and services. We will be able to further investigate which groups are still missing out or being disadvantaged. 

The main outcome of the project will be an increased understanding of the changing needs of people and communities with regards to financial hardship during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This should lead to action in reshaping policy and programme through: 

  1. Presenting data on the current demand for charities’ services during the Covid-19 pandemic, along with qualitative survey results
  2. Connecting this with existing charity and open source data and analysis, including geographic data, to provide a baseline
  3. Enabling the core group of charities and their funders and partners to ask relevant questions and make decisions informed by data and analysis
  4. Driving better allocation of resources and investment in services to benefit people who need help
  5. Providing evidence to policy-makers.

A secondary benefit will be an increase in data maturity in the core charities involved in the partnership and the wider sector. This project presents an opportunity to increase knowledge and skills around data analysis which has been lacking so far.

At this stage of the project we’re looking for intelligence, introductions and investment. Intelligence on how to make this project as impactful as possible; introductions to people and organisations who could help, including with pro bono analysis; and investment, seed funding so we can move out of prototype phase and include more charities in the partnership.

Ultimately, we want to deepen our understanding of what it means to thrive in a post pandemic world and what the different components to thriving look like. At Turn2us, we recognised that having enough income is central, but that it’s necessary to complement this with factors like high quality goods and services; meaningful relationships; physical and mental wellbeing; affordable, quality housing; and safety in a socially and environmentally just world. Data and analysis can help us with these aims and bring them to closer to realisation, not just through our work, but that of the sector as a whole.