The impact of the cost of living crisis in 'a borough of extremes'
At the end of 2021, as the Kensington + Chelsea community faced the continued impact of the Covid-19 crisis, our research revealed the shocking extent of growing inequalities in the borough on the lives and livelihoods of its residents. We discovered a staggering 15 year difference in life expectancy for women living less than a third of a mile apart; a borough with 45% of children attending private school but 25% living in poverty; and a tripling of benefit claims from working residents unable to meet their living costs. New data also reveals that 10% of households in the borough are in food poverty and 12% in fuel poverty.
Against that backdrop, the current cost of living crisis will inevitably widen and deepen existing inequalities, increasing both levels of poverty and anxiety – the latter already being significantly higher in Kensington and Chelsea than elsewhere in London or the UK.
We are expecting that our Winter Crisis Campaign, which offers residents financial support both with fuel bills and essential items, will see a significant increase in demand over the next 3 months and data we’ve gathered from residents who have benefited from it so far, paints a sobering picture.
Only 20% required cash support because they had experienced a financial shock or emergency – rather, the majority were just unable to make ends meet on a regular basis. 47% had spent the funds on food for their household, with the same number saying they would simply have had no alternative but to go without if they hadn’t received our support. A further 47% said they would have been forced into arrears, debts or loans, just to pay for essential items.
In a borough where the rent required for a one bedroom property is higher than the London average at 69.5% of household income, lower income residents have no means of meeting these increased costs of living.
Baljit Baldesha is the CEO of Nucleus Legal Advice Centre and one of our partners delivering Winter Crisis support in the borough:
“We have seen a significant increase in the number of people coming to us on the verge of crisis. Many people are already in rent arrears and with increasing food and fuel bills this is set to worsen. Many of these clients have never been in debt before. People are really afraid of what is coming next and not sure where to turn to for help.
Without this immediate lifeline providing cash for essential items or a fuel payment, a lot of local families and individuals would undoubtedly be thrown into significant debt this winter.”
Kensington and Chelsea is also a vibrant and diverse borough, with a thriving voluntary sector and grassroots community organisations providing a lifeline to its residents. It’s worth noting that those organisations have already been in some form of emergency response mode since the Grenfell Tower Fire in 2017, which was followed just 3 years later by the Covid-19 pandemic. Resources are stretched, staff exhausted and the demand ever-increasing.
It's crucial then, that as well as offering direct support to residents, funding is available for charities and groups whose own costs have increased, so that they can continue to provide essential services throughout the crisis. The Felix Project, a food distribution charity working across London, has reported that its own running costs have now increased by 20%, while volunteers are leaving to take on more paid work to meet their own higher living costs.
As Ali Kingsley, CEO of the Refettorio Felix lunch project says:
“Despite our own costs and fuel bills skyrocketing we are determined to continue to provide a warm, safe space to the people that rely on our services. For some people who are particularly vulnerable this is the only opportunity they will have to come together with others, have a hot meal and get the support that they need. It is essential we stay open this Winter.”
Our experience at The Kensington + Chelsea Foundation has been that our community responds to crisis with an inspiring compassion, energy and agility. While we navigate the next 2 years, or more, of increased hardship, we must also remain focused on finding long-term solutions to the inequalities in education, employment and mental health, that have existed in our borough for too long.