Earlier this week the chief executive of Ofgem, the UK’s energy regulator, told MPs that the energy price cap is likely to rise by a further £800 to £2,800 per year from October marking the latest step in the cost of living crisis gripping Britain. The latest Bank of England forecast is for Consumer Price Inflation to reach 10% later this year although as things stand this could be higher.
These figures are stark, yet they don’t tell the real story. The real story is misery and hardship for millions of people and of households having to make impossible choices between the essentials of food and heating. Food banks are being overrun by demand, fuel debts are soaring and there have been stories in the media about pensioners riding on buses to keep warm as they cannot afford to have the heating on at home.
Based on its actions so far, we will not see Government intervene in the ways required to properly protect people. Likewise, apart from its support for a one-off energy company windfall tax, the response from the opposition has been timid with Labour’s approach emphasizing its supposed superior managerial competence rather than any willingness to address the fundamental economic fault-lines central to the crisis.
So, what does this mean for a housing mutual like RBH?
First of all, we cannot and should not underplay the gravity of the situation and the scale of the challenges being faced by tenants. We also need to recognize the real pressures being faced by our employees. We also need to be honest about what is within our control. We cannot solve the crisis, but we can work with tenants and employees to work through how we can best protect those most affected, support each other, and safeguard our mutual’s ability to provide homes and services in the future.
This will be a tricky balancing act and there will be difficult decisions and trade-offs. Our model means that elected tenants and employee representatives are central to the discussions about these. Earlier this year our Representative Body insisted that an additional £225k was ringfenced this year for a range of additional support – from debt and energy advice to scaling up our community food pantry network. Equally importantly, they insisted that our approach should be all about working with those affected and not imposing “help” on people.
We know that things are going to get a lot tougher over the coming months and this is where our mutual way of working must come to the fore. Collectively, as tenants and colleagues, we must hold open and honest conversations about the difficult choices that we will need to make, whilst ensuring that we uphold our values and support, where we can, the most vulnerable. Through our Representative Body, our Board, and the Cost of Living Crisis Steering Group we have recently established, we will be looking at ways we can make a difference and stand together to weather the storms we are facing.