We can’t simply blame others for the cost of living crisis says Keith Edwards. It’s time for the Can Do Sector to step up .

Let’s be clear. The biggest causes of poverty are out of our control. Huge energy price rises, the value of benefits falling in real terms, increased National Insurance, the highest inflation in decades – put together these are the factors having the greatest negative impact on people across Wales, particularly those less well-off to start with.

And this comes on top of a long period of cuts and austerity followed by a devastating pandemic – again with those at the bottom taking the hardest hit.

The fact is that things were already pretty dire before this cost of living crisis. Real poverty, the most grindingly stubborn social ill to shift, just got worse for those already feeling it and threatens to pull many more people into its despairing grip.

But we can’t ‘other’ responsibility for the dire circumstances hundreds of thousands of families in Wales are already struggling with – and that will get much worse.

We hear a lot about the desperate choices families will have to make between ‘heating and eating’. Paying the rent is seldom mentioned yet in many ways it is the more compelling choice from a perilous list of what to skip. The argument that people should protect the roof over their head first of all is a strong one.

But in the real world if your kids were hungry or freezing, then most of us would choose to do what we could immediately to keep them fed and warm even if that means not paying the rent and putting our home at risk in the future.

So, there is a moral issue for the sector. It is appalling that many of the people we provide homes for are already struggling and that those numbers will greatly increase.

But we face a huge practical challenge too. How can we deal with the inevitable impact that this will have on our ability to remain viable social businesses?

For me the answer is simple, even if making it happen isn’t. Remember how we mobilised for Covid, fundamentally changing the way we operated if not overnight then within a few days? We need the same degree of urgency to mobilise against poverty.

Just like with our Covid response, we need to learn in real time and crucially, change the way we do things from now on.

We can build on what we have done in this space for a number of years on money advice and individual support. We can learn from innovators in this like Clwyd Alyn whose overriding mission is ‘together to beat poverty’. We will need to mobilise as never before. For me this is not about making adjustments but a fundamental reset of our priorities.

We are the Can Do sector and that is why the HQN Cymru Can Do Network is stepping up into this space.

Our first Can Do Best Practice Group will bring together members from across Wales to share problems, explore solutions and learn together. We will start by focussing on:

  • How communities are being impacted on the ground – and the changing needs of tenants
  • How we are innovating and adapting with partners in practical ways
  • Examples of best practice where landlords have been able to make a real impact.

As with Covid, short term responses needn’t be the enemy of long term, sustainable changes to the way we work and deliver; supporting  communities, addressing the climate emergency, building new social housing are intrinsically linked to eradicating poverty.

But as a sector we will have to face up to some difficult issues.

Can we sustain rent and service charge increases at historic levels given how this will add significantly to the pressure tenants will face?

How do we make sure more of our own staff don’t fall into poverty?

How can we justify ostentatious celebrations and award ceremonies at this time –  are we in danger of seeming as disconnected from the real world as Downing Street party goers?

And perhaps most challenging of all, how can we realign our businesses so that tackling poverty becomes our driving objective?


Keith Edwards is Lead Associate for HQN Cymru. He is currently leading a Wales Co-operative Centre on a project to maximise the social, economic and environmental value the sector can achieve by working with communities