Citizens Advice Broxtowe set out on a ground-breaking project to shift the financial resilience and economic activity of households that currently experience economic inequalities in the borough. The pilot was quietly developed over the previous twelve months in consultation with stakeholders and citizens with lived experience. This work has delivered an extraordinary shift in the level of community indebtedness in Broxtowe.
Need for the project was self-evident. Much of Broxtowe, like the East Midlands generally has low levels of productivity and lower wages than the national average. It is also the case that since the recent cost-of-living crisis 50% of clients presenting to Citizens Advice have a negative household budget. This is a debt and health crisis in the making unless we are able to shift the economic position of this group. Further evidence of this need emerged through the All-Party Parliamentary Group on ‘left behind neighbourhoods,’ to whom Citizens Advice Ashfield and Broxtowe gave evidence. The report concluded that:
“To be successful and sustainable, levelling up must:
- Be led by local people – the experts best placed to know what needs to be done to improve local outcomes
- Reflect local needs and circumstances – not follow a national template
- Entrust decision-making – including funding – to communities, not Whitehall or the town hall
- Invest long-term in communities – to build capacity, social infrastructure, opportunity and resilience.”
It is very much a testament to the foresight of Broxtowe Borough Council who invested in the Financial Resilience Broxtowe project through its UK Shared Prosperity Fund Plan.
The project deploys an outcomes-based advice model that seeks to increase results for clients by proactively working with them and developing individual actions plans. In this case plans are aimed to increase income, reduce spending and begin to build or protect the households’ economic assets. The plans include immediate crisis help, medium-term goals and long-term outcomes based on a theory of change.
This work is required to address long-standing economic inequalities. By that we mean, households who return to Citizens Advice Broxtowe for help with a financial crisis on a repeat basis. These households are also unlikely to benefit from structural investments by UK SPF and other infrastructural investments without direct and local intervention. They are at greater risk from economic shocks like the cost-of-living and personal events that disrupt earnings and assets.
In order to mitigate these risks, the project engaged with the careers service Futures to enhance the available offer of help to shift the beneficiary’s economic activity and earnings potential. The support offer also encourages take-up of help with home energy efficiency support in addition to the traditional help provided by Citizens Advice with debts, financial capability, housing support and welfare benefits advice.
The whole focus of the project is driven by cost-of-living data and the long-term weaknesses in the local economy of low productivity resulting in low wages and the inability of structural investments to shift living standards of those left behind neighbourhoods as defined by the APPG.
This report outlines our achievements during the first six months of Financial Resilience Broxtowe in which Financial Resilience Workers (FRWs) provide the main programme of support to beneficiaries and coordinate individual action plans including liaison with key delivery partners.
Summary and key outcomes
The project set out to support just over 400 clients each year towards improved financial resilience. Half way through Year 1 well over 50% of the target has been met and almost 100% of the target for employment and skills support. Generally, participants record one or more measures of improvement in their financial resilience (wellbeing) in our client survey. The total income gains for all clients already stands at 158% of target.
The demographics are interesting with the project reaching clients across all age ranges but particularly of working age. Participant age peaks at 35 – 49 and 50 – 59 with a high number of beneficiaries in the later working age group (50 to 60+). These are very much the government’s target age for reducing economic inactivity. There are also a large number of people with long-term health problems (77%). Therefore, the project is reaching the government’s intended target of people who are economically inactive as defined by the WorkWell programmes.
All clients are invited to take part in our outcomes survey. We feel this is important because the client’s perception of how they have benefited from the work we do matters and informs how we improve the service we deliver. Beyond the economic data we also need to know that our client’s well-being is improved. Things like being better able to manage the problems they face in the future or at least able to access advice and support before a crisis emerges. We call this early intervention. You can see from the bar chart below by all measure’s beneficiaries of the Financial Resilience project report an improvement of between 55% – 82%.
With regards to the financial resilience outcomes, a large percentage of client’s self-report that they have been helped to reduce their bills, are better able to budget or have received help with a one-off grant during a difficult time. There is a smaller but significant percentage of outcomes in terms of increased income, debt write-off or rescheduling.
A client was referred to the Financial resilience Worker after losing his job and becoming a full-time carer for one of his parents. He didn’t know where to turn for help and was feeling overwhelmed. We initially assisted him with his Universal Credit and carers allowance. Along with receiving support from Nottinghamshire Mind. With stabilisation of his situation he began to feel more positive.
Carers are now coming in to support him with day-to-day care for his father, which meant he was in a position to look for work again. Income projection calculations were completed so that the client was aware of all the options and the interaction between work and carers allowance. This allowed him to make decisions about how to balance his commitment to work and his caring responsibilities.
After a meeting was arranged with Futures (careers service). Client has now been offered a part time job.
A debt crisis avoided in Broxtowe
Probably the most astonishing data is that of the reduced percentage of clients approaching Citizens Advice Broxtowe with one or more debts. Nationally the percentage of clients seeking help from Citizens Advice stands at 22%. In Nottinghamshire (excluding Broxtowe) the figure is 21%. In Broxtowe this currently stands at 14%. This represents a 36% reduction in debt clients in Broxtowe over the same period.
(data taken from Casebook reporting 17/11/2023)
We carried out further research because these findings could not be explained by local variations. We discovered that debt rates in Broxtowe were roughly in line with the Nottinghamshire figures pre-pandemic (2018) levels at 28% (Brox) to 29% (Notts). These were both higher than the national average for the same period (23%). There was a national drop-off in debt clients during the pandemic, mainly due to reduced enforcement actions and additional government support for people on low incomes. Nationally demand for debt advice is now picking up again as the cost-of-living crisis starts to bite with a return to pre-pandemic debt support provided by Citizens Advice. The national upward trend has not been reflected in Broxtowe since the post pandemic implementation of our Financial Resilience model we (Citizens Advice Broxtowe) have reverse of the trend driving the percentage of debt clients in a downward trajectory.
The achievements of the Financial Resilience Broxtowe project is shaping up to deliver measurable improvements in financial wellbeing in the borough. The data suggests something potentially game changing and a testament to the outcomes-based approach to advice work first delivered through the local Wellbeing Hub and later Changing Lives Nottinghamshire Partnership. Those principles of outcomes thinking have embedded into the core service in Broxtowe and are multiplying the impact of our Financial Resilience Broxtowe project.
With responsibility for evaluating the impact of projects Development Manager Neil Clurow commented: “Financial Resilience Broxtowe is shaping up to be a game changing project. Not only is it directly delivering improved financial well-being the methodology is filtering down to those staff and volunteers working to deliver our core service and specialist casework.” Citizens Advice Broxtowe will publish a full impact report after the project first full year of operating under the UK Shared Prosperity Plan for Broxtowe but the early indications are very positive.
Financial resilience Broxtowe really does tackle financial well-being based on some of the principles echoed by the APPG Left Behind Communities:
• Boosting productivity, pay, jobs and living standards
• Spreading opportunities and improving public services
• Restoring a sense of community, local pride and belonging
• Empowering local leaders and communities.