Breaking point: the cost of living crisis in London and what can be done about it
The cost of living in the UK has risen to unprecedented levels, leaving people struggling to make ends meet. As of September 2023, the number of people living in very deep poverty in the UK has grown to 6 million, while the number of people experiencing food insecurity has risen to a staggering 11.3 million.
The Policy Institute and Department for Political Economy at King’s College London have been working with residents of the London Boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark and Westminster, along with policymakers, charities and grassroots organisations, to better understand the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and how to mitigate the worst effects of it.
We conducted a creative mixed-methods study using participatory research, diaries, photography, deliberation and surveys in order to develop policies in a way that is inclusive, with citizens at its heart. By rooting this project in people’s lived experience, we aimed to work with participants to develop policies which are both acceptable to the public and make a tangible difference to their lives.
We found that people saw the cost-of-living crisis as precipitated by extreme events like the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Covid-19 pandemic, and also as the result of a long-term underinvestment in society with deep roots in policy decisions made over recent years.
The impacts of increasing costs have been pervasive, eroding people’s resilience. People are doing what they can to cope, but they have been pushed to their limits. We heard from participants who told us they are skipping meals, using credit and cutting down on seeing their friends and family in order to get by – all of which have implications for their mental and physical health.
However, they also shared ideas as to the kinds of policies that would make the biggest difference to their lives. They favoured free school meals for all primary school children, building more affordable housing, and developing a nationalised energy company. They doubted, however, in the government’s ability to deliver on such measures, and lacked trust in their ability to work in their interests.
While these issues of implementation remain, our work has highlighted how, with time, evidence and support to discuss complex issues, citizens are capable and willing to work collaboratively in the common good. This project, as well as shining a light on the lived experience of the cost-of-living crisis, also provides a blueprint for how we can take a more inclusive and citizen-centred approach to developing solutions for change.