Supporting vulnerable communities is a public and social sector imperative

Against a backdrop of political uncertainty, unprecedented strike action and the prevailing cost of living crisis ‒ itself a consequence of the conflict in Ukraine among other factors ‒ many of the UK’s most vulnerable communities are at risk of becoming more marginalised and face more hardship.

In response, we sought to understand how the public and social sector plans to support vulnerable people, communities, and service users in 2023/24 through the Fiscal pressures and inflation challenges report.

Key findings at a glance

1. Supporting vulnerable communities is a public and social sector imperative: The public and social sector is taking proactive steps to strengthen support and service delivery to deprived communities, but could more be done to safeguard vulnerable citizens?

To support people, communities, and service users, 61% said they are seeking new funding/income streams to maintain services; and 54% said they are reassessing the breadth and depth of services. In particular, respondents highlighted the creation of hardship funds, diversion of critical services, and streamlining of internal processes.

In response to identifying the greatest barrier to supporting vulnerable people and communities 81% of respondents said lack of funding; 67% said lack of staffing resources; and 46% said focus on short term not long term.

2. Innovation and collaboration are key enablers in the fight against financial constraints: As the public and social sector moves to meet rising demand with renewed vigour, what role will innovation and collaboration play in the fight against poverty?

The majority of public and social sector organisations are looking externally for support and solutions, with 90% agreeing that external collaboration could strengthen their response to deep-running fiscal challenges and 87% of respondents positive that engaging with third parties could improve efficiency and productivity organisation wide. There were similar reflections about the importance of leveraging internal networks, with 83% of respondents agreeing that staff collaboration across their organisation, e.g. cross-departmental, would improve efficiency and productivity. Organisations are therefore advocating a unified approach, which values the existing workforce’s skills and insight, and supplements this with external perspectives to diversify thinking and continually improve.

Both innovation and technology were identified as potential opportunities for improved service delivery. Respondents highlighted the need for digital transformation strategies, sharing good practice, and using artificial intelligence to identify the people and communities most at risk. Efficient and digitised services have the potential to free up resources and there was a particular spotlight on self-help tools for their dual function in creating capacity and empowering citizens.

3. The Public and social sector must redefine its place in an evolving economic landscape: Many service providers are still thinking short-term. How can we ensure public services are future fit, and what will the biggest priorities be over the next 12-24 months?

Organisations referred to targeting priorities across both key inputs (31% securing funding; 41% continuous employee wellbeing and development) and outputs (54% improving citizen/service user experience; 45% supporting local communities to cope with rising living costs).

Public and social sector organisations remain alert to issues on the external horizon that could impact success, with uncertainty both in relation to energy costs and inflation (90%) and the current UK political landscape (79%) being a key concern for most respondents. Instability in the workforce completed the top three concerns, with 77% of organisations responding that higher level skills shortages were having a high (43%) or medium (34%) impact.

These themes are consistent with the findings of our Global public and social sector study – employees need to be nurtured, new funding streams secured, and significant efficiency gains made. Upstream investment in people and relationships should intrinsically support the achievement of outputs and outcomes, maximising medium to long term impact. However, our survey suggests the sector needs an injection of confidence that there will be the financial and political security to deliver this success.

Our reflections

Our survey shows there’s a good understanding of what the issues are, as well as opportunities to address the challenges, but making the move from reactive awareness to enacting the change needed is not only the next logical step, but essential.

Explore the full report below including breakdowns of key questions by sectors.

Read the full report