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Comments and opinions22 November 2023

Understanding our residents: the power of an annual survey

Clare Miller, Chief Executive of Clarion Housing Group, talks about the findings of our annual survey The Index.
Clare Miller, CEO of Clarion Housing Group

“Despite the challenges we face as a business, we’re committed to continuing to provide as much support as we can to our residents and communities, helping them weather the storm.”

Clare Miller, Chief Executive of Clarion Housing Group

By Clare Miller, Chief Executive of Clarion Housing Group

At Clarion, our mission is to provide homes for those who need them most, but like many housing associations, our work goes beyond the bricks and mortar.

Through our charitable foundation, Clarion Futures, we offer a wide range of practical support, helping residents manage their money, find work or get online confidently and safely to make the most of all the internet has to offer.

It all comes down to making a difference to the people living in our communities, providing support and opportunities to help them fulfil their potential.

We can only do this, however, by understanding the challenges they’re facing. That’s why we run an annual survey called The Index, which gives us a broad look at our residents’ lives, views and experiences.

The representative survey of 2,000 residents was conducted over the summer, asking all sorts of questions about things like how they feel about their neighbourhood, their digital skills, and their employment status.

This year, with the cost of living crisis showing no sign of abating, we’ve focused on personal finances, releasing some initial findings ahead of the full report.

Social landlords like Clarion provide a home to some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and even though our residents benefit from paying heavily subsidised rents, our findings show that many are still in a precarious financial position.

Findings from The Index

More than half (56%) of households say they are worse off financially compared with 12 months ago, with one in five Clarion residents (21%) running out of money before the end of the week or month.

Two fifths (41%) of residents have had to borrow money or use credit to pay for essentials, and an increasing proportion are having to make difficult decisions in order to manage their day-to-day finances, with 77% cutting back on household spending, and 74% reducing heating and electricity usage.

However, despite these interventions, a fifth (20%) of residents have gone without food in the last year as they couldn’t afford it – a figure which rises to almost a third (29%) of residents aged 18-34.

14% of residents report using a food bank in the last year, rising to 25% of households with three or more children. Residents receiving Universal Credit are also more likely to be experiencing food poverty, with 31% reporting going without food and 26% using a food bank.

Unsurprisingly, the research also showed that the cost of living crisis is affecting more than just household finances, with half of respondents (51%) saying that it has had a negative impact on their mental health.

So what are we doing to tackle these issues?

Last November we launched a Cost of Living Emergency Fund, providing funding through Clarion Futures to partners in our communities nationwide in support of warm spaces and food pantries. That work is ramping up again as winter approaches, and our dedicated Clarion Futures teams continue to make a huge difference to our residents, providing practical advice and support to help them through these turbulent times.

But it’s not just about household finances. Our survey has shown that the cost of living crisis is affecting people’s mental health, and so the free support we provide around this specific issue has never been more important. All our residents can benefit from access to the Togetherall digital mental health support service used by the NHS, which is available online 24/7, as well as a befriending service that pairs them with volunteers for regular phone or video chats.

As temperatures drop and concerns about energy prices return, the key thing for me is making sure our residents know they’re not alone.

Despite the challenges we face as a business, we’re committed to continuing to provide as much support as we can to our residents and communities, helping them weather the storm.

This piece first appeared in Issue 12 of Housing Executive and on their website on 15 November 2023.