Don't under-estimate the pivotal moment we're in
by Polly Tolley, CAS Director of Impact.
This summer has presented us all with some stark truths. Record-breaking temperatures (again) across three continents, wildfires, falling ice levels and rising sea temperatures. At home we’re seeing the cost of living crisis deepen, delivering sustained reductions in real terms incomes with many people unable to afford basics like food and warmth.
We’ve seen this first-hand in the CAB network as cases about energy costs and mortgage repayments mature into cases about problem debt. All cause for thought. And concern.
This summer has also been a reflective time for me, as I get ready to move on from CAS. This coming week will be my last, after eight years working to raise awareness of our brand and of the terrific work our advisers do.
A key part of my work has been advocacy: influencing public policy to reduce harm and promote positive change. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to upgrade our data set, so we can present a live view of the issues experienced by people who come to the CAB. This unique resource has helped us to urge governments to change policies - with increasing success. However, it has also identified a couple of troubling societal issues, which require big solutions.
Firstly, our data shows the extent to which people simply don’t have enough money to get by. One single case which has stuck with me for a long time is a disabled person who had to make a choice between heating, eating and charging their mobility scooter. Those cases, sadly, aren’t unique. Indeed, they’re becoming increasingly prevalent and affecting a larger share of the population. A CAB manager recently told me that what used to be occasional referrals to mental health services for clients at risk of taking their own life have turned into weekly occurrences.
Secondly, we have seen interest in energy efficiency eroded in the face of ever-rising energy costs. Our online advice page on help to pay bills has gone up six-fold in the past few years, while conversely people seeking advice for grants to install energy-efficiency measures have halved. It makes sense: when you can’t afford to eat or heat your home, you’re not able to make huge investments like a new heating system. And buying an electric vehicle is the stuff of pure fantasy.
We’re at an inter-section of two urgent challenges: the need to address the immediate cost of living crisis, and the imperative to pave the way for a sustainable, low-carbon future. What’s clear to me is that these need to be addressed together, with a collective shift towards more altruistic decisions not only necessary but vital to our shared prosperity.
The decisions we make in this moment will have far-reaching implications, not just for our lives, but for the collective well-being of our society, for decades and longer. In that context the next General Election will matter in a way that I’m not sure they ever have before. What goes into party manifestos, and eventually into government policy, really, really matters.
As I move on to new challenges of my own, my parting thought to my fellow policy advocates is to make these two issues, and their relationship, your number one priority when influencing manifestos. My parting ask of you is to think very carefully about them when you vote.