Council and community respond to Cost of Living crisis with compassion

As the Cost of Living crisis continues to bite throughout the country, East Ayrshire Council is fully committed to helping those hardest hit by the current economic situation.

In September Councillors approved spending of £3.125m to support local communities during the crisis, with a focus on six priority themes: Food; Energy; Money; Community; Wellbeing and Business. And this week at Full Council, elected members received an update on how this budget is now being spent across the six themes supporting local communities.

According to the Council’s latest campaign statistics the two most pressing areas where people need support are Food and Money.

East Ayrshire Council’s award winning Catering Service has expanded beyond the provision of traditional school dinners - their kitchens run 365 days a year, providing more breakfasts, lunches and ready meals than ever at venues all over the area.

During the pandemic they played a key role in supporting communities and once again they have risen to the challenge offering a range of solutions to help families cope with the cost of living crisis.

Working with a range of organisations including CVO East Ayrshire (CVOEA) and Fareshare, the Catering Service is supporting Food Banks and Community Larders. It also runs lunch clubs throughout East Ayrshire - and now these services are now being expanded - with increased opening hours, providing affordable ready meals, free tea and coffee and food deliveries.

 All children up to P5 are now entitled to free school meals, and these are also available to older children and young people who meet certain criteria, for example, low income families. Following a full review of school meal payments, elected members have agreed to provide extra supports for local families.

This includes £50,000 from the Cost of Living Fund which the Council’s Financial Inclusion team will use to provide discretionary free school meals to children and young people for up to eight weeks, and which can be back-dated if necessary.

Council also agreed to some changes in the way school meal debt is managed. Anyone who is in arrears will be referred to the Financial Inclusion Team for support.

This Team will assess each case and take appropriate action to ensure that the child or young person continues to receive a meal at lunchtime, and they will also provide additional advice and support to maximise the family income, or help to manage an emergency situation.

To help with this, the Financial Inclusion Team is being expanded, following a successful pilot in Loudoun Academy, where officers based in the school were able to help parents access all the benefits and grants to which they’re entitled, to the tune of over £140,000. New Financial Inclusion team members are being recruited and will be based in every school community to help all parents access any support they need.

The Council’s Business Support and Community Led Regeneration Teams are also engaging with businesses to help with funding through webinars and one to one support. This includes grants to move businesses towards Net Zero and support for Community Wealth Building projects and business growth.

Over 270 local business responded to a recent survey which will help to identify what support is needed by which businesses. The Business Gateway is also offering help to get businesses online with ShopAppycom and a series of specialist webinars is being launched soon.

From the beginning of December, East Ayrshire Leisure Trust is transforming a number of well-known local venues into warm welcoming spaces in the heart of every community. These are community venues, run by and for communities, where everyone is welcome. No questions will be asked.  

Aimed at everyone, young and old, those who’re doing ok, and those who’re struggling, they will offer a comfortable, friendly place with free hot drinks, fresh fruit and snacks, activities and support services, where people can  enjoy spend some time this winter.

The Council is working with the Trust and local community groups to finalise these plans in order to help as many people as possible. Grants are being made available to communities who wish to organise support.

Over the coming weeks the Council will be hosting a series of local engagement events in every ward, to give local people an opportunity to find out more about the variety of help available and to discuss what other practical measures can be taken to support people through this cost of living crisis.

The Health and Social Care Partnership will has committed additional funding to increase the number of nursing, addiction workers, peer workers, counsellors and occupational therapists to help with increased demand for support for people with mental health and addiction issues.

The Council’s “Here to Listen” suicide prevention strategy continues to grow in importance at this time. Over 300 employees, partners and members of the public have now been trained as mental health and suicide first aiders and are now providing crucial peer support throughout our workforce and our communities. Council has agreed to commit further investment to train more people in these crucial skills.

‘Compassion’ was the key theme of the session as elected members united in their endorsement and approval for the measures taken so far to respond to the cost of living crisis in East Ayrshire.

Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council said:  “I’m proud of the way in which our Council has responded to the cost of living crisis. In a very short space of time we have developed all sorts of support to help families, businesses and communities in general.

“Depending on their circumstances, people will experience this crisis in different ways and at different times, but it’s important that everyone knows who and where to turn to when they need that support.  The scale of the problem cannot be underestimated and while we’re all doing our best we know that hard times lie ahead for many people.

Councillor Maureen McKay, Leader of the Labour Group said: "In this day and age I cannot believe that we are having such difficult conversations. I know that many people will struggle to come to terms with any change in personal circumstances through no fault of their own, but the proposals we approved at Council will help keep people a little warmer and better fed in a dignified manner this winter.  I hope that they feel able to come forward and seek out help and support when they need it.”

Councillor John McFadzean, Leader of the Conservative Group said: “While we’re all facing these tough times, it’s very important that anyone who is struggling knows that there is help available and where to get it.

“By taking a whole Council and partnership approach to tackling the issues, I’m confident that we can all help make a difference by working together, keeping an eye on the situation and adapting to focus resources to the areas of greatest need. As local councillors we’ve all got a part to play in this, listening to peoples’ problems and doing what we can to help bring people together to find the best possible solutions.”

 Read full Cost of Living report.

Visit East Ayrshire Council Cost of Living webpages

The figures:

  • £500,000 to help local businesses respond to cost of living crisis
  • £390,000 to augment the Scottish Child Bridging payment by an additional £100 in December 2022
  • £350,000 to support projects led by local community groups in response to cost of living crisis
  • £320,000 to expand the school based financial inclusion project across all school community schools
  • £270,000 to support extended use of community venues and buildings by assisting with energy bills
  • £204,500 to enhance food provision and access to food across a number of initiatives including support for community larders, lunch clubs and food education programmes
  • £100,000 to provide net zero grant assistance for local businesses looking to reduce energy consumption
  • £75,000 to extend the early years financial inclusion project supporting families with children from pregnancy to 5 years
  • £50,000 discretionary payment to support challenging school meal debt
  • £50,000 to support expansion of suicide first aiders training programme

This leaves a balance of £390,400 which will be spent as the work progresses according to need.