Time to Take Action to Keep the Lights On

One thing has remained the same since Key Fund began in 1999 – the belief that there is a major cost to doing nothing in the face of structural poverty.

Time to Take Action to Keep the Lights On
By Ged Devlin

One thing has remained the same since Key Fund began in 1999 – the belief that there is a major cost to doing nothing in the face of structural poverty. In that, we remain consistent. By removing barriers to finance in disadvantaged communities, Key Fund has supported over 2,500 social enterprises to create jobs, while helping fix societies most entrenched problems. Issues such as loneliness, discrimination and poverty.

These are enterprises working in the most difficult circumstances, with limited resources, but achieving amazing things.

We know that the poorest and most vulnerable took the brunt of Covid. In our sector – with the help of partners and funders – Key Fund were able to secure and distribute emergency grants. Many of our clients not only survived, but stepped up as frontline responders at the heart of their communities. It feels there’s been little room to come up for air.

The headlines are stark. Two-thirds of UK families could be in fuel poverty by January. UK inflation is at a 40-year high. Wages have not kept pace with inflation. Energy costs are through the roof. Ofgem are there to provide caps on energy bills for consumers, but there are no caps for businesses. We listen to our clients. We know, anecdotally, they will start to hurt.

Many provide food banks and schemes, community hubs, and offer lifelines for fundamental issues: housing, education, care.

How do we safeguard those providing the safeguards? It’s a sadly over-used phrase – that the poorest will have to choose between ‘heating and eating’. But there’s talk of Warm Banks alongside Food Banks – places to get warm when people can’t afford to put the heating on. So, what if those places – the community hubs and spaces – can’t pay their own energy bills?

As the pressures on our clients’ services are set to soar, crippling bills will see them struggling themselves.

It’s telling that one of the biggest arts organisations in Manchester, The Lowry, came forward to say its annual energy costs – predicted to be £1m – will far outstrip its entire Arts Council grant (£860,000). [1]Behind its shadow, there are countless organisations, of all sizes across all sectors, in the same sinking boat.

At Key Fund, we are under no delusion. This cost-of-living-crisis will result in a number of social enterprises closing their doors for good, if we don’t step up to provide solutions, fast. One of the things we’ve been working on to at least try and alleviate this crisis is to pilot a potential new Green Fund.

Many of the community and social enterprises we support already have slim margins. And one of the biggest variables in their business model is energy costs; the biggest cost for community organisations is heating[2], which accounts for a whopping 70% of their utility bills.

Reducing carbon emissions, energy costs, and installing renewable energy schemes are the answer. We can try of course to use less, consciously turn lights off, and take other cost-saving steps, but in the short term this will have minimum effect when it comes to businesses closing their doors.

We need physical improvements with insulation and efficient heating. And we need to invest in renewable technologies that can not only take the strain of the eye-watering bills, but can even generate extra revenue. A Green Fund would help organisations help insulate themselves, literally, keeping the lights on.

The measure of any society is found in how it treats its most vulnerable. For those elderly, hungry or struggling, dependent on their local community hub for warmth, food and human contact, it’s a crisis in which we just can’t afford to do nothing.

Social enterprises are often the glue that holds things together. We urgently need to reinforce that glue.

if you’re thinking about this too, please get in touch: Ged.devlin@thekeyfund.co.uk

[1] Lowry theatre energy costs set to climb to nearly £1m – Manchester Evening News

[2] improving-energy-efficiency-in-community-buildings-197 (cse.org.uk

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