Many people across London continue to be disproportionately affected by the cost-of-living crisis, the lingering impact of Covid-19 and increased energy costs. Inflationary pressures have contributed to in-work poverty. Yet our research, in partnership with MIME has shown that access to free, good quality, independent social welfare legal advice can significantly help Londoners who are at risk of financial hardship.
The Advice in Community Settings (AiCS) grant programme was launched in 2022 by the Mayor of London and Greater London Authority (GLA). Working with 11 community-based advice and support organisations across the capital, from food banks to community hubs, it has provided a range of information, advice and guidance to support people who may be experiencing, or at risk of, financial hardship. Partnerships include a wide range of advice organisations working in specialist areas from welfare benefits, debt advice, to family support, housing, immigration, and asylum issues. The programme has been seen to build networks across these advice settings to ensure that advice seekers are able the gain the right advice easily and quickly.
Working in collaboration with MIME and the GLA team, we developed a framework to capture and understand the impacts of the AiCS programme. We worked closely with the 11 funded partners to monitor the impacts of these interventions on the lives of people accessing the range of services available. Our approach went beyond typical data collection from participants and stakeholders. Many people using these services are typically from marginalised and underrepresented groups, often accessing advice for the first time. Taking a mix-method approach, we were therefore able to capture the qualitative as well as quantitative impacts to identify many far-reaching impacts from this programme.
The project also looked to develop a network to share learning and best practice across the 11 community-based advice and support organisations. We facilitated workshops to help embed the emerging findings from across this partnership. This not only strengthen the network of organisations, but it also enabled resources to be shared. This in turn provided more effective and timely support for advice seekers.
The evaluation has demonstrated the individual and collective impact of the AiCS programme and developed a deeper understanding of the wider societal benefits of providing timely advice to support people facing hardship. It has also provided an evidence base for the cost benefit of investing in advice interventions based in the community.
Our work provided a set of recommendations for the GLA, advice commissioners, and other relevant stakeholders on how best to approach future investment in, and activity involving, community-based advice interventions in future.
This has led to the Mayor of London confirming a second year of funding. This support will continue to deliver to beneficiaries, of whom 40-50% had not been in receipt of any advice previously. It will also broaden the scope of delivery, by identifying further community settings across London that can provide community-based advice. The evaluation findings are being used to aid selection of these locations as well as the rational for future funding beyond the timescale current set by the GLA.