This year, NPC has seen an increasing number of requests from funders who want to research particular social issues to understand where their funding can make the biggest difference. This is exactly what we like to see—funders wanting to become more informed about the issues they fund to ensure their resources go to the areas of greatest need.
Undertaking this type of research is very much at the heart of what NPC does. During the ten years we have been in operation we have researched hundreds of social issues, from our first major report on domestic violence to our recent paper on troubled families. All this research is available on our website for free.
Earlier this year, Grosvenor and the Westminster Foundation commissioned NPC to identify the priority needs in the London borough of Westminster, where they are based.
One of the issues that we quickly identified was extreme inequality: Westminster is the third most prosperous borough in the UK, but 14% of its neighbourhoods are in the top 10% most deprived in the country. 50% of the population classified as ‘deprived’ live in just five wards. Children are particularly affected: 24% of children in Westminster live in severe child poverty, making it the fifth worst borough in the country for child poverty.
This finding led us to recommend that the foundation, and other funders in the borough, take a ‘community based approach’ to tackling the borough’s problems—funding community organisations working in the most deprived neighbourhoods. Community organisations can be more flexible and responsive to local needs than a funder or single issue charity, particularly with the help of unrestricted funding. We felt that in a borough where the needs are so focused on a few wards, community organisations play a vital role.
As an alternative to taking a community-based approach, we also recommended that the foundation could fund one or more of the four priority issue areas we identified: poverty; housing and homelessness; employability; and mental health.
The housing and homelessness issues we identified were significant:
- 30% of housing in Westminster is overcrowded, which is the third highest level in the country;
- 80% of Westminster’s neighbourhoods are in the worst decile for housing in England; and
- 25% of all rough sleepers in England are found in Westminster. The vast majority are men and many have multiple needs relating to mental and physical health problems and substance misuse.
Housing problems are also likely to get worse due to the new cap to housing benefits, with around 5,000 households in Westminster estimated to be affected by the cap. Children, families and migrant communities are likely to be particularly affected by these changes.
Poor housing had wide reaching effects. It causes physical health problems associated with living in damp or unsuitable accommodation, and living in overcrowded circumstances contributes to family breakdown. It has a particularly bad impact on children: mental health problems are three times more common in children living in temporary accommodation than in the general population. It can also lead to poor educational attainment, with children in poor housing nearly twice as likely to leave school without any GCSEs.
The findings of our research will now be used to inform Grosvenor and the Westminster Foundation’s new strategy. We found this research a hugely interesting process, uncovering some shocking facts. We were impressed by Grosvenor and the Westminster Foundation for taking this approach to their strategy review, and we hope other funders are inspired to take a similar approach.