Now more than ever housing is an employment issue

Now more than ever housing is an employment issue

Why should we think about housing as an employment issue?

It is generally accepted that a stable home is a central plank in anyone’s life. So, it stands to reason that housing is also fundamental to employment and employability. But what housing issues should we be thinking about as employers, aiming to support employee wellbeing, and as employability professionals supporting unemployed people to get back into work?

Location, Location, Location

Before looking at the housing challenges being faced by people on a detail level, I thought it would be useful to take a bird’s eye view first.

The connection between housing with employment actually spans quite a broad spectrum of socio-economic issues, but location stands out as a main concern for a couple of reasons.

  • Affordability of housing within a reasonable proximity to a workplace will determine how inclusive recruitment can really be, particularly for part-time and low paid jobs (low paid is classed as those paid less than two thirds of median hourly pay). So where someone lives can be a key determining factor in whether they can work, what work is available to them, and how much they are realistically able to earn, as well as determining their overall cost of living.
  • Productivity, with a clear link between housing location and productivity this is a key factor for employers to consider. Interestingly this report from Mercers actually finds that productivity reduces in line with the length of the commute (employees commuting less than half an hour to get to work gain an additional seven days’ worth of productive time each year compared to those with commutes of 60 minutes or more), and that longer commutes appear to have a significant impact on mental wellbeing, “with longer-commuting workers 33% more likely to suffer from depression, 37% more likely to have financial concerns and 12% more likely to report multiple dimensions of work-related stress.” It also stands to reason that employee retention suffers from long distances.

 Getting a job and keeping a job

In light of the importance of proximity, maximum 30 minutes journey time being considered to be the optimum for productivity and personal wellbeing, it’s really interesting to note the following:

Claimants for Universal Credit are expected to search for a job located up to 90 minutes travel from their home, a key feature of the DWP’s ‘Claimant Commitment’, the work search contract with DWP which has to be fulfilled for a claimant to successfully receive their benefit.

We need to be thinking carefully about this when supporting people in job search activities. When they get a job will they stay in it if they live too far away, while they’re working will their productivity be impacted by the distance they’re travelling, potentially impacting on how well they are regarded by their new employer, so also affecting future job search prospects if things don’t work out?

For current employees making sure that we really do focus some attention on supporting the welfare of staff who are commuting for over half an hour needs to be a priority for employers. Obviously the increased prevalence of homeworking has started to address this issue for some, but as we know many jobs practically can’t be done from home.

The impact of eviction and homelessness

Now moving on to thinking more about some of the real-life housing challenges people are facing, the worst case scenario has to be the threat of eviction and homelessness and the huge impact that this obviously has on families and employability.

An employee asking for time off work to ‘present as homeless’ to the local authority is unlikely to be something that HR teams have been faced with too regularly, but it really is an increasing problem that has grown even before the financial challenges presented by the pandemic. Alongside the need to take time off work, just facing the prospect of viewing emergency accommodation and the anxiety of being able to find a safe and affordable home as soon as possible can have a devastating effect on mental health and wellbeing. This often results in people being unable to work or, again, can lead to performance issues in the workplace.

If we take it back to basics, the basic physiological need for shelter as explicit in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the very foundation of a life well lived. Right now, it’s reported that 17.5 million people in Britain are facing a housing emergency.

That’s one in three adults, and what if you have children to think about too? With children included this number rises to a staggering 22 million people.

A recent report ‘Heads above Water’ by the National Federation of ALMOs analysing how council tenants and landlords have fared through the pandemic, demonstrated that 80% of income officers had reported higher rent arrears, 77% had seen increased demand for support services and the same number reported increased use of food banks and increased fuel poverty. Three quarters of income officers had also seen increased demand for hardship funds across the UK in the last year. A tidal wave is upon us.

Debt charity StepChange also reports a similar number of struggling tenants, and estimates that 150,000 are at risk of eviction. It says £370m of arrears has been built up as a result of Covid and that more than 850,000 households renting a home are worried about being evicted in the next few months, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Of these, 400,000 have already been served with an eviction notice or told they may be evicted and almost half a million other households are in arrears.

To make the situation worse, many local authorities are stating they will not consider people presenting as homeless with rent arrears for social housing, forcing people into the private rented sector with less security from eviction and poor living conditions, in part because private renters don’t feel able to complain to their landlord for fear of a retaliatory eviction. A number of local authorities have also stated that, unless they receive further funding, they will not be able to keep giving vital discretionary housing payments to tenants in critical need of them to keep them in their homes.

The rise in eviction and possible homelessness is an issue we cannot afford to ignore if we care about improving prospects of employment and employability. Support mechanisms need to be in place for people facing housing struggles, and whether they are employed or unemployed will bring its own challenges, but irrespective of employment status the challenges are significant when it comes to being ready and able to work.

What can we do to help?

The three most common triggers of homelessness in the last year were reported to be households no longer being able to stay with families and friends (32%), the loss of a private tenancy (13%) and domestic abuse (12%).

Even with increased government intervention through the pandemic the threat of homelessness has spiralled, and now the lifting of the eviction ban combined with the end of other government support – such as the job retention scheme, £20 uplift to Universal Credit and discretionary housing payments – which has kept millions of people above the poverty line and safe in their homes, over the next few months there are a lot more problems still to come.

There’s no question that housing is now in crisis as a result of the pandemic, for all of the wrong reasons, and people are significantly more likely to be facing housing-related issues than ever before, whether they are employed or not.

And because the landscape is ever-changing it’s hard to keep up. That was the driver for Society Matters’ launch of a new Housing Matters workshop, to ensure professionals supporting people to retain and gain employment are clear about the challenges being faced by the people they’re aiming to support, and to ensure they are aware of the practical help that’s available to families who are struggling with tenancies in both social housing and private rented accommodation.

Together, our priority needs to be to encourage people to be open about housing issues they’re facing, so they can be helped as early as possible.

People need to be helped to preserve the security of a safe home as a keystone. Only with this in place can they be expected to make positive progress towards, or hold down, a decent job.

By facing up to the complexities and challenges of the housing struggles that are being faced by so many people, there’s a greater chance for us to pass on the practical steps that can be taken to ensure that the priority of employment does not get left behind through a need to focus on basic survival.

Jayne Graham MBE and Adam Matthews, Society Matters cic

Society Matters cic’s mission is to mobilise knowledge so the system works, it works for everyone, and it powers the changes we need to be an equal and inclusive society.

We achieve this through a programme of unique and affordable social welfare and welfare benefits training and support services, designed and delivered by experts who have acute, front-end knowledge, and with social value embedded at their very core, so you can be sure we can help you to make your mark. 

Bellway Homes sponsors Universal Credit training for charities

Bellway Homes sponsors Universal Credit training for charities

14 local charities will benefit from Bellway Homes’ donation to the Society Matters’ Pay It Forward programme, paying for quality accredited welfare benefits training on 6th May for community and voluntary organisations in Newcastle and Gateshead.

Over 7 decades Bellway Homes has grown from a small, family-owned firm in Newcastle to one of the most successful house builders in the UK that now employs more than 2,000 people. Throughout its growth the company’s ethos has continued to be focused on supporting local communities, with each of its 22 divisions having a charity budget to support organisations and community groups in their local areas, as well as a charity committee that can donate funds to good causes that apply for assistance.

Stephen Weldon, the company’s Head of Sustainability, awarded the donation to Society Matters cic, explaining

“As a company founded in the North East of England, Bellway’s continues to support charities and groups delivering support to local communities in the region. Society Matters cic and its parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead form a vital part of that support network and Bellway is proud to be supporting the delivery of the Get to Grips with Universal Credit course in Gateshead and Newcastle in May.”

Through its donation to Society Matters’ Pay It Forward Scheme, Bellway will be providing 14 places on the Get to Grips with Welfare Benefits training course which has already met with huge acclaim from people and organisations across the North East and nationally.

 

 

 

Lee Booth, who leads on the development and delivery of training for the social enterprise explains how much the donation means to local communities:

“The number of people now claiming Universal Credit has sky rocketed due to the pandemic, so it’s critical that the professionals that are approached for help across the CVS by families in need of support really understand how the benefit works. Our training does that. It’s unique in its approach to breaking down what is clearly a very complex topic, and has been endorsed independently by ncfe as a quality learning programme.

 

Although our fair and affordable pricing policy makes this training very low cost and high value for money, in reality without this support from Bellway it’s highly unlikely that charities can access it. We owe a massive thanks to the team at Bellway that have recognised how important this is, and that have been prepared to make this donation.”

As well as its recent donation to Society Matters which will enable over a dozen charities and voluntary organisations in Gateshead and Newcastle to be trained to Get to Grips with Universal Credit, Bellway is also proud to work with the Community Foundation, which covers Tyne and Wear and Northumberland, and with the Greggs Foundation Breakfast Club Programme. The company also works with a national partner – currently Cancer Research UK – raising money for this charity across all of its divisions, and matches any funds raised by employees outside of work for good causes close to their hearts.

Book your free place thanks to Bellway

Small charities and community and voluntary sector organisations across Newcastle and Gateshead are being invited to book a free place on the Get to Grips with Universal Credit course being sponsored by Bellway Homes which will take place on 6th May 9.30 am until 3.30 pm in the Society Matters cic virtual classroom. 

Email training@societymatterscic.com

to book your place

 14 places available. 1 place per charity please. 

If you would like to make your own donation to the Society Matters cic Pay it Forward Scheme, to support local charities to get access to training they need, but otherwise can’t afford, please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

I’m on a mission to make a difference …

I’m on a mission to make a difference …

As a proud non-exec Director of social enterprise Society Matters cic I’m on a mission to make a difference. Alongside my talented co-Directors, our wonderful staff team and our parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead, we have a vision of a fair society for all, with lives well lived.

So what does that mean? To me, that means we are determined to help people in need to achieve their potential in life, to help families living in poverty, with disadvantage and deprivation, to become more self-reliant, resilient and move towards a lifestyle that is stable and secure. 

You might say – “well good luck with that” – and yes, it is a huge job. 

And it is one that is becoming more challenging daily while Covid takes its toll and employment – life itself – is ever more precarious.  Even people who are in employment are struggling to make ends meet and dealing with insecure jobs.

So, to achieve our ambition we have looked really closely at the part Society Matters cic can play – how our small but perfectly formed team can help to support people on a journey that leads to them ultimately supporting themselves.

Mobilising lived experience and specialist knowledge into the system

Proper support for people in need is crucial to enable them to emerge from poverty and avoid the traps that come along with it that often have long term impacts.  Debt, health problems, fuel poverty, housing and the knock-on impacts on education and social isolation are only a few examples of issues that that put people in crisis situations that are difficult to get out of.  

The Social Welfare system is there to provide such support but its complexities mean that people do not always get their entitlement and in many cases do not even realise they are eligible for benefits.  Accessing support can be difficult and not for the faint-hearted.  Not the best situation when you’re worried where the next meal is coming from or where you can get the bus fare to work.

So to help people access the support they need our approach is to mobilise the knowledge that resides in the advisers who deal with the complications of the system on a daily basis. The value of those experts, whose knowledge is second to none, and who have made a tangible difference to people’s lives, can’t be over-estimated.  So those advisers have invested their lived experience and specialist knowledge into the design, development and delivery of cutting edge training which is now delivered in a virtual classroom by Society Matters cic.

This is not training you can get from a book or a website. It’s coming at social welfare problems from the people perspective – not just relaying policy and practice. If you are one of the hundreds of people who have received this training, you’ll have the tools in your toolkit to really help people to navigate the social welfare and benefits system, and to get the best possible outcome for them and their families through your work.

We need more people to be able to help more people 

Like I said, this is a big job. So we’re on a mission to spread this acute, front-end knowledge far and wide.

On the ground, that means more people accessing the benefits they so desperately need, more people avoiding crisis points, more people moving out of poverty, more people taking the step from benefits to employment – more people reaching their potential. More people living their lives as well as they can. Isn’t that what we, as a society, should expect for everyone?

And of course, through the pandemic the public have grown a heightened awareness of the close connection between society and the economy. Through engendering more people with spending power the local economy gains, so we all gain. Did you know that in Gateshead alone in 2019-2020 the advice and information given to people by our parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead  gained £7.8m additional income, most of which will have been spent locally – mind blowing!

Just think what could be done across our region with a bit more know-how.

Knowledge is power – Society Matters is mobilising knowledge through its training so the Social Welfare system provides the means to progress for people who need and want to battle successfully against poverty. And it’s already working.  Front line staff we’ve trained are picking up on potential problems with their users at early stages and averting crises like eviction and arrears, and people are being able to work through their disabilities because they have the right support to do so, because they’ve been helped in the right way to get what they needed.  Critically, through mobilising knowledge the trained support staff feel confident and empowered in their work, and the service users relieved – what’s not to like in such a great result. 

This is real social value.

Durham business funds community social welfare training

Durham business funds community social welfare training

A family-owned funeral service that has served the local community for almost 50 years throughout East Durham is the latest business to ‘pay it forward’ to sponsor the Durham community sector to access vital social welfare training in partnership with Society Matters.

The East Durham Funeral Service has sponsored a Charity Discount Scheme that makes training more accessible to local charities and volunteers working on the front line in community organisations that could not afford the social welfare training otherwise. Through the scheme up to 100% discount can be offered, with the cost supplemented through the sponsorship which is also matched pound for pound by Society Matters. With their £500 donation this means Society Matters can offer at least 6 people places on Universal Credit or Personal Independence Payments (PIP) training courses, so they can have the confidence and knowledge they need to help their clients to navigate the complexities of the welfare benefits system.

Managing Director of East Durham Funeral Service Philip Maddison was keen to find new ways to support local people, and recognised that Paying It Forward with Society Matters was a useful way to contribute:

“When we heard about the Society Matters Charity Discount Fund, and the invaluable support that Society Matters provides to front line services, we were delighted to help. We recognise how important the services are to really improve the quality of people’s lives within our local area at a time where it has never been needed more due to the pandemic.

As a family run funeral service, proudly serving our local communities for almost 50 years, it is our ethos to support and guide families through their darkest hour and beyond. We are extremely proud to be able to share Society Matters vision of ‘Make Your Mark’ and hope to continue to back such invaluable services now and in the future.”

Lee Booth Trading Manager of Society Matters, who launched the fund earlier in the Summer said “We are over the moon with East Durham Funeral Service sponsorship of our social welfare training – this will make a massive difference to local charities and volunteers. As a social enterprise we have a clear social purpose, and the support of local businesses like the East Durham Funeral Service shows that we’re not on our own – by working together we can really make our mark”.

Lee and Society Matters cic Social Welfare Instructor Adam Matthews have received fantastic feedback from hundreds of people who have already received the training, which is now exclusively delivered through in an online classroom environment to ensure it has continued to add value despite the pandemic.

If you are involved in a local charity or community organisation that would benefit from receiving training in Universal Credit or Personal Independence Payments, but you can’t afford it, please get in touch to see if you can access help through the Pay it Forward Charity Discount Fund.

Click here to get in touch

Covid19 has infected the very foundations of our society

Covid19 has infected the very foundations of our society

Covid19 has infected the very foundations of our society

 

As we are seeing restrictions lifted and emergency financial help from the Government eased, we take a breath and reflect on how society as we know it has evolved with the impacts of the pandemic; we need to quickly get to grips with the changing needs of society – how people and communities have already been impacted, but also the continually shifting landscape as we already see a second wave of challenges being faced.

If you think in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we really have seen the Covid-19 virus has infected society’s absolute foundations, with people’s basic physical and security needs being thoroughly tested.

 

Coronavirus has had multiple physical impacts

Many of our colleagues and clients have expressed concern with their overall health and wellbeing as a result of lockdown-related isolation at a very basic level. Layer on top of that concerns with possible and actual health issues both directly associated with covid-19 and either exacerbated by, or caused by, the pandemic, and we realise that not many of us have escaped unscathed.

Food shortages

Of course, a factor that has a huge impact on health is food and nutrition. Reduced earnings has led to a lack of food resources, and this is a really serious concern, with a huge reported rise in families that are going without this basic, fundamental, physical provision. Earlier in the lockdown this in part related to difficulties associated with accessing supermarkets, particularly for those who are at high-risk, notwithstanding the scarcity of food in the early days of the pandemic due to bulk panic buying.

The most concerning impact is a lack of funds, leading to exceptionally high demand for food bank supplies to mitigate this crisis. The Trussell Trust reported a 175% increase in requests for emergency parcels in May, and the struggle continues to worsen. Many who are still shielding and who have lost pay or, in many cases, their employment, face an uncertain future, and those that are still on furlough will be understandably worried that they may be next in line for redundancy as the impending recession looms. The reality is that some people are now putting themselves and their families at risk as the only way they can find to put food on the table. For these people’s lives, coronavirus has served a terrible blow.

 

The pandemic has impacted on people’s security in so many ways

 

We are hearing a lot about the predicted economic recession that Government is now attempting to avert, but if we look at the impacts at an individual family level, personal security has taken a massive nose-dive, driven by serious impacts on financial stability.

Universal Credit

The Government uses the increase in the number of Universal Credit claimants as a proxy for measuring reduced income. On that basis the shocking reality is that there have been over three and a quarter million new claims for the welfare benefit since the start of lockdown, with the Government now being forced to invest close to £7 billion extra in the welfare system since the pandemic began, money which is now supporting approximately 10 million families in the UK. This would have been beyond comprehension earlier this year.

Payment delays

As well as claimant numbers soaring, the impact of the well-publicised issues associated with Universal Credit pre-Covid-19 have now touched millions more people, massively impacting on their financial security. The 5 weeks waiting period before the first benefit payment is received has understandably been a major problem area experienced by families who have found themselves ‘locked down’ with extra outgoings, no income and an uncertain financial future. And this really is lose, lose situation. For those who choose to take an advance they then need to pay it back, resulting in reduced benefits for an extended period once their payments actually start, with resulting difficult choices about which creditor must come first; for those who choose not to borrow, the impact comes that much sooner – 5 weeks can equate to 2 months’ arrears in rent, utilities, and a hole in the pocket when it comes to feeding the family. In other words dire straits.

Power and heat

Another basic physiological need is heat – staying warm and being able to cook in our homes. The clement weather has at least been an antidote to heating bills, but with people being at home for longer stretches of time over the months of lockdown, energy use has rocketed. Citizens Advice had  already been warning that 6 million people were behind with household bills, and although energy companies were offering a temporary amnesty on chasing arrears while lockdown was at its peak, they’ve now been given the go-ahead to start chasing payments. This really is going to get very messy.

Debt

All of these impacts have a high chance of leading to debt, but there’s more risk to come in the second wave of impacts as mortgage holidays come to an abrupt end and more people lose their jobs after being furloughed. Rent and council tax arrears are already rife. Citizens Advice has estimated that around 2.6 million tenants had expected to fall behind on their rent because of coronavirus just last month, so debt is looking like it will be the new pandemic for society to deal with.

Housing and shelter

Whilst the Government’s ban on evictions during the height of lockdown has eased people’s fears of losing the security of their homes, once this ends on 23rd August a housing crisis is looming. Our team of social welfare advisers and caseworkers with our parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead are bracing themselves for this next wave, concerned about their own and other charities’ capacity to cope with what homeless charity Shelter have predicted to be “a tidal wave of homelessness after the end of August”.

Job security

The increase in claims for Universal Credit is a clear indicator that jobs are disappearing fast. Employment Is a major pillar of society and critical to long term personal stability. When the number of people on employers’ payrolls has dropped by 612,000 between March and May, this gives the clearest sign yet of the looming crisis.  The services sector which covers a range of businesses from law firms and accountants to travel agents and restaurants represents 80% of UK economic output, and it’s the service sector that has been hit the hardest. It saw its steepest downturn in activity since records began in July 1996, almost entirely due to the closure of non-essential businesses and the cancellation of orders.

A recent article in the Independent, The story of the UK’s coronavirus jobs crisis in six charts, presents a pretty stark reality when it comes to the employment market. Some 8.7 million British workers have been furloughed since the current crisis began – around a quarter of the UK’s workforce. Under the terms of the furlough scheme, employees receive 80 per cent of their usual wages, up to £2,500 a month, from the government. A further 2.5 million claims have been made under the “Self-Employment Income Support Scheme”. Both schemes are welcomed and have been vital in supporting society through the challenges faced so far, but they are currently only in place until October, and employers are being asked to cover some of the costs from August as the scheme starts to taper.

It is inevitable that many employers who have been able to maintain their staff so far are going to have to make cutbacks and many jobs are still to be lost. The employment advice and law sectors are facing a perfect storm of unfair dismissals and discrimination cases with a spike already appearing in maternity discrimination cases since lockdown began. Will the Government make the decision to extend the furlough and protect businesses and employees’ rights? Balancing the books is going to be difficult and people will inevitably fall through the cracks that are widening in job security.

 

So has lockdown rocked society’s status quo?

 

Let’s be honest, not everyone has faced economic impacts on a personal level, yet, as a result of the virus. Some families have managed to cope better than others. Physical exercise has gone up, credit card balances have gone down and, although on a smaller scale, the heartbeat of normal life for many has continued to beat. However despite people’s personal financial security being robust enough to see them through the worst of this crisis, its psychological and social impacts are far reaching.

The nation is reeling from losing almost 45,000 loved ones, neighbours, colleagues, carers, family members. The horrible reality of not being able to say goodbye, and the suspension and minimalisation of funerals has devasted so many people.  The estimated 30% rise in reported domestic abuse cases since lockdown started is symptomatic of the pandemic. Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day in April as families felt the pressure and victims have become trapped in their homes. PTSD is already starting to emerge across key workers and children, and a recent survey found that some 14 per cent of people aged 16 and above are experiencing a mental health problem “much more than usual”. Extrapolating these findings to the whole of the population indicates that a massive 7.2 million people have experienced problems with their mental health in recent months. The second wave of issues we have identified as being on their way will only add to this.

People’s lives are being damaged. No one will escape the impact of the pandemic altogether – because it has rocked society’s status quo.

Society does matter, and this will be our saving grace

Amidst all of the bad, however, there is still a shining light, because people recognise that society matters. Communities have rallied to protect the vulnerable; hundreds of thousands of volunteers have helped to deliver groceries, pick up prescriptions and check in on neighbours. They have organised local mutual aid groups, helped through existing volunteering networks and offered their time in a host of different ways. Then there’s the overt support we have seen for the NHS and frontline workers, people showing their gratitude in many ways, from donations to clattering pans; we are showing that we care.

This humanity has demonstrated that society does matter, and this will be our saving grace.

But we must still recognise that Covid-19 has infected the very foundations of our society. People need to have their basic needs met to be able to move on in other areas of their lives, so it’s clear that the Government will need to do more to make this happen than an attempt to focus on medium term economic recovery.

Goodwill and friendship can only stretch so far …

 

Adam Matthews, Social Welfare Instructor

 

What it means to be a ‘socially responsible corporate’

What it means to be a ‘socially responsible corporate’

CSR? It’s just ‘marketing’ isn’t it?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is part of a bigger agenda for Society
Matters to stimulate and enable Corporate Social Action – encouraging businesses,
and the people within them, to take an active role in driving and enabling
social change.  

But we’ve found CSR to be a subject that can generate a degree of cynicism
– and sometimes ill-feeling – amongst businesses and their staff and, if we’re honest,
amongst the community and voluntary sector as companies strive to ‘do their
bit’ for the local community, or the environment, or charities. It can sometimes
be derided as a thinly veiled piece of marketing promotion or an insincere
attempt to look virtuous, rather than a ‘real’ commitment to the causes the
company is helping.

But the team at Society Matters is passionate about helping businesses to
make their mark through taking social action, and really would argue that there
doesn’t need to be much of a gap between the objectives of sound marketing
strategy and a well-planned commitment to championing social value; that it
doesn’t have to be an either-or situation, rather it is a case of two valuable
business aims that complement each other.

What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

In its broadest sense CSR is an overt commitment by a business being
responsible, carrying out its activities in a way that is ethically, socially
and environmentally appropriate, making a positive impact on their local and
global community and environment.

This can involve an array of activities, starting with simply
contributing to the economy, fulfilling your legal obligations and acting in an
ethical manner towards your employees. It is usually when a business moves
towards more philanthropic activities, though, that it starts to be recognised
as CSR; contributing to charities, creating opportunities for employee
volunteering, addressing environmental impact and initiatives that focus on
other discretionary practices that impact on society.

However, there are many examples of companies who have CSR policies that
have generated Corporate Social Action (CSA) that has not been well received by
customers, seeming incongruous to the purpose of the business or, worse still, like
an attempt to off-set some negative impact with a positive contribution. This
type of action gets labelled as tokenism, fake publicity stunts and marketing
‘spin’ and end up doing substantial damage to the business’s reputation.

You must be more than your promise

The answer, of course, that you make your ‘CSR’ about action – we call
that Corporate Social Action (‘CSA’) to differentiate the intent to ‘do good’ and
the real grass roots action. This can be achieved by making your CSA part of
your product (or service, or experience) rather than something that is added on
at a later date (think of it as part of your total product concept, alongside
your after-sales service or your customer care commitment). This way it becomes
a natural part of your brand, and you become recognised for it. Get it right,
and your business identity becomes synonymous with being a good corporate
citizen and both you, and society, reap the rewards. It is a classic win-win
scenario. This
blog features
6 socially responsible companies to applaud because ‘they
have made it their mission to do good’ and they pretty much all follow this
approach – Ben & Jerry’s ice cream being a case in point, with safe, responsible
business built into their business model, from their working practices to their
ingredients and supply chain.

There is, as always, a different perspective to be had. If your product
is already strong, and selling well, with strong profits and great market
position, why would you spend time and energy on actions that simple reduce
your margins?

The case for
Consumer Driven CSA

The answer is simple; the market is changing and customer expectations
are evolving to make CSA an essential part of corporate strategy – doing good
is good for business as well as society.

Consider the changing needs of your customers. From a B2C angle, there
is clear evidence that customers are becoming increasingly concerned about the
activities that a company undertakes and the reputation that it gains, as part
of their decision making process. Studies show that modern consumers are highly
likely to favour brands that address social problems, prioritise CSA and act in
an open and honest way about these activities.

From a B2B angle, if you are part of a supply chain those downstream from
you may be operating an ethical supply policy and looking not just for
competitive pricing from you, but also for social and environmental impact that
is in line with their policies and brand.  

Now there is a case to be argued that there is a difference between
consumers (or supply chain partners) stating an interest in CSA and them
actually changing their intentions to create different behaviours. However, if
someone wants to have their personal or professional branding reflect their
ethical consumption, they are more likely to do it if the product or service is
already there that matches their need. Cone Communication’s 2017 study suggests that 87%
of consumers will make a purchase if a company advocates for an issue they are
concerned about – and 76% will refuse to purchase if the company’s stance runs
contrary to their interest.

If your customers are now increasingly expecting higher levels of overt social
responsibility from your business, and seeing that as part of the total product
that you are generating, the question is not whether you should address this as
an option for your business; it is a question of whether you can afford not to?

Consistency with Vision and Values

Were it this simple – casually ensuring your CSA matches with the latest
issues to make the news for consumers – everyone would do it. However, there is
another hurdle to be considered, and that is whether your actions match your own
corporate identity? Do your values and vision match your social intent? When
you act, do you act with integrity and commitment because your whole business
is genuine in its direction of travel? Do you truly want to ‘make your mark’? Consumers
exist in a world of readily available information and comparison – if your
actions are not genuine, they will find out and in all probability, you will be
called out in public by them.

However, it is certainly possible for your company to align the values
that inform its operations with those of your customers. Analysing the way that
you work, the way that you impact the world around you, and the way that you
enrich your community,  and ensuring that
they are all heading towards the same goal – this is the way to ensure that
your ‘CSR’ is the best sort of marketing you can have at your disposal;
genuine, committed and resonant with your customers.

At Society Matters we passionately believe that companies will prosper
if they can invigorate socially responsible policy and practice into exciting
plans of action that reflect the mood of their customers. In so doing, every
business can contribute towards a fair society for all and making a tangible
difference to people’s lives.

If you think your business could benefit from reviewing how you can make your mark on society, get in touch to chat about how we can help.