Innovation in Homes 7: People Powered | Big Society Capital

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Innovation in Homes 7: People Powered

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For our “Innovation in Homes” series, Karen Ng, Investment Manager at Big Society Capital, interviewed Will McLoughlin. Will is part of the People Powered team at National Housing Federation’s Creating Our Future programme. 

What challenges are you trying to address? Why is it important?

We are attempting to tackle the poverty premium. To define that term for people unfamiliar with it, the poverty premium refers to the fact that people on low incomes pay over the odds for many goods and services due to a confluence of factors largely beyond their control. Examples of the premium include high-cost loans and other forms of credit, higher cost prepayment energy tariffs, and exclusion from insurance due to the high cost of premiums in low average income areas.

People also incur lots of additional costs around food through, for example, distance from cheaper supermarkets, lack of private transport, inability to access bulk-buy discounts, and limited choices arising from time poverty, unstable or zero-hours work patterns, and a general lack of control over the rhythm of day-to-day life.

As Housing Association representatives, the People Powered team believe the poverty premium describes imbalances that we are well placed to address, and that our founding principles impel us to try.

What is the idea that you are working on? How does it relate to insights that you have gathered?

The idea we are working on is a food-based social enterprise called The Good Food Bag. It aims to bring food security to people that don’t have it in the form of low-cost, easy to cook recipe kits. When we began to research poverty in depth, the insights we gained around food were some of the most startling. For example, 49% of high cost credit is spent on food. That was a stat that really threw us, as I think we carried an underlying assumption that high-cost loans are usually taken out either in an emergency, such as to replace a broken washing machine, or for a luxury – the perfectly relatable need for nice things even (or especially) when times are hard. To find out that food is by far the biggest portion of that spend was shocking, and a key moment in terms of choosing our area of focus.

Who have you spoken to and what experiments have you run?

We have spoken to dozens of people with lived experience of poverty in all its forms, and dozens more researchers, campaigners, charity heads, social entrepreneurs, church leaders and so on. It’s been hard at times listening to some harrowing stories but people’s generosity with their time, openness and honesty have been incredible. One of the very first people we spoke to on this journey was Michael Sheen, who is leading the brilliant work of the End High Cost Credit Alliance, and he told us “People aren’t stupid”. A simple statement, but one that has gained in resonance as we’ve learnt more about the hard choices so many people have to make around basic, fundamental provisions for themselves and their families. What may look like poor choices are very often in fact the most rational and practical options available in the circumstances.

Since we’ve moved our focus to food we’ve visited social supermarkets, food producers and suppliers, spoken with consultant chefs, nutritionists and brand experts.

We’ve conducted surveys around favourite foods, shopping habits and housing associations’ appetite to work in the field. We’ve also conducted experiments around analysing food receipts, pricing ingredients, and most recently the ‘realness test’ – actually fulfilling orders on recipe kits and tracking the journey of our trial customers in collecting, cooking and eating our food.

Food is such an emotive subject, and tied up with people’s self-perception, aspiration and sense of wellbeing – we know how hard it will be to get our product just right, and it will take many, many hours, lots of hard work and a cast of thousands to perfect it!

We're looking for investors to help us pilot The Good Food Bag, and partners throughout the food supply chain - from local producers to large-scale manufacturers, with a focus on social purpose - to help us access the best quality food at the best prices for our customers.

If you’re interested in speaking with the People Powered team, you can email Will at will.peoplepowered@gmail.com

Last updated | 
18 September 2018

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