VRAJ PANKHANIA, Chair of the Westcombe Group and Foundation
You don’t need me to tell you that our country is in a cost-of-living crisis.
At the start of Q4 2022, inflation reached a 41-year high, topping 11%. Real household income is expected to fall by the end of this fiscal year. And over 90% of adults in Great Britain have seen their cost-of-living rise in the last year.
This has had the greatest impact on the most vulnerable. Low-income households spend a larger proportion than average on energy and food, so are more affected by price increases.
As is often the case, the UK’s third sector is bearing the brunt of this uptick in hardship. For example, food bank charities are seeing an increase in demand: the Trussell Trust reports that last year saw a huge spike in demand for their food parcels, 50% higher than before the pandemic, while New figures from charity Shelter show the stark increase in homelessness in 2022 even before the cost-of-living crisis came into full effect.
If we are serious about dealing with the crisis, as well as other systemic issues facing the UK, the burden cannot be left exclusively to charities. It is of course encouraging to see the government step in and offer support through its support packages. What is missing from this picture? A clear role for the private sector.
Profit should not be a ‘dirty’ word, rather financial success should be celebrated. This is something the Asian community here in the UK do particularly well; look no further than the fantastic Asian Business Awards, which are entering their twenty fifth year.
There is no doubt, however, that with this success comes a moral obligation to ensure that the bright light of prosperity reaches those parts of society which are too often overlooked.
By investing in ‘left-behind’ regions and facilitating social mobility by offering pathways into hard to access industries, when businesses succeed, communities and the country as a whole benefit too. These are of course great by-products from our deserved success. But there is still more we can do to give back.
My experiences of poverty in my formative years have stuck with me throughout my career. I vividly remember my father still giving back to society despite not having much for himself. As such, I have always made a conscious effort to pass down that same burning desire to create positive change to my sons, Kamal and Sunil.
This yearning to give back led me to establish the Westcombe Foundation in 2008. Since then, the Pankhanias have invested into educational, healthcare, religious and charitable endeavours across the UK, Kenya, India, and Nepal.
In recent months the Foundation has pivoted its focus to looming threat of rapidly increasing homelessness. We understand that not all people live in a place they can call home and we believe that all people experiencing homelessness should be entitled to support and assistance.
That’s why, in 2023, we are doubling down our efforts to help people off the streets and into their own homes as quickly as possible, through a variety of projects.
The harsh reality is that there are people in dire need now. As a community we must use our entrepreneurial vigour to find new and innovative ways to help those around us.
Opportunities to make a positive change are plentiful, yet often overlooked. We are not only business leaders, but community leaders. We must take the time to seek out these opportunities, for the sake of the most vulnerable in our flock.