Cllr Jane Birch speech on the Anti-poverty Strategy

What is poverty?

Poverty is a hugely complex issue.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) provides the following broader definition of poverty: “income and resources are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living considered acceptable in the society in which they live. Because of their poverty they may experience multiple disadvantage through unemployment, low income, poor housing, inadequate health care and barriers to lifelong learning, culture, sport and recreation. They are often excluded and marginalised from participating in activities (economic, social and cultural) that are the norm for other people.”

Effects of poverty

After 10 years of austerity we see:

The rise in the use of food banks, rough sleeping, hidden homelessness, falling life expectancy for some, the decimation of legal aid, the denial of benefits to the severely disabled, and the impoverishment of single mothers and people with mental illness. Zero hours contracts and agency work mean no regular income and instability for families.

Poor physical and mental health. A low sense of wellbeing. Social deprivation. Feeling unsafe and insecure. Debt. Fragile families. Poor, inadequate and insecure housing.

There are 6,000 children living in poverty in Northampton. Two thirds of children growing up in poverty live in a family where at least one member works. The effects on children are significant. They are more likely to feel like a failure. They are often hungry, too hungry to sleep and then too tired and hungry to engage in lessons at school. They underachieve at school. By GCSE, there is a 28% gap between children receiving free school meals and their wealthier peers.

They cannot join in activities or invite friends home, they often do not have the space or resources to study at home.

One in six pensioners are living in poverty. Pensioner poverty is rising, having fallen steadily for nearly two decades. The figures prompt fears that many pensioners will be forced to choose between paying for heating or buying food. About 20 % of all pensioners rent their home, and the proportion is growing. They have no control over rising rental and energy costs which go up faster than benefits.

What could an anti-poverty strategy mean?

The Borough would encourage partners and support voluntary agencies to:

Support families into work and increase earnings. Offer secure jobs and training. Provide early intervention when problems arise to build resilience. Debt advice, identifying and dealing with individual and family debt. Money management, encourage financial planning, encourage savings, knowing where to access appropriate financial advice. Affordable credit, discourage the use of Loan Sharks, promote the use of Credit Unions and access to bank accounts. Monitor the use of Food Banks and maximise the registration for Free School Meals. Working with the transition to Universal Credit in relation to financial literacy and digital inclusion. Identify families and individuals most in need of support. Provide more social and affordable housing. Provide affordable child care. Promote the Living Wage accreditation among businesses and other organisations. Initiate schemes to promote Energy Savings.

The effects of an anti-poverty strategy could:

Improve earnings for low income households, reduce the housing benefit claimants, reduce unemployment and young people not in employment, education or training, a reduction in fuel poverty, help people on low income get on line and develop the digital skills needed to search for jobs, complete on line applications and access public services support initiatives to improve the health of low income residents including cookery skill classes and free swimming lessons for children of low income families, affordable child care.

Early intervention in many of these areas would avoid high cost services when a crisis point is reached. We have many highly skilled and experienced partners in the voluntary sector and they perhaps reach people that the official borough services are unable to engage with. Support our local libraries where all generations can find information and activities at no cost. We must support these voluntary services and enable them to work in a productive partnership with NBC to achieve the best outcomes for our residents.

In all decisions and actions taken by the Borough to ask the question - How does this affect people living in poverty? Will this make vulnerable people poorer? How can we protect those most at risk from poverty?

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