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Working to tackle poverty across County Durham

Published November 08, 2022 3.04pm

An updated action plan to help tackle poverty and support those struggling with the current economic climate will be discussed next week.

Our Cabinet will be presented with a revised County Durham Poverty Strategy and Action Plan, to respond to the impact of poverty on residents.

Following a meeting in April, councillors consulted with partners and key voluntary sector organisations to develop an action plan which clearly sets out what will be done to address and reduce poverty across the county.

Support with the rising cost of living

The strategy proposes four key objectives to reduce the number of people affected by poverty and deprivation. This includes reducing financial pressures on those facing or in poverty, increasing individual and community resilience to poverty, using data to target support to low-income households and reducing barriers to accessing services.

The report recognises that our new Inclusive Economic Strategy is fundamental to opening up routes out of poverty and supporting communities to thrive by maximising money going into local communities, creating jobs and supporting businesses to grow.

Because of the impact of the rising cost of living and current economic uncertainty, the action plan also reflects the need to support residents experiencing immediate financial hardship through crisis support and access to appropriate advice, as well as developing longer term strategies to enable households to have a good quality of life.

Last month, we agreed to extend its Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme for another year to help low-income households, with 80 per cent of all 34,000 eligible households receiving 100 per cent support and having no bill to pay. We also continue to fund the Welfare Assistance Scheme which provides support for those in crisis.

Working together to ensure help is available 

Cllr Alan Shield, Cabinet member for equality and inclusion, said: "We understand that many residents across County Durham are affected by poverty. The effects of it are at the heart of many of the social and economic challenges we face, having a profound impact on so many people and presenting itself in many ways.

"The effects of poverty are widespread and cause significant inequalities across our communities and we are mindful that the cost of living crisis is leading to more residents experiencing poverty for the first time. What is clear is that it holds back many of our communities right across the county, and we are determined to do all we can to support all residents.

"However, a joint approach is required to truly tackle this complex issue and ensure people in crisis are provided with advice and financial assistance as well as a route out of poverty. This is why it is so important that, alongside our partners, we work to ensure help is available for all those who are struggling.

"We are extending our Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme for a further year, working with the County Durham Community Foundation to create a network of Warm Spaces, as well as providing funding to support the Durham Christian Partnership and other local food banks. We are also supplementing that service by working alongside our partner agencies offering benefit checks and other support to maximise household income, and many other means of support."

Aiming to improve services and opportunities 

The revised strategy aims to improve services and opportunities for residents experiencing poverty because of the rising cost of living and will cover a four-year period up to 2026.

It considers how we can increase access to fresh, healthy, affordable food and how it can help residents improve their overall financial circumstances by prioritising longer-term support around debt, mental health and affordable housing.

As child poverty in County Durham also continues to rise, with more children now eligible for free schools meals, our Child Poverty Working Group (CPWG) has refreshed its plan to ensure children, young people and their families have the resources to meet their basic needs.

Supporting children and young people 

Revised objectives for the CPWG will be to understand the level and impact of poverty on children in order to better target support and resources and to identify and support affected children and families at the earliest opportunity. Other objectives include promoting social inclusion and raising aspirations and resilience of children and young people making the move into further education, training or employment.

Cllr Ted Henderson, Cabinet member for children and young people's services, said: "The updated Child Poverty Plan will build on the success of our existing initiatives, such as our Fun with Food programme, which offers free activities alongside healthy food during school holidays.

"By focusing on how we can meet the changing needs of families across the county, we can support more children, young people and families at an earlier opportunity. This will help us to identify those who are most in need and create better outcomes for families."

Cabinet is recommended to approve the new Poverty Strategy and Action Plan and endorse the Child Poverty Action Plan when it meets on Wednesday 16 November.

For more information, visit Cabinet agenda and minutes - 16 November 2022.