Adur and Worthing councils’ Tory leaders have rejected a call for action to reduce poverty – despite evidence in their own council reports that hardship is growing.
Councillor Debs Stainforth (Southlands) called for the council to work with the community and for a poverty emergency to be declared when she spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting of the councils’ joint strategic committee
Over the past year in Adur and Worthing:
- the number of households relying on Universal Credit has doubled to more than 10,000
- nearly 6,000 households are claiming council tax support
- Between March and September 2020, unemployment has “risen dramatically” according to a council report, with the number of households in receipt of job seeking benefits more than doubling. These increases are higher than the UK average of approximately 70%
- increasing numbers are getting into debt.
Debs Stainforth said: “Earlier in the meeting we talked about “squeezed incomes, people in debt, unable to pay the electricity bill or the council tax, let alone find the money for a laptop for their children’s school work.
“The number of people claiming Universal Credit has soared – many of them people with jobs. More than 4,000 households in Adur and 6,000 in Worthing rely on Universal Credit. Yet the Government has refused to commit to continuing the £20 per week ‘uplift’ after April. This puts more pressure on struggling families and has horrified organisations such as the Trussell Trust who run many of our vital foodbanks.
“There is real and genuine poverty. My own ward, Southlands, is among the hardest hit – the poorest 20 per cent in the country when it comes to low income. These are people who have lost their jobs, who are self-employed, who are battling cancer, who have lost loved ones.
“I’m talking to residents who are so cold – in their own homes – that their teeth are chattering. I’m talking to residents who are choosing between heating and eating when it’s minus 2 degrees outside. I’m talking to residents who can’t afford to buy fresh milk or bread for their kids.
“We need to do more.
“This is not only a COVID thing. A year ago, Professor Michael Marmot (author of the Marmot Report on inequality and health) reported on how life expectancy has stalled in this country since 2010. This year he reports that among the reasons for the grievous effect of COVID on our communities is growing inequality, after years of austerity and failure to provide adequate services to the elderly or to families and children.
“He says the political culture has damaged social cohesion, de-emphasised the importance of the common good. And yet through Covid, it’s our communities who have pulled together to tackle this. It is our community groups that are lifting people and rebuilding social cohesion. They are the experts.
“We need to do more than just pass on the money that the government gives us. We all want to take whatever action we can to alleviate growing poverty. If we want to do that properly we need to do it WITH the community.
She said: “Declare a Poverty Emergency, and set up a Poverty Reduction Action Group.”
The committee had agreed to an approach to alleviating poverty based on data available to the council. A report said “Looking forward there is much that can be done with partners, both in the community and in the wider public sector, but this initial work is focused on what can be delivered by the councils.” Debs’ view that this should be done with the community now and not later was rejected by the Conservative councillors.