7. Objective 1 - Helping people on low incomes to maximise their income and minimise their costs, building financial resilience, and reducing indebtedness
While East Devon as a whole is very prosperous and average wages are comparatively high, a significant proportion of residents are receiving low levels of pay and/or are claiming benefits:
- One in four people receive weekly pay (£275.60) which is only 65% of the average weekly pay (£426.10) in the district.
- 16% of East Devon households are claiming Housing Benefit and/or Universal Credit.
High costs of living make it difficult for people on low incomes to meet basic costs. The JRF highlights that while globalisation, competition and innovation have pushed down the prices for many consumer goods and services, boosting living standards overall, rises in housing, transport, food and fuel prices have increased the cost of living, particularly for people in poverty. JRF research shows that nationally in 2018 families needed 30% more disposable income to meet basic costs than in 2008.
The cost of living is particularly high in East Devon, making it difficult for people on low incomes in the city to meet basic costs. Evidence shows that:
- Housing costs are high in East Devon. In 2019, the average lower quartile monthly rent was £650, while lower quartile average house prices were ten or more times the average lower quartile earnings.
- Food poverty is an issue in East Devon, with the numbers of people receiving emergency food from Foodbanks steadily increasing reaching a peak during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Fuel poverty affects an estimated 10% of people in East Devon, due to a combination of low incomes, high energy costs and poor energy efficiency of some properties.
The high cost of living can be exacerbated by “poverty premiums” where people in poverty pay more for the same goods and services. For example, many people on low incomes use pre-payment meters for gas and electricity, at greater cost. Similarly, people on low incomes are less likely to have internet access, and are therefore less likely to switch their energy supplier to get a better deal or access other cheaper online deals.
Income poverty has a very real impact on people’s lives, putting them under constant pressure. The JRF highlights the following effects of poverty:
“Poverty means not being able to heat your home, pay your rent, or buy the essentials for your children. It means waking up every day facing insecurity, uncertainty, and impossible decisions about money. It means facing marginalisation – and even discrimination – because of your financial circumstances. The constant stress it causes can overwhelm people, affecting them emotionally and depriving them of the chance to play a full part in society.”
Action to date
To help address income poverty in East Devon the Council has taken a range of actions to date as part of its Anti-Poverty Strategy. To increase incomes for people in low-paid employment, we have:
- Increased financial support for working age residents claiming Council Tax Reduction through introducing an income banded scheme that increased maximum support from 80% to 85% from 2020. 86% of claimants received beneficial increases.
- Run a campaign to encourage local employers to become accredited with the Living Wage Foundation and pay all their staff the Real Living Wage.
- Supported residents on low incomes by identifying full entitlements to welfare benefits and ensuring accurate and efficient assessment of Housing Benefit and Council Tax reduction.
- Supporting residents in financial hardship through use of the council’s discretionary funds and referrals to external agencies for additional financial help, such as Watercare, Ecoe, Devon County Free school meals, Healthy Start, etc.
- Run loan shark awareness campaigns.
We have also taken a delivered a range of actions to help reduce costs for low income residents, including:
- Funding voluntary and community groups to provide a range of activities to help reduce social or economic inequality through the Council’s annual Community Grants programme. This has included funding Citizen’s Advice to provide free legal, debt and money advice, financial capability support, and specialist welfare rights casework.
- Providing a dedicated Community Support Hub in addition to the Council’s Revenue & Benefits Service, where residents can access debt, financial and rent advice from Council officers and voluntary and community groups.
- Training Rental Officers and funding HomeMaker to support Council tenants and other low income residents in financial crisis to access financial support, benefits and budgeting and debt advice.
- To help financially vulnerable residents we now have a dedicated Financial Resilience Officer working collaboratively with partner agencies to identify and address underlying issues that can be causing or exacerbating poverty.
- Nominating an Environmental Health Officer to advise on Fuel and to assist low income residents to reduce their fuel and water costs by installing energy or water saving measures in their homes.
- Supporting volunteer digital champions to deliver a programme of digital inclusion sessions for older people in sheltered housing.
We have also carried out a significant amount of work in partnership with other local organisations to address food poverty in East Devon. This has included:
- Providing funding for local Food Banks in our towns.
- Funding HALFF to provide a programme of cookery sessions in areas of deprivation over 3 years, helping participants to prepare healthy, low cost meals.
- Assisted with food deliveries.
- Promoted access to food banks on our website.
Actions for 2021- onwards
To help address income poverty in East Devon, the Council will progress a range of actions from 2021 onwards to help people on low incomes to maximise their income and minimise their costs. These actions are set out in detail in the action plan that accompanies this strategy. The key actions include:
District Council actions
- Continuing to build upon the financial resilience work through close partnership working with external agencies including the voluntary sector to maximise income, reduce indebtedness and increase financial literacy.
- Develop a poverty dashboard to help us identify key issues that can be used to shape and inform policy, strategy and future interventions.
- Improving digital solutions for low income households through the development of online app and promoting greater awareness via social media platforms.
- Supporting digital inclusion sessions for Council tenants and leaseholders, and older residents in sheltered housing schemes and more widely.
- Promoting the Real Living Wage, and ensuring that our contractors and partner do the same.
- Working with partner organisations and local communities to develop measures to support residents experiencing economic hardship and poverty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Working in partnership with Jobcentre Plus, local housing providers and the voluntary sector to support vulnerable benefit claimants in the transition to Universal Credit following the full roll-out to all claimants in East Devon.
- Provide funding to voluntary and community groups through the Council’s Community Grants for activity focussed on reducing social or economic inequality, including funding for debt advice services and other activities that will help reduce poverty.
- Work in partnership with local voluntary and community groups to address food poverty, including working with Food Banks to develop a food re-distribution hub.
- Work with partner agencies and community groups to develop sustainable networks to support residents in fuel or water poverty to reduce their energy and water costs.
- Support partner organisations and community groups to develop sustainable activities to support low income residents to access the internet and develop digital skills.
- Promote credit unions and the dangers of using loan sharks.
Influencing and lobbying actions
- Promote Living Wage accreditation to employers in East Devon, including businesses, public bodies and voluntary and community sector organisations.
- Work with local businesses to identify ways in which they might use their skills, capacity and resources to support achievement of shared objectives around tackling poverty and disadvantage.
- Lobbying and influencing Government on welfare benefits policy issues.