The Poverty Working Panel was established by Cabinet in February 2020 (delayed start due to Covid -19). In so doing Cabinet agreed the following as the purpose of the Panel:
To assist Cabinet in the development of an East Devon Poverty Strategy, to monitor progress against the Strategy once adopted and to review the Strategy on an ongoing basis and to make recommendations to amend it as appropriate. Also to consider the progress of the actions in relation to poverty agreed to by Cabinet at its meeting of 8th January 2020.
At the 8th January 2020 Cabinet meeting, it was resolved that the following recommendations from the Overview Committee be agreed:
- Consider funding the creation of an East Devon Poverty Strategy to further develop and target the areas identified within this report that we are able to influence and to support a corporate approach to ensure consistency across Council Services.
- Carry out a review of the funding and delivery arrangements for Money Advice to ensure that we’re focussing on the key issues identified in the report.
- Recommend that Council protect the existing funding levels contributed for Money Advice to Homemaker South West and Citizens of circa £120,000 for 2020/21 to enable the review (Recommendation 2) to be undertaken.
- Update Corporate Debt Policy to include; Breathing Space in-line with proposed Government changes & to consider any other supportive measures that may be beneficial.
- Agree to the Council’s frontline services, in collaboration, setting up a series of local events across the District with key stakeholders that focus on Universal Credit, Money/Debt advice (including how to avoid Loan sharks), budgeting, fuel poverty etc. with the over-arching aim of supporting people to become more financially resilient.
- Consider lobbying central Government directly and/or through our MPs in the following areas;
- Right to buy
- Removing the freeze on Local Housing Allowance Rates in order to be reassessed to reflect market rents,
- Universal Credit - More financial support to be given to customers to help with the transition. More funding to be given to local Councils to reflect the support that customers need with moving onto this Benefit.
- Continue to explore opportunities to increase our supply of social housing through either redevelopment of existing stock and/or building new Council Housing, in conjunction with a review of the current Housing Revenue Account business plan.
- Agree to the Council working alongside East Devon foodbanks to better understand demand and eradicate dependency that could lead to a reduction and possible extinction of the need for foodbanks in the district.
- Undertake a detailed analysis of fuel poverty in the district with a view to developing a separate action plan.
The Poverty Panel’s primary outcome for the work it is undertaking should be aiding in the production of the East Devon Poverty Strategy with a view to tackling poverty in the district.
The key question, therefore, is:
How can the Council’s tackling/anti-poverty approach be coordinated, improved and captured in a corporate strategy document that improves the situation for households in poverty in East Devon?
The Poverty Working Panel included in its scope poverty relating to income & employment; debt & financial vulnerability; food & nutrition; affordable warmth & water; affordable housing & homelessness; and health equality.
The Poverty Working Panel adopted a series of Lines of Inquiry these included:
Anti-Poverty Strategy: How can the Council tackle poverty in the district? How should it be framed and targeted? How do we measure the impact? How do we ensure this is a genuine cross cutting theme mainstreamed across council services?
Target Areas: This policy is central to the Council Plan priorities and achieving sustainable communities. Are the target areas of policy intervention being consistently delivered and understood?
Partnership Working: The Council cannot tackle poverty in isolation. What are the limitations on the Council‘s influence and ability to tackle poverty? What should the role of East Devon Public Health Strategy be in future? How do we best coordinate partnerships to deliver shared anti-poverty ambitions? How do we work effectively with community and voluntary groups?
Aligned with this thinking the Poverty Working Panel attempted to ensure the following:
Outcomes: While the strategy is intended as a long term commitment it is important to know what outcomes are expected, and what will be achieved in the short term. Can these outcomes be identified, and are the long term ambitions realistic, achievable, measurable and appropriate?
Resources: The strategy might signal a fundamental shift in the way that the Council operates. To what extent will the strategy influence the council budget and attract sufficient resources?
Councillors: Councillors play an important and active role in their communities and will be critical in delivering the strategy. How can this be achieved? How can we best lobby for change in social policy that addresses poverty?
Cross Cutting: To be effective the strategy needs to influence how every Service operates. Has this happened to date? How could the strategy be cross cutting and meaningful?
Awareness: To have impact the strategy needs to be widely understood. How do we ensure that stakeholders, partners and residents understand the strategy and what it means for them?
What Works and what doesn’t Work: What has the Council‘s approach on poverty achieved to date? How can the Council do more of what works?
Towards a Poverty Strategy
The Poverty Strategy will tie together the existing activities we undertake across our Services, with some new projects and stretch targets to reflect the current picture of poverty across the district and the anticipated worsening due to the impact of the pandemic and Brexit projections (reasonable worst case scenario).
The Council’s approach set out in this emerging Poverty Strategy reflects evidence on the nature of poverty in East Devon and changes in the national social policy over the past decade. Poverty is a cross cutting theme with a number of Council Services involved in our interventions.
It also builds on the learning from the Council’s existing approach to supporting individuals and communities. This learning includes:
- The importance of balancing efforts to address the immediate effects of poverty, with preventative work to address the root causes of poverty.
- Being clear on which issues can be addressed by direct delivery by Council services, which issues can be achieved through partnership working (where more can be achieved through collaboration), and which issues require influencing and lobbying activity (where powers lie with Government or other agencies).
- A need to build the capacity and resilience of residents and communities.
Poverty is defined in different ways including not having enough possessions or income for a person’s needs; the condition of being extremely poor; a person or community that lacks the financial resources and essentials for a minimum standard of living; household income below 60% of the average.
The Poverty Panel have considered and approved a Plan on a Page overview and five high level objectives that broadly sit with our Services:
- Helping people on low incomes to maximise their household income and minimise their costs, building financial resilience and reducing indebtedness. Lead Service – Finance.
- Strengthening families and communities, including supporting groups of people that are more likely to experience poverty, and community and voluntary groups working to combat poverty. Lead Service – Housing.
- Promoting an inclusive economy, by raising skills and improving access to a range of employment opportunities for people on low incomes. Lead Service – Growth, Development & Prosperity.
- Addressing the high cost of housing, improving housing conditions, creating affordable warmth and reducing homelessness. Lead Service – Housing.
- Improving health outcomes for people on low incomes, including access to good diet, health care and ill health prevention. Lead Service – Environmental Health.