Calderdale Council will do what it can to protect people from the ongoing effects of austerity – “the biggest society crisis this country has seen for decades”.
Last night (Monday, December 3) Cabinet members approved and agreed to enact an Anti-Poverty Action Plan taking a three-pronged approach to tackle the situation.
Calderdale Council Cabinet member for Communities and Neighbourhoods, Coun Susan Press (Lab, Todmorden) said she volunteered at Todmorden food drop-in and, while she had seen visiting children recently leap around with joy because it had been gifted some advent calendars, the difficulties families found themselves in made her so immensely sad.
Eight years of people living below the breadline and in poverty had been made a lot worse by the introduction of Universal Credit, people being unable to cope and some living rough.
It was worth bearing in mind a lot of people experiencing poverty were in work but had short-term contracts or did not have a reliable income, she said.
“It’s very hard not to get emotive about this because we have had so many years of austerity.
“Basically we are trying to bring together all the directorates to do what we can.
“It is just doing what we can. We simply do not have the kind of funding which is required,” said Coun Press.
But, she said, the policy “will alleviate a lot of the misery people are facing at the moment.”
She said Calderdale had been working with the voluntary sector, housing providers, companies and town councils in recent years to offer practical support and advice for people experiencing poverty.
Bringing all the council’s directorates together, the plan aimed to tackle poverty through a policy which had three main strands, prevention, intervention and resilience.
Later in the debate Liberal Democrat group leader Coun James Baker (Warley) broadly welcomed the strategy but said it outlined problems without having solutions and was “such a missed opportunity.”
He outlined practical areas he thought the council could help improve people’s lives.
Coun Baker said for example £7.5 million was being put into the Northgate project in Halifax – that could insulate a lot of homes.
He said of the plan: “It lacks ambition. It lacks vision. It is fiddling while Rome burns.”
Coun Baker called for a one-day conference on tackling poverty to bring people together to see what could be done better.
But Coun Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden) hit out at both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, saying “I can’t see any Conservative councillor here tonight” and challenging Coun Baker.
“I would have reminded them and will remind you that the policies that led to this crisis in society were developed by your and their parties in five years of coalition.
“We have had to try and cope with the results of those policies. We are in the early stages of the biggest society crisis this country has seen for decades,” he said.
Cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services, Coun Megan Swift (Lab, Town), said UN envoy Philip Alston’s recent report “which the Government did not want to respond to” showed how bad the poverty situation was and it would cause society “a great problem.”
“We should ask why in this day and age we have children – and adults for that matter – who continue to go to school without food sometimes.
“It is absolutely dreadful to be happening in England or Britain in the 2010s,” she said.
“The council are trying their best but it’s not something the council can make right by itself.”
An anti-poverty campaigner said anything the community could do to alleviate poverty was welcome.
The worst cases his community partnership had encountered were benefit sanctions but more recently since Universal Credit came in people had started to suffer as it was rolled out across Calderdale.
He asked the council what it was doing and Coun Press said the report outlined many ways it was helping but if people were struggling for example with Universal Credit or rent arrears they must contact the council – and its staff would try to help.