Cheshire West has become one of first councils to declare an official ‘poverty emergency’
Councillors approved an initiative, spearheaded by Winsford Dene representative Mandy Clare, the motion to declare a ‘poverty emergency’ makes the borough one of the first authority areas in the UK to do so.
Cllr Clare, who is CWAC’s champion for poverty and inequality, first suggested the idea at July’s cabinet meeting.
Ahead of this week’s full council, the Labour member told The Labour Heartlands: “I think given the rise in the number of people relying on food banks that constitutes an emergency situation in itself and Covid-19 has exacerbated that situation.
The area’s food bank reliance has doubled during lockdown and Universal Credit claims are sky high.
The coronavirus pandemic is increasing poverty in Britain, where levels are already high after a decade of austerity triggered by the global financial crisis, according to experts. Official data shows that more than 14 million people in the UK are classed as living in poverty, or nearly one-quarter of the population. Some 4.2 million children are poor, or around 30 percent of the total, government figures show.
The situation is worsening with Britons losing jobs en masse as the UK experiences the fall out from lockdown and the local lockdowns that followed.
Coronavirus reveals, exacerbates inequality “The risk of poverty is particularly high for workers in sectors like hospitality and retail where people are more likely to be on low wages and in insecure work,” said Dave Innes, head of economics at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an organisation for social change.
At the outbreak of the covid crisis, in the first two weeks, almost one million adults in the UK applied for Universal Credit, the government’s main form of state aid. That was nearly 10 times the level in an average two-week period.
“If families who were earning decent wages before the pandemic move on to the Universal Credit, they will very suddenly find themselves living in poverty,” said Louisa McGeehan, a director at Child Poverty Action Group UK. As for families who were already classed as living in poverty prior to the outbreak.
Mandy says: “What is being proposed is not party political, although we do aim to strongly reduce stigma and individual shame/blame around being on a low income. It is an approach to change, needed now more than ever following the pandemic onset and disproportionate consequences for those on low incomes.”
To make this really successful, we need strong groups at community level across the Borough who are directly affected in terms of low income also campaigning on how they have been impacted.
“People on low incomes have died in greater numbers [due to coronavirus] and that is set to continue because we are seeing medium and small businesses close as the pandemic continues.
“As we move out from Covid I wanted to put poverty and climate change at the top of our agenda as we rebuild.”
The other half of the motion before councillors asks CWAC to launch a further data-gathering project into the ‘socio-economic effects’ the coronavirus pandemic has had on the borough.
Data already collected shows that the area’s food bank reliance has doubled during lockdown, universal credit claims were four times higher than usual during the spring, and unemployment was 126 percent higher in May, compared to the same month in 2019.
This is not about party politics this is about people and how those that represent people can best help in a time of dire need, no matter what political party they represent.
Cllr Clare told us at Labour Heartlands: “we want to get a network of counsellors sharing good practice, working to keep the motion and declaration of a poverty emergency as close as possible so we have a strong shared platform for action.
“We want other councillors to jump on board with this the same my day out with the climate emergency”
The toxic tribalism of Left and Right must not get in the way of ‘common cause’. With that in mind, Cllr Clare has reached out to counsellors from all areas to join together in fighting for the people they represent.
Anyone who can push this within their own council/has those contacts or routes in please email at:
The full Poverty Emergency motion reads:
“COVID-19 has deepened existing inequalities, hitting the poorest and most vulnerable communities the hardest. It has put a spotlight on economic inequalities and fragile social safety nets that leave vulnerable communities to bear the brunt of the crisis. At the same time, social, political and economic inequalities have amplified the impacts of the pandemic. On the economic front, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased global unemployment and dramatically slashed workers’ incomes.” Goal 10, Reduced Inequalities (UN Sustainable Development Goals).
There is a large and growing body of evidence that highlights the disproportionate impact on low income communities as a result of recent global recessions and the COVID-19 pandemic.
For low income and non-earning residents in our Borough, income-based inequalities that pre-date COVID-19 have been further exposed and greatly exacerbated by these crises, the impact of which is yet to be fully realised.
As this situation continues to unfold, and daily redundancies reach the thousands across the UK, Public Health England are reporting that those on the lowest incomes have suffered more than double the infection and mortality rates of those within the more financially stable or wealthier parts of the Borough and Country.
It is becoming clear that poverty is the key defining factor in how people experience the social and economic impacts of this pandemic in their lives, yet those struggling on the lowest incomes have the least influence in shaping and influencing our approach to recovery.
We have an opportunity in how we plan our Recovery, firstly to give true recognition to those low-income workers who have kept our country running while many of us were in lockdown or isolating at home, but also to create a lasting legacy of change, where poverty is not inevitable in our society and where fairer, greener and stronger communities can emerge.
In declaring a Poverty Emergency, this Council recognises that this is the time for that change. By aligning this work with our Climate Emergency declaration in 2019, this Council commits to a People and Planet approach to Recovery and Renewal which encompasses:
i. Prioritising People and Planet Identifying where the environmental and poverty agendas overlap in order to tackle common issues of inequality, health and wellbeing.
ii. Recognising Socio-Economic Deprivation as an equalities issue Acknowledging that the stress of being poor and in crisis has a detrimental impact on health, including mental health and wellbeing, achievement, life chances, participation, resilience and social cohesion.
iii. Investing in ‘Levelling Up’ locally Working with residents to understand the barriers to employment, housing, health, leisure or education, and investing locally to level up our Borough’s communities.
iv. Embedding Lived Experience Building on the foundations of the Poverty Truth Commissions, to reach out to people affected by poverty and use their experience to develop better policies and services which respond to their needs.
v. Building stronger communities Continuing to work with the network of groups involved in the community response and other local initiatives, to increase participation in local democracy and involve people in the decisions that affect their lives. Providing a means for new groups to meet and build confidence, to collaborate, educate, experience a sense of ownership and influence and to build democratic participation, in order to root necessary responses within the heart of low-income communities.
vi. Unlocking Community Wealth and Potential Developing further council strategies around community wealth building, including supporting communities to consider routes to community ownership in order to create jobs and share local wealth. Fostering the education, awareness, skills and culture-shift at all levels that provide the precursor to meaningfully explore and expand community ownership as a route out of poverty and forward through the crisis
vii. Working together Growing a network of local academics, professionals, unions, those with expertise in supporting migrants and asylum seekers and with existing and emerging poverty-related grassroots community groups and a wider network of people with lived-experience to support our work.
viii. Expanding our evidence-base Collating more detailed poverty-related data in order to better inform the local and national approach.
ix. Starting with ourselves Ensuring that our staff and those within our council companies are paid at least a local living wage will make us an example to others, helping to expand our local living wage Borough status. Through this and the implementation of a social value policy we can create inclusive growth in our Borough, in partnership with our suppliers, contractors and commissioned services.
Therefore, this Council resolves to:
- Formally acknowledge the rising levels of poverty so widely evidenced over the past decade and further exacerbated by the dual crises of pandemic and recession.
- Identify, report on and address unfair socio-economic barriers to democratic participation, security and wellbeing wherever they exist.
- Ensure that the Poverty Emergency workstream sits alongside all other workstreams within the council’s recovery planning.
- Develop a Poverty Emergency Strategy which takes a People and Planet approach to helping residents in our borough cope which aims to remedy the disproportionate social and economic impacts of the pandemic and recession.
- Continue to streamline and widely publicise access routes to advocacy and support for those directly impacted by the crisis and facing homelessness and unemployment/underemployment
- Work collaboratively with partners to provide space for community-led ‘hubs’ where solutions to low income and crisis impacts can be explored by local residents and support provided
- Keep the disproportionate impacts of the crisis on low income communities at the forefront of our response to planning, housing, land allocation and development including our response to recent legislative changes
- Develop a dedicated online space for sharing of good practice, networking with other councils and providing a platform for the Leader’s Champion and an interface for collaboration with those directly impacted
- Support the Leader’s Champion for Poverty and Inequality to lead on this work, assisted by the cross-party Poverty Truth Advisory Board (PTAB) and a wide network of residents with lived experience.
- Take a collaborative and evidence-based approach, working more closely with health, universities, trade unions and poverty-related community groups to improve our research and intelligence
- Use what we learn through the work of the Poverty Emergency to raise the voices of those affected by poverty to help inform the government to shape and deliver their ‘Levelling Up’ agenda in our Borough and sub-region.
- Invite other Councils to join with us in declaring a Poverty Emergency as a vehicle for systemic change in our society.
- To share through networks like the LGA, our model for declaring a Poverty Emergency alongside a Climate Emergency as best practice in recovery and renewal.