Poor and Getting Poorer

There has been a recent and welcome scrutiny of poverty in the town and I welcome all the recommendations that were accepted by cabinet.
One of the concerns with this kind of issue, is that the national and local picture keeps changing. We have seen an increase in poverty in the town in the last year and it is an increase that is predicted to be keep growing until 2020. The causes of poverty are changing too. At one time poverty was much more about families and single people on benefit. Now it is much more about the working poor. Northampton Labour Group has argued for Northampton Borough Council to devise an ‘Anti-Poverty Strategy’. Our Opposition Business at the last full Council was about why we must develop an anti-poverty strategy.                                                                                                                 Why a Strategy?
Northampton Borough Council cannot address poverty alone. Many causes of poverty are beyond the control of the Borough Council. An argument for unitary status for Northampton has been that it would allow services to much more joined up and free up resources through reducing the bureaucracy of the two-tier system.
An Anti-Poverty Strategy helps to pulls various agencies and services, in all sectors, together and agree a common approach. The Borough Council must be committed to taking action against poverty and work with all available partners.
The statistics are well known. Latest figures from the End Child Poverty charity show that, when housing costs have been taken into account, 24 per cent of the town’s children are in poverty. And in some areas it is even higher. Based on the old ward system, both Lumbertubs and Castle have child poverty levels of 37 per cent based on families unable to set aside any money for emergencies.
More worrying still is the reduction in help on offer. The Discretionary Housing Payment, designed to cover the penalty imposed on victims of the ‘bedroom tax’, is set to fail to meet demand in Northampton.
The causes of poverty are endless. Bereavement, divorce, illness, redundancy are obvious ones. Casualised work, zero hour contracts, part time jobs, agency working, bogus self- employment plays a bigger and bigger role. Add to this inadequate benefits, discrimination, lack of education, caring responsibilities and the rising cost of rent, energy bills and transport. GPs are seeing more cases of malnutrition, loss of well- being, and depression caused by the increase in social isolation that poverty brings.
So an Anti-Poverty Strategy can set out the Borough Council’s ambition to take positive steps to address the pressures felt by low income households in Northampton.
Such a strategy must acknowledges the policy and financial challenges faced by local authorities and the wider public sector in this time of continued austerity, and that partnership working, and community level actions will be critical.
We need to work with the County Council as they provide essential statutory services. By working together we will be able to address the uncomfortable truths of poverty and learn how best to tackle the issues that surround poverty. It is imperative that those who are affected by poverty are part of the process and they must be heard, so public consultation is crucial.
Through a focus on household incomes, community resilience and tackling child poverty we could put in place a comprehensive package of activities and services to make a difference. I hope that by working in a joined up way, we can focus effort to look at how to make best use of local resources and assets to help communities.
A strategy must describe the current picture of poverty in Northampton along with the outcomes the Council is seeking to achieve, our priorities for addressing poverty and the actions the Council will commit to over the next few years in order to respond to these challenges. If Glasgow and Cambridge can do it so can we.
We need a strategy that works to support people in poverty, that lifts people out of poverty and prevents people from slipping into poverty.