Thursday, 20 December 2018

District Council unanimously votes to support the roll-out of Universal Credit, homelessness prevention and local food banks

Sidmouth is a very well-off place, but there are many who are by no means comfortable:
Futures Forum: Poverty in Sidmouth at Christmas

At the last full Council meeting - which was at times febrile - the final debate was very considered and resulted in a motion being unanimously adopted:

EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL Minutes of the Meeting of the Council held at Knowle, Sidmouth, on Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Public speaking
The Chairman welcomed those present and invited members of the public to address the Council

Andie Milne wished to address the Council on issues relating to food poverty in Sid Valley. She stated that food banks were needed across the whole of the East Devon District, and that there were growing numbers of people trying to access them. This high demand was an issue to be addressed, particularly with the introduction of Universal Credit. She stated that in Sid Valley it was estimated that over 70 families will need help over Christmas, and the Sid Valley food bank was the only one to provide fuel. It gave £160 of fuel to residents last week, and the number of families regularly assisted had recently risen from 15 to 35. 

Councillor Jill Elson stated that EDDC works very closely with food banks, and that most had found premises to be located in. At Exmouth people are provided with food for two weeks and then also referred to the CAB for further advice and help. 

Motion – Findings on extreme poverty and human rights in the United Kingdom 

The following motion was proposed by Councillor Cathy Gardner, seconded by Councillor Marianne Rixson and supported by Councillor Ben Ingham, Councillor Roger Giles, Councillor Matthew Booth, Councillor Peter Faithfull, Councillor Dawn Manley, Councillor Val Ranger. 

“Following the findings of both the UK Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the UN Special Rapporteur on the impact of benefits changes and other spending cuts on people living in the UK, this Council will receive a report on the potential impacts on residents in East Devon and the need for further support from this Council, for example in supporting the roll-out of Universal Credit, homelessness prevention or for local food banks.” 

The proposer, Councillor Cathy Gardner, made the following points. The purpose of the Motion was to ask for a report to be brought for further consideration by Council. She had been shocked by the numbers of people affected by extreme poverty in the UK in 2018, and wanted to establish if there was anything more that EDDC could do to help them. EDDC had a civic duty to help people and the Service Plans were full of good intentions. The Motion was not a criticism of the Council but a request to examine what more could be done. It has been reported in the media that people are struggling with the Introduction of Universal Credit; there Meeting of the Council 12 December 2018 are difficulties in processing Housing Benefit claims causing delays in assisting people; returning empty homes to better use is difficult. 

The seconder, Councillor Marianne Rixson, also referred to the impact of Universal Credit and on people on low pay. Successive government policies had led to real hardship and the need for food banks, and too much delay in getting the first payments of Universal Credit to people. 

Other points made during the debate included the following:

Cllr Rylance had read the report referred to in the Motion and was shocked at the damning of services required by people. She referred to the need for better access to Broadband so that people could access services and claim benefits. 2.5 million people were living just above the poverty line. It is inappropriate to expect volunteers to take up the slack of services needed and plans needed to be put in place for a ‘No Deal Brexit’. National Government would need to make the necessary changes. 

Cllr Elson stated that many of those present at the meeting were involved in volunteering, and summarised the many ways in which EDDC was offering practical help to people, for example, by providing discretionary Housing Benefit payments; helping people complete benefit forms and giving food bank vouchers.

Cllr Godbeer expressed his shame at the way the system does not seem to be working well in some areas, as well as acknowledging the good work done by EDDC. He invited Cllr Gardner to identify what could be done and bring it to the Overview Committee to progress further work. Members considered that it would be helpful to catalogue what the Council does presently, in order to identify what improvements could be made, and also to remember that everyone can contribute individually to the local effort. 

Cllr Thomas thanked Cllr Gardner and Cllr Rixson for bringing the Motion, and Cllr Elson for highlighting the practical work being done to date. He stated that the comments in the reports about Brexit were timely. He invited members to attend a third workshop on Universal Credit to be arranged shortly, to update them on recent developments and its impact on local residents. Cllr Thomas then proposed that the Motion was now put, which was seconded by Cllr Howe. 

The Chairman invited Cllr Gardner to give her right to reply. Cllr Gardner reiterated her thanks to those working on practical support but also the need to ask people and agencies like CAB to identify the gaps and cracks in the system which people fall through when seeking help. 

The Chairman then invited those present to vote. The Chairman stated the outcome of the vote as being carried unanimously by show of hands. 

RESOLVED: that following a vote, the motion proposed by Councillor Cathy Gardner and seconded by Councillor Marianne Rixson was carried unanimously. 

EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL Minutes of the Meeting of the Council held at Knowle, Sidmouth, on Wednesday, 12 December 2018

The Herald reports:

Number of families using Sid Valley food bank doubles, prompting council action

PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 December 2018
Daniel Clark

Cathy Gardner
The number of people using food banks in the Sid Valley has more than doubled in the last six months.

The Sid Valley Food Bank’s co-ordinator Andie Milne told East Devon councillors on Wednesday night of the alarming numbers of people and the stark rise in numbers of people they are seeing.

She said six months ago, they were dealing with 15 families a week, but last week, more than 30 families came through their doors, including 36 children.

Andie added that last week they helped a family from Axminster as there was no help available in the east of the county. She also raised concerns over what would happen to the emergency food bags at Knowle when the council move to Honiton in early in 2019.

Her comments came prior to the full council unanimously supporting a motion to bring two reports forward that put the spotlight on the impact of benefit changes, cuts and low wages on struggling families. The aim of the motion was to bring the reports’ findings to the council’s attention, so it could look at whether more support needed to be given to those affected by the roll-out of Universal Credit, homelessness prevention and food banks.

Councillor Cathy Gardner, who proposed the motion, said: “Most of us are doing okay and are comfortable, some are doing extremely well, but some are struggling, and we have a civic duty to see if we can do more. I would be horrified to learn if a child suffered as we failed to something in some way to help.

“I am not criticising the council or the hard work that our officers do to help people but simply to ask if there is anything more that we could do, as we know that people are struggling with Universal Credit. If the report says it is all perfect, then we can rest easy, but I want the report to come forward so we can be seen as outstanding, caring and vigilant.”

Cllr Marianne Rixson added that some people are being forced to use food banks just to make ends meet, even though they are in employment.

Cllr Eleanor Rylance said that the national picture showed there were 2.5million people living just 10 per cent above the poverty line. She added: “A small reversal of the economy could put 2.5million people below the poverty line in weeks. We all know of people who are struggling and other who could very soon be struggling.”

Conservative councillor Mike Allen thanked Cllr Gardner for bringing the motion forward. He said: “If you work in a food bank, you get to understand how little accidents or small things can trip someone into a poverty - be it a divorce or splitting up with a partner, or a jobs loss, which leads to a massive hole in your income and you cannot afford what you used to take for granted.”

Cllr Jill Elson, who is responsible for sustainable homes and communities, said that the council worked very closely with food banks across the district and that council staff were currently co-located in the job centres in Exmouth and Honiton to get the 1,013 people in East Devon claiming Universal Credit and were going the extra mile to help them, be it by helping them fill in the forms or giving them food bank credits.

She added that if someone comes to a food bank two weeks in a row, they are referred to the Citizens Advice team who can provide further assistance.

And Cllr Pauline Stott said that every council tenant who is receiving Universal Credit was visited by council staff prior to its implementation.

The motion, the last ever to be discussed at the Knowle in Sidmouth as the council will have moved into its new Honiton HQ by the time of the February 27 meeting, was unanimously approved.

No comments: