Conference considers local action to solve poverty

Poverty A man woman and two children
NewsMay 22nd, 2019

On the 20th of May the Bevan Foundation and the WLGA welcomed a full room of delegates to the Future Inn Hotel in Cardiff to explore actions that could be taken locally to solve poverty.

Having been welcomed to the conference by Councillor Mary Sherwood, delegates were addressed by Dr Victoria Winckler, the Director of the Bevan Foundation. She set the scene for the morning’s discussions, outlining the three key drivers of poverty in Wales – a lack of decent work, a social security system that doesn’t provide families with sufficient support and high living costs. She emphasised the need for all tiers of government to take action to find solutions that encourage fairer work, lead to the creation of a more generous social security system and that tackle high living costs.

Following this scene setting session the discussion moved to look at what can be done in the world of work to help solve poverty, exploring both national and local issues. The first to talk in this session was Councillor Matthew Brown, Leader of Preston City Council. Sharing his experiences from Preston, Councillor Brown emphasised the power that local authorities and other key anchor institutions have to improve the local economy and to tackle poverty when these concerns are put at the forefront of the way that local authorities operate. He argued that anchor institutions should be at the forefront of efforts to reform the economy by encouraging the growth of co-operatives and local banks, noting international evidence of how such initiatives have created more equal communities.  Councillor Brown was followed by Professor Ed Heery of Cardiff University, who had been a Fair Work Commissioner. Professor Heery shared the findings of the Commission with the delegates highlighting three key themes from their work, namely the importance of ensuring a place for collective voice and representation in the work place, the public economic power to promote fair work and the need for cross employer action to promote fairer work.

The morning’s discussion then moved on to look at how better support can be provided to low income families. In a session chaired by Councillor Anthony Hunt, the first to speak to the delegates was Lorraine Davies from the DWP. She set out to delegates how the DWP have improved the way they operate over recent years as they have responded to both the challenges and opportunities presented by the rollout of Universal Credit. Delegates were informed that the DWP have been working alongside the Welsh Government looking at areas where they can share learning as opposed to duplicating their activities. Following on from this, Dawn Barnes and Sian Humphreys from Flintshire County Council shared some of the lessons they had learned from working in the first local authority area in Wales that had moved to Universal Credit. They informed delegates that one of the key areas of focus for their team at present was to improve take up of all benefits that families were entitled to, noting that there had recently been a fall in people claiming council tax reduction in the local authority.

In the final session of the morning, chaired by Dr Victoria Winckler, focus turned to how costs for low income families could be cut. The first to address delegates in this session was Jennie Bibbings of Shelter Cymru. She argued that whilst many of the key policy leavers to establish a sustainable, long term solution to unaffordable housing in Wales were held at Westminster there were things that could be done at a local level to help families. These short-term measures included more consistent and generous allocation of Discretionary Housing Payment and more transparency and consistency as to how local authorities use the Local Authority Homeless Prevention fund. She was followed by Alisson Blackwood of Step Change who highlighted the prevalence of debt in Wales and the impact it was having on families trapped in poverty. One especially concerning fact highlighted by her was that data gathered by Step Change showed that people living in debt felt it was worse to owe money to Local Authorities and the DWP than it was to owe money to pay day lenders. The last to address delegates was Katie Palmer of Food Sense Cardiff. She drew delegates’ attention to both the emotional and physical impact that living in food poverty can have on children and suggested a number of possible steps that could be taken to improve the situation, including making the UK Government’s Eatwell Guide a reference for the point of welfare payments.

We would like to thank everybody who attended and contributed to the event, particularly our co-host the WLGA and our speakers.


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