East Devon District Council (EDDC) has been urged to implement an urgent action plan to tackle ‘worsening’ poverty.
Wards in Exmouth, Honiton, Sidford and Seaton have the highest number of households in deprivation, according to the authority.
And a report has detailed how 22 per cent of the district’s children are growing up in poverty.
One campaigner calling for action has spoken of how he learned one family could only afford Weetabix for Sunday lunch.
A review of the council’s policies on poverty saw detailed research identify seven wards with deprivation scores on three or more measures in more than 100 households.
The council is proposing long-term measures to reduce poverty through a multi-agency approach.
Research found two or more deprivation scores in 11,956 households.
The EDDC report on poverty states: “Office of National Statistics shows some 11,956 households in East Devon have two or more scores for deprivation, but this drops to 1,187 households for three or more.
“The highest numbers of households in deprivation are in Exmouth Town, Exmouth Littleham, Exmouth Withycombe, Honiton St Michaels, Honiton St Pauls, Sidford and Seaton.
“Each Ward has 100 or more households in deprivation on three or dimensions. Action in these 7 wards would halve serious deprivation in East Devon.
“In East Devon, Public Health Devon official statistics show 8.7 per cent of people in income deprivation, 9.6 per cent of households are in fuel poverty, 9.2 per cent of pensioners are in poverty and 16 per cent of households have no car or van.
“10.3 per cent of East Devon children are in low-income families. Half of these children are in working families. After the cost of housing is taken into account, 22 per cent of East Devon Children are growing up in poverty. This means 6,344 children are in poverty – each one an individual.”
Adam Powell, secretary of the Tiverton and Honiton Constituency Labour Party, has called for urgent measures to tackle the issue.
He told the council’s Overview Commitee on Thursday: “This is clearly not a credit to our affluent East Devon, that people flock to visit.”
He said he was aware of a family of four who could only afford Weetabix for Sunday lunch, and claimed poverty in East Devon is getting worse.
“East Devon, we need to identify children, families, disabled people, and even working people, who are simply, for what ever reason, are not able to afford their basic needs,” he told councillors.
“The data needs joining up; free schools meals registers, ESA [employment support allowance]claimants, etc.”
Mr Powell accused the council of failing to meet its own targets on affordable housing and said local residents need ‘truly affordable homes, dry and warm, and spacious enough for human beings not just to survive but to thrive’.
“When we have a secure home, we can benefit from good education – from the early years to sixth form and beyond to adult education as well. This can break the cycle of poverty and make society richer.”
Telling councillors that many families living in poverty are working, Mr Powell said some people are holding down two or three low-aid jobs.
“This council needs to positively nudge employers to pay the living wage [at least £10/hour]and champion those that do. East Devon falls short of their own targets on job creation,” he said.
Action on poverty
Mr Powell ran out of time to speak at the meeting but had prepared a nine-point action plan for councillors to consider.
The suggestions included providing a venue for a toy, furniture and clothes exchange.
Mr Powell believes allotment provision should be prioritised.
East Devon District Council is working to deliver policies that will address issues raised in the report, which Mr Powell praised for its detail.
The council aims to ensure nobody in East Devon is destitute without immediate help, and nobody is in involuntary poverty for more than two years.
To achieve this, it wants to:
• Boost incomes and reduce relative housing costs;
• Work with partners to deliver an effective benefit system;
• Deliver actions with Business and Public Sector to improve education standards, raise skills and improve work placements;
• Strengthen families and communities to help those at risk of poverty; and
• Promote long-term economic growth to reduce dependency on agriculture, tourism and catering industries
On trends in poverty, the council’s report stated: “Between 2000 and 2008 there was a marked reduction in pensioner and child poverty but the financial crisis and austerity measures have worsened the situation since 2016.
“Austerity measures and Universal Benefit changes coupled with benefit freezes are increasing numbers in poverty.
“Fifty per cent of child poverty is in working families especially in four sectors: food services, agriculture, administration and wholesale/retail sectors. These sectors are where a significant proportion of the East Devon population work.”
Read the council’s full report here.