Call for East Devon District Council to ‘poverty-proof’ its policies wins support

A call for the district council to ‘poverty-proof’ its policies has been backed after representatives heard East Devon is facing a destitution ’emergency’. 

Members supported a motion put forward by Conservative Mike Allen – but the authority’s ruling Independent Group abstained from the vote.

At present, 22 per cent of East Devon residents live in relative poverty – half of them single parents and nearly a third are children.

Wards in Exmouth, Honiton, Sidford and Seaton have the highest number of households in deprivation.

Honiton St Michael’s representative Councillor Allen put forward a motion to East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) full October meeting aimed at helping people ‘find way out of poverty’.

It asked that all council plans and policies be checked to examine, and change when necessary, any negative impact they might have on poverty.

The motion also called for an aspiration that no-one in East Devon is destitute or without immediate help, and that nobody is in involuntary poverty for more than two years.

Cllr Allen’s bid was agreed with support of his Tory colleagues, the East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.

However, with the ruling Independent Group abstained on the grounds that an evidence-based report is set to go before the council’s Overview Committee later this month.

They argued that recommendations for meaningful actions that the council can take to tackle poverty will be made as a result of this.

Poverty in East Devon – the facts*:

  • 8.7% of people are in income deprivation;
  • 9.6% of households are in fuel poverty;
  • 9.2% of pensioners are in poverty;
  • 16% of households have no car or van;
  • 10.3% of children are in low-income families;
  • 22% of children – a total of 6,344 youngsters – are growing up in poverty.

*According to Public Health Devon official statistics.

Deprivation in East Devon communities

Office of National Statistics shows some 11,956 households in East Devon have two or more scores for deprivation. This drops to 1,187 households for three or more.

Seven wards in the district have been identified as having deprivation scores on three or more measures in more than 100 households. They are:

  • Exmouth Town;
  • Exmouth Littleham;
  • Exmouth Withycombe;
  • Honiton St Michael’s;
  • Honiton St Paul’s;
  • Sidford;
  • Seaton.

Each of the above wards has 100 or more households in deprivation on three or dimensions. Action in these areas would halve serious deprivation in East Devon

Speaking at the meeting on October 23, Cllr Allen said: “I believe that all of us would, if we had the ability, bring an end to poverty in our country.

“Since I became a councillor, I have found out how fragmented our welfare system is and my eyes have been really opened to the neglect and blame our society can bring to the poor and how demoralising and desperate poverty is.

“Our economic policies talk about creating better jobs, but lack a focus on relieving poverty through skills education.

“Our housing policies cannot help in relieving hunger or accounting for marital breakdown and sudden loss of employment.

“What has become clear is that we do not screen our policies, nor development partnerships, to relieve poverty in the way I sense most councillors would like.

“The one piece missing from our jigsaw is that our council plans need screening for their effect on the poor.

“It seems an obvious step and we need to do this before the plans and budgets are set for next year.

“We need to start a new chapter of hope and realistic solutions for the one in five people in our area who need help.

“It is unacceptable in a first-world country that people cannot afford the day-to-day basics of everyday living because they are too old or have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own.

“Although there are some instances of benefit system abuse, the vast majority of people are simply in need of help.”

Supporting him, Cllr Paul Millar said: “Poverty impact assessments should be included in all our reports.

“Since we declared a climate emergency, every report considers the environment impact, but because poverty is not a protected characteristic, the issue of poverty can be forgotten, and we are living in a poverty emergency.

“The shame and stigma of poverty means that people don’t seek help until they are in crisis, but by having impact assessments, it is embedded into the mindset in every decision we take.”

However, Cllr Ian Thomas, portfolio holder for finance, said that, while he had no argument with the principle of the motion, he was concerned about the open-ended nature of it and how the financial costs of it could affect the council.

Cllr Megan Armstrong, portfolio holder for sustainable homes and communities, said that everyone accepts that poverty needs to be taken seriously and it is high on the agenda for the authority’s cabinet.

But she said that an evidence-based report was coming to the council’s Overview Committee on November 14 with recommendations for meaningful actions.

Cllr Armstrong added: “We should wait for the evidence-based report rather than make policy up on the hoof.

“This will have cost implications to the council, so we need to understand the finances.

“We cannot propose unviable or unattainable goals that will offer those in need false hope.

“We need a report to back up the proposals to ensure it is workable and deliverable.”

She proposed an amendment to the motion that would see a working group set up to study the issues in the report to the Overview Committee.

The group would then propose a strategy to address the issues and how they can be recognised in the council plan.

But Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the East Devon Alliance, said the matter was not about money, but aspirations.

He added: “Do we wish to agree that no-one should be destitute and not in poverty and plans should have a poverty assessment? Where is the issue with that?”

Cllr Cathy Gardner, whose motion last December kick-started the process of getting the report to the Overview Committee, added: “Even if one person is helped, it is one person we have helped.

“I cannot think of a reason not to support this as we need to help any way we can.”

Cllr Tom Wright said that he was concerned that the amendment to the motion was just ‘kicking into the long grass’.

However, EDDC leader Cllr Ben Ingham said that waiting three weeks for a report means that the council can tie it in with a coherent strategy to serve the communities.

He said: “This is such a serious problem that we cannot afford to get it wrong.”

Councillors voted by 29 votes to 24 to reject the amendment to the motion proposed by Cllr Armstrong.

They then voted in favour of Cllr Allen’s original motion, with the Independent Group abstaining.

The motion only appeared on the agenda at the last minute after it was originally ruled ineligible by EDDC’s chief executive.

But chairman Cllr Stuart Hughes overruled that decision and allowed it to be heard.

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