More work needed on plan to help those living in poverty in Suffolk

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Suffolk County Council's poverty strategy has faced criticism - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Community leaders have recommended a series of changes to plans to help people in Suffolk who are living in poverty.

County councillors said the strategy should include more clearly defined aims and objectives after concerns were raised by opposition political figures that it didn’t have enough ambition and lacked measurable objectives.

Wednesday’s scrutiny committee heard from organisations helping people struggling to make ends meet, including Citizens Advice West Suffolk, FareShare East Anglia and Home-Start in Suffolk, which gave a stark picture of the issues people are facing.

They include financial hardship, difficulties paying for food or energy bills, accessing affordable childcare or getting the benefits they need.

The committee made a series of recommendations to bolster the plan, including:

  • More clearly defined aims and objectives
  • Clarity on pathways out of poverty for people
  • Inclusion of more urgent measures on energy efficiency improvement to help reduce energy bills
  • Widen the pool of eligibility for the Warm Homes Healthy People scheme, which helps low-income households heat their homes
  • Action plan to include recent issues such as the rise in inflation and impact of the war in Ukraine on fuel costs
  • Strategy to return for a full discussion to scrutiny committee in a year’s time, with a six-month written update
  • Suffolk County Council contracts to ask for contractors to pay workers the real living wage

Committee chairman Michael Ladd said: “We probably want to say that we are disappointed it has taken so long to sign the action plan off, I think that is a fair comment because it has been two years and it is only just about to be signed off. So we are disappointed in that but we do support the action plan and commend all the people involved in that because it is a big piece of work.”

Bobby Bennett, Conservative cabinet member for equalities and communities

Bobby Bennett, Conservative cabinet member for equalities and communities at Suffolk County Council - Credit: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

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Among measures already happening have been extending the Suffolk Advice and Support Service and Local Welfare Assistance Scheme, thanks to £1.1million of Suffolk Public Sector Leaders cash and emergency food supplies where food banks have been running low.

Conservative cabinet member for communities and equality, Bobby Bennett said: “This document pulls together the many strands of work that have been happening on the ground, helping people for many, many months, as well as looking to the future.

“We are very aware it’s a live document and there will be new elements and new pieces of work that feed into it.”

But Sarah Adams, leader of the Labour group, said the plan needed “proper targets and proper dates, which none of these have”.

Labour group leader Sarah Adams had to return almost £56,000 in road improvement money.

Labour group leader Sarah Adams - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The papers revealed that more than 135,000 people in Suffolk are living in relative poverty, including more than 31,000 children and nearly 34,000 pensioners. That number was recorded pre-pandemic, with expectations that Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis will have increased those numbers.