Conference could look at food poverty

A summit conference could be held in Powys to look at ways of tackling child poverty in the county.

Councillor Matthew Dorrance
Councillor Matthew Dorrance

The number of children receiving food parcels from the Trussell Trust in Powys has rocketed up by 197 per cent between April 2020 and March 2021

At a meeting of the Economy, Residents and Communities scrutiny committee on Monday, September 6, councillors received a presentation on the problems by Ellie Harwood of the Child Poverty Action Group.

She gave a national picture as well as one for Powys, which shows that over a third of children in the county, 34.1 per cent, which equates to 7224 children and young people, are living in poverty.

This is three per cent above the Wales average of 31 per cent.

A breakdown of Powys council wards shows that the issue is worst in parts of Newtown, Llandrindod Wells and Welshpool which see rates of between 42 and 36 per cent.

The lowest rates are in the wards of Kerry, Bwlch, Llangynidr and Llangors, which range between 22 and 20 per cent.

Ms Harwood said: “What struck me when doing the research is that child poverty is widespread across Powys, it’s in the most affluent areas and the one we’d traditionally think of as deprived.

“There isn’t a single ward in Powys where the rate is below one in five children.

“It’s as deprived as the Heads of the Valleys region (the northern valleys of Gwent in South Wales), the areas we think of traditionally as the most deprived in Wales.

“This is because the majority of these children are in families where the parents work.”

“The costs of living in a rural economy with low wages, is significantly higher than it is for people living in more urban area.”

Ms Harewood explained that these issues would be heating homes, the cost of driving and public transport to be able to access services and employment.

Ms Harewood said: "The number of food parcels given out by the Trussell Trust in Wales went up by 197 per cent during the pandemic, the average across Wales was seven per cent.

“This illustrates that there is something extremely troubling in terms of how families are coping with the pandemic.”

She believes the best way that local authorities can help to address the problem is to provide welfare rights advice so that people can maximise their income, by collecting welfare benefits they qualify for.

They can also help people enter the workplace by making childcare more accessible as well as helping the living costs of housing, council tax, energy, and transport.

She pointed out the good examples to look at came from Scotland, where local authorities need to produce child poverty action strategies showing how they were tackling the issue.

Committee chairman, Cllr Mathew Dorrance said: “That was a fantastic report, very difficult to listen to at times given some of the issues identified with our own population and communities.”

In August, a consultation was held by the council on behalf of the committee to investigate the extent of the problems in Powys.

Cllr Dorrance said: “It’s getting worse due to the pandemic, but people also think the plans we have as a council are not effectively dealing with those challenges.”

Cllr Jackie Charlton said: “With unemployment figures so low there is an assumption that everything is OK, it’s a hidden problem.

Cllr Charlton pointed out that Powys has the lowest GVA in the whole of the UK.

“It’s time to expose this, we’re in crisis, it’s something we need to deal with now,” said Cllr Charlton.

Finance portfolio holder, Cllr Aled Davies said: “We can always do more, but resources dictate what we can do.

“We are proactive we are one of the few councils with money advice officers.”

Cllr Kath Roberts-Jones said: “It’s heart-breaking to listen to all of this, it needs a much wider audience.

“It touches every ward in Powys and we need to look at where we will get the finance to do the work we desperately need to do.

“Perhaps we ought to have some sort of conference to pull all the other agencies together.”

The committee back the call as a recommendation to tackle the problem.

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