Council reveals ambitious plans to tackle poverty in Leeds
Senior councillors will next week discuss ambitious plans to tackle poverty and the effects of the Government’s welfare changes for many people across the city.
At a meeting of the executive board next week (Wednesday 19 June), members will also discuss proposals to tackle the problem of payday and high cost lenders and create a new city-wide anti-poverty strategy.
The board will also hear how key services will work together and be organised specifically to offer a streamlined service to tackle all the issues around poverty and deprivation.
Helping people out of poverty and tackling the impact of welfare reform is one of the top priorities of the leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Keith Wakefield, he said:
“Poverty is the most important challenge our city is facing. Its effects can be devastating and far-reaching which is why we are taking dramatic steps to tackle it. We are not only making our services more accessible to those most in need, we’ll also be joining up with partners from voluntary and advice organisations to make sure that the support we provide together can lift people out of poverty.
“We are already seeing that welfare reform is leading to an increase in rent arrears and council tax areas for a significant number of people, and this is only going to get worse. We are soon going to see a situation where people who have less money to manage their day to day costs will get into increased debt and will need to access credit facilities, which often means use of payday lenders or other expensive borrowing, which can often spiral out of control.
“We want to do all we can to help get people out of poverty and prevent others entering poverty. The best way to do this is by helping people find employment opportunities, make sure they have easy access to all the essential advice and support services they need and promote sensible lower-cost borrowing options.
“This isn’t an easy task but we must put our citizens first, to give the whole city a chance of a successful future.
“The new ‘Citizens and Communities’ directorate will lead the delivery of our work on tackling poverty and deprivation working closely with colleagues across the council and partner agencies. We will be looking to make services more accessible to those most in need of support. We will be providing more intensive support to help people manage their finances better, including tackling high cost lending and providing cheaper alternatives. We’ll also be doing much more to help local people access training and employment opportunities. We see accessibility, financial inclusion and employment as the three key issues to address to help people out of poverty.”
Plans are underway, including the development of a co-ordinated welfare rights and advice service and the development of a city-wide anti-poverty strategy.
In the first instance the anti-poverty strategy will prepare the city for further welfare changes; develop new activities and initiatives to tackle high-cost lenders and seek to maximise employment and training opportunities for local people to help get them out of poverty. It is proposed that a wider strategy is developed over the coming months, to incorporate income maximisation, affordable housing, employability, jobs, child poverty issues and related health matters.
Cllr Wakefield added:
“We are especially concerned that people will start turning to pay-day lenders, high cost loans and illegal money lenders with phenomenally high interest rates, which can lead to debts spiralling out of control and increased related health issues.
“We want to make sure everyone knows these aren’t the only option, so we will be increasing our support for credit unions, and low-cost borrowing options like Leeds City Credit Union and the Headrow Money Line, as well as making sure people can get easy access to good financial advice.
“We are keen to develop a high profile campaign to raise the issue of payday loans, and have been looking at the options of working with our local sports teams to help promote more manageable forms of lending.”
At next week’s meeting, members of the executive board will also look at how the Government’s welfare reform changes are impacting on child poverty in Leeds. Around 4,200 children are being directly affected by the new rules about spare rooms in council and Housing Association tenancies, whose parents will receive less housing benefit for living in a home which is deemed too large. The changes will also affect children who visit to stay over with separated or divorced parents – no extra bedroom is allowed for these visits under the new rules. 27,844 children also live in families who have seen their council tax support reduced. The latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions shows that around 2,000 children will be affected when the benefit cap is rolled out in August this year. There is also a risk that, certain families will be worse off when Universal Credit comes into force. This includes single parents under 25 and single parents with a disabled child (except for those children classed as severely disabled).
The council has already put in place arrangements to limit the impact of welfare changes on children, including giving priority for Discretionary Housing Payments to tenants who need an extra room to accommodate access arrangement for children, as well as making sure no foster carers lose out. The local council tax support scheme also protects single parents with children under 5 from any reduction in support. A casework team has also been established which is made up of staff from the benefits team, Families First, children’s services, housing options, the ALMOs and Jobcentre plus, to identify options for supporting families affected by the benefit cap.
For media enquiries, please contact:
Emma Whittell, Leeds City Council press office, on (0113) 2474713