Taking action on poverty in Leeds
People in Leeds are being better supported to find a way out of poverty thanks to measures implemented by Leeds City Council, according to a report out this week.
At their meeting on Wednesday (24 June) members of Leeds City Council’s executive board heard how significant progress has been made in Leeds to tackle poverty and help those who are finding life challenging.
In order to help tackle poverty across the city, the council introduced the Citizens@Leeds programme two years ago and since then has introduced a host of changes to help people get out of poverty.
Although poverty is still the biggest challenge that Leeds is facing, the actions already taken through the Citizens@Leeds programme have helped many people across the city start to see real changes in their lives. Executive board members heard how the council is not only delivering real change but also has ambitious plans for the next 12 months and beyond.
"In our ambition to be the best city for people to live, we recognise that improving the quality of life for our residents, particularly for those who are vulnerable or in poverty is a key priority. We cannot solve the challenges facing our communities alone, but we have a vital role in providing leadership to bring about change. We are working with individuals, families and communities to develop new ways of working rather than simply delivering services in the traditional manner.
“We want to be a city where everyone can realise their ambitions and potential, which in turn will reduce demand for some of our services, ensuring better provision to those in most need. This plan sets out how we will work more closely with all relevant service providers and the community to ensure the needs of the most vulnerable are at the heart of our decision making.”
Analysis of the welfare changes which began in April 2013 and are ongoing show that many people are struggling as a consequence of the changes introduced. There has been an increase in the number of tenants in rent arrears and more people are falling behind with their Council Tax payments. In addition, changes around the benefit cap have seen more people faced with reductions in financial support and the impact on families and children is significant.
The council’s response to this challenge has been to develop a city-wide anti-poverty approach that prepares the city for further welfare changes; develops new activities and initiatives to tackle high cost lenders; seeks to maximise access to training and employment opportunities for local people; and seeks to develop more accessible and integrated services to provide more localised and targeted support and advice.
Over the past two years the council has helped more people out of financial hardship and reduced their dependency on benefits by tackling high cost lenders through: banning their websites from council owned IT systems; launching a Take a Stand campaign; and lobbying for changes to the high cost credit market. The council has also helped promote and encourage the use of credit union services, as well as providing emergency support, and creatively using discretionary housing payments to support people stay in their homes.
To help tackle food poverty the council has been supporting the development of a Food Aid Network within the city as well as providing a number of food banks with financial support to help get established, ensuring that families continue to be fed, and; working closely with FareShare Yorkshire to establish a base in Leeds that supports distribution of food to Foodbanks and schools.
Through work related initiatives the council has supported over 4,000 people into work through a wide range of programmes that provide advice and guidance, skills training, work experience and brokerage with employers. As well as supporting over 8,000 adults to take their first steps or re-engage with learning and delivering over 1,000 courses to help learn new skills and build confidence and acquire formal qualifications.
The council has also agreed to help more people into work through the introduction of a new incentivised council tax support scheme, which is the first in the country to add in a condition around finding work into the criteria to receive the support.
A further 129 council tenants who live in multi-storey flats and were suffering financial hardship due to the under occupation charge have also been assisted in a variety of ways.
Community champions for employment, skills and worklessness have also been introduced to target priority groups and neighbourhoods and ensure key agencies are working together to meet the needs of these communities.
The council is now providing better access to those who need help through more integrated and joined-up services that are better meeting the needs of local people through community hubs. A new centre of excellence approach in the telephone contact centre will provide more focus on supporting citizens to help them deal with much more complex social and economic issues.
In order to be more responsive to the needs of local people and improve local democratic and engagement arrangements a year ago the council introduced Community Committees which better enable local people to get involved in decision making in their area.
The Wellbeing Budget and a new Youth Activities Fund which are being administered by Community Committees, have a combined budget of £2m. This budget support initiatives and activities that benefit the local area and address local priorities. Since April 2014, 75% of the fund has been spent on supporting communities and tackling poverty in the city.
The report also sets out the outcomes the council aims to achieve over the next five years, which include:
- Ensure that every household in the city is aware of and able to access services that provide practical solutions to deal with financial hardship, support work-related ambitions and promote community-led anti-poverty initiatives;
- Develop a network of community hubs with well-developed cross-sector partnerships that deliver integrated pathways of support;
- Create a network of partnerships that provide relevant and timely support to enable all vulnerable citizens to manage and maintain Universal Credit claims;
- Devolve welfare schemes delivered locally that provide integrated and wraparound support to customers;
- In conjunction with Leeds City Credit Union, deliver a 5-year strategy that delivers significant growth in membership, loans, savings and products through a modern banking platform;
- An effective, affordable and joined-up network of advice for all Leeds residents that embraces new technologies and recognises and builds on the strengths of all partner organisations, and;
- Support community-led initiatives that address food poverty and support a food strategy for Leeds that increases local resilience.
The current state of play in Leeds:
- Unemployment levels have been falling gradually since 2012 but are yet to reach pre-recession levels with 30,000 residents in full time employment and 122,000 in part time employment earning less than the living wage.
- 31,880 people were out of work and getting Employment Support Allowance or incapacity benefit (Nov 2014)
- 6,680 lone parents are out of work and claiming benefits.
- 30,000 children in Leeds are living in poverty
- 38,100 households in Leeds are experiencing fuel poverty.
- 7,000 households have been affected by the under-occupancy changes with a collective reduction in benefit of £88,000 per week. Of the 7,000, 40% of households are in rent arrears.
- 61% increase in the last year in the use of food banks in Yorkshire and the Humber.
- £90m is the estimated value of the high cost lending market in Leeds and the credit union have grown their business to £8m in loans with the intention of increasing this to £20m by 2020. Leeds membership has increased from 11k in 2005 to over 28k today.
- 12,000 people helped into work or to re-engage with learning
- £7.2m spent by the council in providing discretionary housing payments or emergency support for families since 2013.