Efforts to help alleviate poverty and tackle social inequality in County Durham will be outlined to county councillors next week.
Durham County Council’s Cabinet will be updated on the work of the council and its partners to support those most in need and the actions that have been taken to respond to the negative financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on residents.
The council’s Poverty Action Plan was approved by Cabinet in September 2019 to support lower-income households facing increasing financial pressures as a result of the Government’s welfare reforms and longer-term challenges in the labour market.
The plan outlines key areas of support for financially vulnerable residents and families including welfare assistance, employment support and access to wider advice and guidance.
However, this work has had to be urgently refocused following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, measures to shield clinically vulnerable residents and the impact of the national lockdown, all of which left households facing greater uncertainty and financial pressures.
Through its long-established Poverty Action Steering Group (PASG), the council and its partners have, over the last six months, introduced a number of initiatives to enhance government schemes and provide a more comprehensive package of support to ensure no residents are left behind.
Cabinet will hear about progress made in key areas of the Poverty Action Plan, in addition to measures implemented to support residents through the pandemic, including:
- A £1.4 million investment into the council’s Area Action Partnerships (AAPs) at the start of the pandemic which supported more than 150 community projects to provide essential food and welfare support to residents;
- The establishment of the County Durham Together community hub at the start of the pandemic to support the shielded population and the 70,000 residents who the council identified as potentially vulnerable. The hub provided a seven day a week helpline to support food and essential supplies and address loneliness through a Check in and Chat service throughout the lockdown;
- 2, 607 emergency food parcels have been provided to residents experiencing financial hardship;
- The council has paid over £3.3 million in Council Tax Relief to residents facing financial hardship;
- Families have been supported through Holiday Activities with Food. More than 130 projects were delivered during the Easter, May and summer holidays. The provision was also extended to the October half term to ensure children across the county can access food and activities in the holidays;
- The council allocated additional resources to offer £15 payment per child, to all parents of children in receipt of free school meals over the October half term;
- £700,000 was allocated to support families with food and essential supplies over the summer period;
- Residents have been supported with rental costs during the pandemic. More than 2,200 Discretionary Housing Payments have been made so far this year, totalling £840,000.
- The council has also paid out £96,000 in Daily Living Expenses and £238,000 in Welfare Assistance Settlement Grant payments to help residents with living expenses.
- Formal recovery action for council tax arrears continues to be suspended and will not recommence until at least January 2021.
The council is also looking to increase advice on money management, debt advice and access to cheap credit through Housing Solutions and partner agencies. It is also investing in a range of measures in response to higher levels of unemployment and residents experiencing ‘in work’ poverty.
Cabinet will meet virtually at 9.30am on Wednesday 18 November. Members of the public can view the meeting on the council’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/DurhamCouncil