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Working in partnership to support residents with cost of living

Jan 9, 2023 | Local News

A North East council has vowed to keep doing all it can to help people amid the rising cost of living.

Durham County Council has also committed to continuing to work with partners to assist residents, after some of the challenges facing them, including child poverty and reliance on benefits, were outlined at a conference.

The event, organised by the County Durham Partnership (CDP), also heard of the support the council and other agencies are already providing to people.

This includes the local authority committing more than £3m to tackle poverty in the last year and a half through initiatives across its services and partnerships. It has also maintained core funding to provide support to thousands of low income households with their council tax payments, including nearly 40,000 claimants who receive a full 100 per cent reduction.

Cllr Amanda Hopgood, Chair of the CDP and Leader of the council, said: “We are in difficult times at the moment and we are naturally concerned by the levels of child poverty and families reliant on benefits across the North East, including here in County Durham.

“We are committed to continuing to do everything we can to help people, continuing our council tax reduction and welfare assistance schemes, the Fun and Food programme and various other forms of support and building on the £3.1m recently spent on initiatives to address poverty.

“We will also continue to work with partners where we can and it was great to see other organisations at the CDP event making similar commitments.

“We welcome the money given by the government through the Household Support Fund but will continue to make the case for it to give even greater financial help in recognition of the challenges we still face.”

The CDP is made up of key public, private and voluntary sector organisations including the council. They work together with a common purpose and ambition for the county and seek to improve the quality of life for County Durham residents.

The event, ‘Supporting our communities through cost-of-living pressures,’ was organised jointly with the part council-funded Advice in County Durham, a voluntary sector-led partnership of local advice providers.

Attended by representatives of the CDP partners as well as voluntary and community organisations and groups, it sought to inspire those present to take action within their geographical areas and organisations and provide them with the information and contacts to do so. The event was also intended to generate discussion and ideas on how to better support communities.

Presentations were given to the conference to outline the current situation in the region, including figures from the North East Child Poverty Commission. These showed almost

two in five of children in the region (38 per cent) were living in poverty in 2021/22, with this rising to 47 per cent of children in families with a child under five in 2019/20.

Figures from the commission also showed 52 per cent of all North East children are in families which rely on Universal Credit or legacy benefits.

The event was told that the council has had a poverty action strategy and action plan for County Durham since 2014 which is reviewed regularly and how its scope was expanded in 2020 to include the immediate impacts of the Covid pandemic and the now evident energy and cost of living crisis.

The vision of the revised strategy and action plan is to work together with communities so fewer people will be affected by poverty and deprivation in the county. A child poverty action group also works with the vision of ensuring children, young people and families have the resources to meet their basic needs, including accessing opportunities to take part in society.

Through the strategy and plan, the local authority has committed £3.1m to initiatives to tackle poverty since May 2021.

The conference was also told how the council continues to be the only local authority in the region and one of just a handful nationally to run a council tax reduction scheme that allows some residents not to pay a penny. At the latest count, 54,800 people were eligible for a reduction in their tax of up to 100 per cent, with 39,763 receiving the full discount.

The council also runs a welfare assistance scheme which offers help with the costs of daily living where circumstances change unexpectedly, as well as grants towards the cost of running a home.

Furthermore, the authority delivers a Fun and Food programme which provides free activities with healthy food served during school holidays, for children from families with lower incomes.

The council is also using £4.6m it was given from the government’s Household Support Fund to work with partners to provide food, essential household items and vouchers to residents, as well as allowing grant schemes to operate. The conference heard that £15,000 of this allocation per month is being used by the Durham Christian Partnership for stocks at food banks.

Information on the various forms of support provided by the council for residents is available online at www.durham.gov.uk/