From the chamber - Fighting poverty in the longer term

5 Nov 2023
Rachel Bishop-Firth

As Wokingham borough residents, we live in what is on average one of the wealthiest areas of the UK.  This fact hides huge inequalities.  Many of our residents are struggling to pay for basic essentials in the current cost of living crisis.  Those hit particularly hard are often carers, pensioners, disabled people, those living alone and young families.  

It’s shocking that so many of our local children are struggling to achieving their full potential at school because their families can’t afford the books, equipment and uniform they need. 

It's also shocking that so many local people are struggling to feed themselves. Hundreds of residents have to rely on food banks.  Many more are relying on cheap carbohydrates to feed themselves, leading to an increased risk of malnutrition and obesity. This reflects the fact that even before the cost of living crisis, the UK had the highest rate of food insecurity in Europe. Almost half of the UK’s youngest mothers say that they regularly miss meals to provide for their children.  32% over 65s admitted to hospital are now malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.   

These problems have profoundly harmful long term consequences for individuals.  Organisations like the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and the Children’s Commissioner for England are highlighting the long term effects on health and on life chances, particularly for children growing up in the families with the lowest incomes, and warning that this will have huge implications for society as a whole in coming years.   

When the Lib Dems ringfenced £250,000 in this year’s council budget to help fight the cost of living crisis and boost delivery of its Tackling Poverty Strategy, we looked carefully at how the money should best be spent. So that we could understand where everyone felt that we could make the greatest impact, we discussed the possibilities as a team - council officers, a cross party working group of councillors and the Hardship Alliance.  In the end the answer was clear – we should seed fund projects which tackle the root causes of long term problems for our residents living on low incomes. 

The first phase of projects which have been selected aims to bring long term benefits for Wokingham residents living on the lowest incomes by boosting access to a full education and an adequate diet for all our residents. 

Each of the projects chosen has been designed to give a much greater long term value to our residents than the cost of the initial investment and will boost delivery of our Tackling Poverty Strategy

The first awards, announced this month, are for:  

 

  • The Roots Community Store.  This will be a community food project run by Wokingham Foodbank, SHARE and First Days Children’s Charity.  Together they will set up a community pantry with an outreach across the borough, opening up new and innovative ways for residents to access low cost, healthy food.  
  • School Days – Affordable Uniform For All – will be delivered by First Days Children’s Charity and will improve access to school uniform and other essential learning tools so that all local children have the chance to reach their potential at school.  
  • School Days – Affordable For All is an incredible, innovative project to lower the cost of school day.  First Days Children’s Charity will deliver a pilot programme with local schools. 

 

Grants from central government have been extremely valuable in providing short term relief during the current cost of living crisis, but it’s essential that we find longer term solutions for our residents.  These projects will provide not just immediate help, but much longer term benefits to the community. 

 

Rachel Bishop-Firth 

Executive member for Equalities, Inclusion and Fighting Poverty