Efforts to tackle poverty and inequalities take impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) into consideration

Work to tackle poverty and inequalities across Aberdeenshire is taking account of the additional challenges posed by Coronavrius (COVID-19), councillors have been told.

The matter was covered as Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee heard an update on the work of the council’s Poverty and Inequalities Strategic Group and the implementation of the Aberdeenshire Child Poverty Action Plan on Thursday (Thu, Apr 2).

Poverty is defined as being where a person's household income is less than 60% of the UK average income, and the group also takes account of factors such as health, housing, education, employment and access to services.

Currently, a family is considered to be in poverty if they are living on less than £18,900 a year for a single person with children aged between five and 14, or less than £24,100 for a couple with children in the same age range.

Under the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017, the Scottish Government has committed to ending child poverty. The Act also places a duty on councils and health boards to submit local child poverty action reports to identify the action that has and will be taken to reduce child poverty.

Aberdeenshire Council’s Child Poverty Action Plan, approved last April, was developed with input from a range of community planning partners, including NHS Grampian – which has a joint duty with the council to produce the document.

Reducing child poverty is also one of the priorities of the Aberdeenshire Community Planning Partnership, with the body setting up the Tackling Poverty & Inequalities Group to co-ordinate strategic development across partners.

The Communities Committee heard that the overall level of child poverty in Aberdeenshire stands at 14% (around 8,215 children), although the figure varies between communities. The figure is lower than the Scottish average of 24% (around 240,000 children in total).

Tackling Poverty and Inequalities Co-ordinator Annette Johnston highlighted a range of actions underway to tackle poverty, ranging from an online expert forum established by people with experience of poverty, to a partnership between Citizens Advice Bureaus and NHS Grampian to develop financial ‘health checks.’

Partners that have been allocated funding through the Tackling Poverty & Inequalities Goup have supported 8,400 clients to access information and advice services across Aberdeenshire; 600 individuals have been helped into employment or training; 156 16-to-20-year-olds have undertaken training and 125 volunteers have supported community-based projects.

And in terms of household income, partners including Aberdeenshire Council Advice & Support Team have secured an additional £9million for those who they have supported and a further 455 low income families have been supported to access opportunities and services.

The committee welcomed the work being undertaken and asked how the impact of Coronavirus was being considered, particularly where job losses could lead to people entering poverty for the first time.

The Grampian Coronavirus (COVID-19) Assistance Hub was mentioned as one of the tools available to those facing difficulties, and councillors were told that any future employment events would take account of the broad range of skills, talents and expertise from a wide range of professions.

The committee asked if childcare costs could be taken into account in future reports, and the importance of ensuring children have access to computers and the internet was also raised.

Speaking after the committee, Communities Committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling said: “We really are in unprecedented times with the challenges being faced with Coronavirus but the work being undertaken to tackle poverty and inequalities is quite exceptional.

“Underpinning all of this is the partnership approach being taken by a wide range of groups and organisations, all of whom are finding ways to deliver services differently at this difficult time.”

Committee vice-chair Cllr Michael Roy said: “A lot of excellent work has been undertaken over the past year and we know it’s a particularly challenging time for a lot of people. 

“Various support mechanisms are already in place, and it’s important that we all continue to work together to ensure everybody has access to the support they need.”

A final draft of the Aberdeenshire Local Child Poverty Action Report 2020 is due to be brought before the committee ahead of its publication at the end of June.