Committee Round-up: Communities Committee 2.4.20

Efforts to tackle poverty, inequality and violence – and how that work will continue despite the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) – were among matters discussed at the latest meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee.

The meeting, on Thu, Apr 2, was conducted by videoconference due to the closure of council offices and the need to maintain social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Tackling poverty and inequalities commitment continues

The 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.

The 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 committee was told 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.’

Funding and support has also been made available to thousands of individuals through the work of the Tackling Poverty & Inequalities Goup and the Aberdeenshire Council Advice & Support Team.

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.

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.

Violence against women and girls

Aberdeenshire Council has confirmed its commitment to continue to support an anti-violence partnership over the next two years.

The Violence Against Women & Girls Partnership (VAWP) involves a range of statutory and voluntary agencies in Aberdeenshire – including the council – aimed at preventing violence and providing support to women, children and young people who have or are at risk of experiencing violence from men.

Each local VAWP reports directly to the Scottish Government on the progress being made against the national strategy ‘Equally Safe: Scotland’s partnership for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls’, which is also supported by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).

A strategy and action plan was launched by the Aberdeenshire VAWP earlier this year, supporting the national aims of encouraging equality, helping women and girls to thrive, taking action early and effectively to prevent violence, and to see an end to all forms of violence against women and girls by men.

Head of Children’s Services Leigh Jolly, who also leads the Aberdeenshire VAWP, told the committee that the risk of violence and exploitation significantly increases during periods of lockdown and that it is a particularly difficult time for adults and children living with domestic abuse.

The partnership is working to highlight the additional risks brought about through the current circumstances to ensure the group is doing everything it can to support children and their families and that support services are still visible and available.

Leigh added the council is committed to working with partners to mitigate risks and that services would not be reduced, although they are being delivered differently. 

The committee also heard the housing service is bringing empty properties back into use to support those who may need urgent accommodation.

Welcoming the work to date, the committee asked what support was available to male victims of violence and was told of some of the dedicated agencies making such provision. It was also requested that information for victims of violence be made available in public spaces in addition to existing online resources.

The committee went on to agree that Aberdeenshire Council should continue to support be a VAWP. In the shorter term, the partnership will present its annual report to the committee and discuss progress to date. 

It was also agreed that the Aberdeenshire Community Planning Partnership should be asked to consider a mechanism for monitoring incidents of violence domestic violence against men.

Charging policy postponed

Revised fees for the delivery of residential and non-residential care and support by the Aberdeenshire Health & Social Care Partnership have been postponed.

At its meeting in February, Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee approved a charging policy proposed by the Integration Joint Board, which oversees the work of the partnership.

Most charges were due to increase by 3%, with some exceptions where fees were to remain unchanged.

The new fees structure for 2020/21 was due to take effect from April 6 but in light of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the work required to implement the charges, the changes are to be delayed until further notice.

A report before the committee highlighted the difficulties that would be faced in implementing the policy, including the reduced availability of staff, the current inability to offer face to face meetings with service users, and the potential concerns around raising fees at this time.

As a result, fees will remain as per the 2019/20 levels for the meantime. The position will be reviewed over the coming weeks by the chief officer of the Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership in discussion with the Communities Committee chair, vice-chair and opposition spokesperson.

Other matters:

• Policy register discussed: It was agreed that the timescale for police to be considered at future meetings of Communities committee would be by the end of the current calendar year.

A recording of the public items discussed during the videoconference can be viewed online via www.bit.ly/CC242020