Councillors agree Aberdeenshire Local Child Poverty Action Plan

Councillors have welcomed and agreed the Aberdeenshire Local Child Poverty Action Report for 2019/20.

Members of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee heard on Thursday (Sept 3) that the Action Plan was taking a long-term strategic approach to tackling the complex issue of child poverty.

The intention is for the Action Plan to add value and complement existing strategies including NHS Grampian’s Child Health 2020 and the Aberdeenshire Children’s Services Plan which also sets out a wide range of actions.

Introducing the paper, Buchan Area Manager Amanda Roe advised committee that this was only the council’s second annual report and as such was a “snapshot in time” with many aspects of the work still in progress.

She said: “Members will recognise that child poverty is a complex area, therefore although the action plan looks back for a year and looks forward for a year, the work we are undertaking will span several years and some actions will progress at a quicker pace than others.

“There is recognition that this is still work in progress and we are changing to reflect the new challenges that the impact of Covid-19 will still reveal to us over coming months and years.”

Committee heard that a number of case studies of good practice from Aberdeenshire had been highlighted at national level and that a child poverty family support worker had been instrumental in supporting the lived experiences forum ‘Local Voices’.

Annette Johnston, Tackling Poverty & Inequalities Co-ordinator, told members that the council’s approach to tackling child poverty focuses on dealing with the root causes and building people’s capabilities through income maximisation, employability, improving quality of life, helping families manage the impacts of poverty and promoting positive life choices.

She stressed the importance of monitoring emerging pressures and added it was vital that the voices of those with lived experience are not just heard, but their views are used to construct future strategies and the action plan as these families are key to deliver the four over-arching goals which are highlighted in the plan.

Those goals are aimed at preventing children on the margins of poverty falling into poverty; reducing the number of children living in poverty by moving those in poverty out of poverty; protecting children living in poverty from its most adverse effects; and enabling children to live a poverty-free adult life.

Members heard that pandemic had affected every family, household and community across Aberdeenshire, with a 75% increase noted in Universal Credit claims over recent months.

There has also been a significant reduction of vacancies which is affecting those who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19, with women and young people being disproportionately affected. Those increased levels of unemployment with the reduction of employment opportunities - especially for young people - digital exclusion and increase in household costs will all contribute to the anticipated increase in those living in poverty.

Ms Johnston said: “The majority of people who are living in poverty in Aberdeenshire are employed. We’ve seen a downturn in the number of people who maybe had part-time jobs who have lost it through Covid, so we are working with our employability partners including Skills Development Scotland and DWP to make sure that we are making support available not just for those who are unemployed, but for those who may want to increase their hours or have recently lost their job because of the implications of Covid.”

Committee chair Cllr Anne Stirling said: “I very much welcome the Local Child Poverty Action Report and I know our Tackling Poverty and Inequalities teams – together with a host of dedicated partners – are doing their utmost to support people who find themselves in poverty.

“In-work poverty has been highlighted as the highest target group in Aberdeenshire and I very much welcome the programmes we continue to offer which are helping people to maximise their income and get the support they require in terms of retraining.”

Vice-chair Cllr Doreen Mair added: “Looking ahead, it is clear that the challenges we will face around employability – particularly around the end of furlough – will be considerable for a number of people. However I am confident that the services provided by both Aberdeenshire Council and its range of partners will continue to make tremendous inroads into tackling what remains a massive and very complex issue.”

In a separate report, councillors endorsed a review of the Tackling Poverty & Inequalities Strategic Group and agreed the partnership’s work should continue over the next three years.

The group was set up to coordinate strategic development across partners with a focus on tackling poverty through early intervention and prevention, tackling the root causes and building people’s capabilities through income maximisation, employability and promoting positive life chances.

Committee also approved the council’s continued participation in the Financial Inclusion Partnership for a further three years. The partnership was set up in 2010 as a delivery group to improve financial inclusion services, increase income, reduce people living in
poverty and improve their health and wellbeing.