Funding agreed to reduce inequalities in South Lakeland

Last Updated: 22 October 2021

Moves to kick-start a far-reaching project aimed at making South Lakeland a fairer place to live for everybody have taken a major step forward.

South Lakeland District Council has agreed initial funding to set up a Poverty Truth Commission (PTC), unique in the country as the first with a largely rural focus.

SLDC declared a Poverty Emergency in October last year and, led by Councillor Suzie Pye, portfolio holder for Health, Wellbeing and Poverty Alleviation, instigated an initial meeting in June with organisations interested in collaborating on the PTC.

A support group has since been formed and includes the Department of Work and Pensions, Morecambe Bay CCG, ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, Manna House, local foodbanks, Cumbria Council for Voluntary Services (CVS), the Church of England, Pennines Community Credit Union, Cumbria County Council and more.

SLDC's Cabinet this week agreed that £20,000 from the authority's Poverty Alleviation Fund (made up from unclaimed councillors' allowances) be allocated to the PTC's lead body when identified, and two bids for £20,000 each made to Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Group’s Health Improvement Fund, which if successful would mean more than half the required funding will have been secured in advance of a lead organisation from the voluntary sector taking on the project.

Cllr Pye said: "Whenever I talk about poverty in South Lakeland, I am met with surprise. It’s true, South Lakeland fares well when all the data is collated and compared with other areas. We are relatively affluent. But there is deprivation. This deprivation is often diluted by the surrounding affluence.

“But it is no comfort to the parent skipping meals so their children can eat, that their neighbours are all coping fine. If you are faced with deciding between heating or eating, then you want to live where your council acknowledges the existence of your poverty and doesn’t dismiss it on the basis of a median statistic."

Most PTCs around the country are facilitated by voluntary sector organisations, due to their perceived neutrality, distance from the public sector and links within local communities.

Work is ongoing to identify and agree South Lakeland PTC's lead body, at which point SLDC will hand over the steer and become a partner on the support group.

Cllr Pye added: "A Poverty Truth Commission will put people with lived experience of severe financial difficulties at the very centre of work and decisions which directly affect their lives. It will bring this cohort of what we call "community Commissioners" together with business leaders and civic leaders who they identify as being relevant to their story."

SLDC's Council Plan aims to deliver “A Fairer South Lakeland”. Despite the district being relatively affluent, a selection of wards can be identified which have quite extreme levels of low incomes and poverty.

This was the case before the Covid-19 pandemic, which has widened inequalities across the globe. The impact locally has been particularly pronounced with South Lakeland experiencing the nation’s highest furlough take up rate (19%) and the Universal Credit and Job Seekers Allowance claimant count nearly doubled across Cumbria since March 2020 while many of the impacts of the pandemic are yet to be fully realised.

The Council Plan includes 39 targets, 11 of which fall under the “Fairer South Lakeland” council priority. Principal among them is the target to halve the proportion of households in poverty and eliminate child poverty.

Poverty Truth Commission

A Poverty Truth Commission (PTC) brings together a small group of people who have lived through severe financial difficulties, "community commissioners", to share their experiences with each other before sharing them with "civic and business commissioners", key individuals from organisations that the community commissioners have identified as relevant to their experience.

The two sets of commissioners then meet regularly, both individually and collectively, and identify key areas for improvement. These areas are addressed by the relevant organisations with a view to helping improve policies, processes and ways of working. This evidence-based approach to policy making is designed to build trust in the community, better client/agency interactions and a more tailored, empathic approach. The whole process takes two to three years and typically costs between £60,000 and £90,000.