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Tower Hamlets Council aims to create a fairer, stronger borough after publishing its Poverty Review

Chrisp Street Children _ Family Centre -4

Early years intervention is key to tackling poverty

As residents face an autumn of rising prices, an increase in National Insurance contributions, the end of furlough and the withdrawal of the £20 weekly increase in Universal Credit, local action to support low-income families is more important than ever.  

Tower Hamlets is: 

  • Investing over £7 million with partner organisations to ensure residents get the right information and advice they need on benefits, debt and legal rights  
  • Providing free school meals for all primary school children – benefiting 19,000 children a day  
  • Offering the poorest households a 100 per cent reduction in council tax  
  • Keeping all of our children’s centres open – support during early years is key to young people’s success  
  • Keeping all of our libraries open – giving free access to computers, wi-fi and safe spaces to learn and take part in community activities  
  • Our Resident Support Scheme provided over £750,000 last year in Crisis Grants  
  • Supports programmes such as Linkage Plus which offers information and help to older residents as part of a broader programme of physical and social activities, health promotion and opportunities for volunteering and work.  
  • Creation of a Tackling Poverty Fund – which has invested £6.6 million since 2017 in innovative programmes to support residents affected by welfare reforms  

Tower Hamlets Council has just completed a poverty review to find out what more needs to be done to support our most vulnerable residents against the backdrop of the pandemic.  

The in-depth review was led by Councillor Mufeedah Bustin, cabinet member for Social Inclusion.  

The review published this week was informed by a series of workshops led by community researchers and Toynbee Hall (a leading charitable institution that works to address the causes and impacts of poverty in the East End) with residents with experience of living on a low income.  

A reference group of residents, and partners including the Child Poverty Action Group and Age UK East London provided expert advice to the review team.  

Cllr Bustin, Chair of the Poverty Review and cabinet member for Social Inclusion said: “Poverty has a profound effect on residents – on everything from life expectancy to employment opportunities. The ongoing effect of the pandemic has shown how entrenched deprivation has impacted on low-income households disproportionately.  

“In a borough like ours, with one of the fastest growing economies in the country, it is unacceptable that there are people who cannot afford the essentials for life in London today.  

“We will continue to speak up for residents and argue for better policies covering welfare, housing and the labour market which support people to escape poverty. 

“But this review demonstrates how much support we have been able to put in place at a local level.”  

Mayor Biggs said: “Tackling poverty is a key priority for us in Tower Hamlets We’ve put significant resources into supporting people in Tower Hamlets, particularly with so many struggling through the financial impact of the pandemic. 

“A completely inadequate social security system, high housing costs and insecure work in the gig economy has left many of our residents unable to afford even basic essentials. I’m proud of the work we do as a council to help our residents, but local councils have limited resources and we need real action at the national level to get to grips with the poverty that affects so many across the country.” 

During the pandemic the council increased its effort to help our most vulnerable residents by delivering food parcels and medicines, mobilising thousands of volunteers and ensuring children have the technology they need to access online learning (over 10,000 laptops have been donated to children in the borough).  

More than 35,000 residents have benefited from the council tax reduction scheme in the past year. Tower Hamlets is one of few councils in the country where eligible residents can claim up to a 100 per cent of their council tax liability, not just a discount.  

The Resident Support Scheme provided over £750,000 last year in crisis grants. The council and its partners are investing over £7 million to ensure that residents get the information and advice they need on benefits, debt, and their legal rights. 

The borough continued to fund the Free School Meals programme, where all primary school children receive a free meal, benefiting 19,000 children a day and saving families an estimated £450 a year. Tower Hamlets is only one in four councils in London to offer this scheme.  

Tower Hamlets also ran holiday hunger schemes and formed a partnership with A Plate for London to provide free hot meals to families in need over the holidays.  

The key recommendations from the report include:  

  • As the country recovers from the pandemic, the council should work with partners to make sure residents get the help available to them if they are in financial difficulty.  
  • The council should focus on three areas which will make the biggest difference to poverty:  

Early financial intervention: The council should support people to increase their income, reduce the cost of living and avoid problem debt and homelessness. Organisations should work together so that residents get the right support at the right time.  

Employment and skills: The council and other organisations should collaborate to support more people into work. They should also investigate how to tackle low pay, poor conditions and dead-end jobs.  

A bright future for the new generation. Children in Tower Hamlets should get the best possible start in life. Every service and organisation should make sure children from low-income families have the same opportunities as other children. 

Posted on Wednesday 22nd September 2021