[L]ocal councillors from 18 wards in West Cumbria came together to tackle poverty in West Cumbria, citing poor housing conditions as the biggest barrier to families facing hardship.
After a study by the Cumbria Community Foundation found that nearly 12,000 Cumbrians are living in poverty with people in the West of the county likely to die 20 years earlier than those in the East, the West Cumbria Child Poverty Forum (WCCPF) and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) are working together to address the issues behind the stark statistics.
Following a round table discussion last year, which brought together councillors alongside several local agencies to encourage those with influence to actively challenge ongoing problems facing young people in West Cumbria, it was reported that poor living conditions rather than a lack of housing is an issue that families living in poverty raise with local councillors with some frequency. At the event, councillors provided examples of young families living in social housing affected by severe damp and crumbling walls.
People citied difficulty in communicating with housing associations as a big challenge because they often do not provide locally based help and advice. Poor housing conditions are widely acknowledged as having a link to mental health, substance abuse and child poverty and, crucially, has a significantly negative impact on children’s ability to access the full benefits of education.
For many vulnerable families, many suffering from intergenerational poverty, the present level of service provision is no longer capable of breaking the cycle of poverty. Vulnerability is evidenced in fear that social services would take children away, concern about the associated stigmas of using a food bank and not being fully informed of what services are available. The nationally informed professional view recognises that declining service provision is a more potent factor than inadequate parenting in the rise in the rising number of children living in poverty.
Suzanne Wilson, UCLan Research Fellow in Social Exclusion and Community Development from the WCCPF, said: “The statistics from the Cumbria Community Foundation are shocking, with one in eight households living on an income of less than £10,000 and 14% of children in Cumbria living in poverty that figure rising to 23% in West Cumbria.
Moving forward from this roundtable discussion, the WCCPF is seeking to develop a coherent picture of the social housing provision and the extent of the problems being faced by our most vulnerable families. It is not immediately clear what the geographical spread is across West Cumbria. Its principle point of contact is through its partner organisations and agencies who are in regular contact with families.
Representatives from Allerdale Borough Council, Copeland Borough Council and Cumbria County Council alongside Cumbria Community Foundation, Howgill Family Centre, Children’s Services, Victoria Infant School, Barnardo’s and UCLan a total of 50 people feeding into the roundtable discussion.
One immediate outcome of the event was the suggestion that local councillors present become Child Poverty Champions to:
- Maintain connections and nurture a sense of partnership between services
- Stand up for the communities they champion
- Develop policies and influence the policies that are going to affect those in poverty
- Campaign on a local and national level to challenge policy and practice
WCCPF promised to keep Champions fully informed of news, research and future actions and events. The Forum is happy to put its expertise and experience at the service of its elected representatives and Champions.
Mike Hawkins, Cumbria County Councillor for Mirehouse, commented: “The West Cumbria Child Poverty Forum is a step in the right direction in getting the main players around the table enables us to understand each other’s area of work and stops us all working in isolation.
“It is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed; I am aware that some people in my ward have a 15 year less life expectancy than someone living less than two miles away in the Hillcrest Ward. I also think that the change in the benefit system has been another burden on people already struggling to make ends meet and is one of the main concerns that people contact me about.”
The report of the roundtable discussions will be officially launched on Tuesday 6 March, 11.00am, at The Whitehaven Foyer in Whitehaven with an audience of local community representatives.
The WCCPF is grateful to Cumbria Community Foundation and the Samuel Lindow Foundation for the sponsorship that made the roundtable event and this report of proceedings possible.