Council puts ‘poverty emergency’ at centre of coronavirus recovery plans

Volunteers at Norwich foodbank pack food parcels

Volunteers at Norwich foodbank, more families are receiving food parcels than before coronavirus. - Credit: Ruth Lawes

Councillors have pledged to put tackling social deprivation at the centre of coronavirus recovery planning after Norwich became one of the first local authorities to declare a ‘poverty emergency’.
During a meeting of the full council on Tuesday evening, members unanimously backed a motion tabled by Labour cabinet member Karen Davis.

City councillor Karen Davis, working at the NR2 foodbank. Picture: Karen Davis

Norwich councillor Karen Davis working at NR2 foodbank. - Credit: Karen Davis

By declaring a ‘poverty emergency’ the council has pledged to shine a light on the economic struggles of the city’s poorest people and ramp up pressure on the government to address economic inequalities.
It motion states: “We have an opportunity in how we plan our recovery, firstly to give true recognition to those low-income and no income people who have kept our country running while many of us were in lockdown or isolating at home, but also to create a lasting legacy of change.”
Ms Davis, who set up a foodbank during the pandemic, said the lasting socio-economic effects of the pandemic risked falling on “the people who can least afford it”.
She said: “Families are really struggling. We are seeing people at foodbanks who are unemployed for the first time and who are staggered by the five week wait for Universal Credit and how little it pays for them to live on.
“There are an awful lot of people who have never found themselves in need of help.”
The motion calls on the government to scrap the bedroom tax, cap rents at local Housing Allowance, stop employers evading workers’ rights, do more to end disability discrimination and the update the Equality Act.

Norwich city centre during Coronavirus lockdown 31st March 2020. Norwich market closed and empty. Pi

Norwich Market closed during coronavirus. - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Members from across the three political groups on Norwich City Council unanimously supported the motion.
Ms Davis added: “It was great to see all sides supporting it. From whatever party we all believe the government should address the drivers of poverty.”
The council unveiled an ambitious Covid recovery plan in June that ranged from developing a sustainable approach to tackling homelessness to supporting the local businesses.
Mr Davis said both the plan and the ‘poverty emergency’ motion built on existing measures to help the city’s most needy.  
“We have a financial inclusion consortium that we fund, we are one of the only places in the country still to retain 100pc council tax reduction,” she said.
“We also have a private renters charter because we know there are going to be problems coming up with evictions.”