‘What are you afraid of’? was the criticism levelled at the controlling Conservatives on Northamptonshire County council after the group voted against developing an ‘anti poverty strategy’ for the county.
A joint motion put forward by the Liberal Democrat group and amended by Labour - and prompted by the Chron’s Fair Deal for Kids campaign - asked for the county authority to put a new plan in place that would bring down the number of those deemed to be living in the worst 20 per cent of households in Britain.
“General work on prosperity and education across the county can no longer be seen as a sufficient response to the specific problem of child poverty,” the motion, submitted by Councillor Dennis Meredith, (Lib Dem, Talavera) read. “And the cycle of poverty is endemic in this county’s large towns.”
But it was defeated by the controlling Conservative group, which argued that it would be best to concentrate its efforts on the work already underway.
This was despite impassioned plea by opposition members.
Councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Abington and Phippsville) said: “I have children in my ward that live in overcrowded conditions, who go to bed hungry, who go to bed cold, who cannot have friends round to play and who cannot go on holiday.
“This is 2015, there must be something we can do to help them.”
Councillor Bob Scott (Lab, Lloyds) added that, as Northamptonshire County Council had given its endorsement to the Chron’s Fair Deal for Kids campaign in the May 28 edition of the paper, it should follow this up with action.
“Now that we have signed up to it there is every encouragement that we should lead some sort of anti-poverty strategy,” he said.
And Labour group leader, Councillor John McGhee (Lab, Kingswood), said: “We know that because of the agenda of the moment, because of the drive in austerity, there will be more poverty in Northampton over the coming years.
“We need a local specific policy on how to tackle child poverty.
“This is a good motion, what are you scared of?
“Show the children – because they will be the ones sat here in 40 years’ time – show them that you care.”
Councillor McGhee even offered to produce the strategy with the aid of the Labour political assistant.
But the motion was defeated, with Conservative group members accusing the opposition of using the poverty issue as a political football.
Conservative’s Cabinet member for education, Councillor Matt Golby, said: “Any poverty is unacceptable in this modern age – but I have some issues with the wording of the motion if I’m honest.
“The term ‘general work’ really does not do justice to all the ongoing hard work of the directorates here.
“It’s a poor way to describe all the work around safeguarding and health and wellbeing and all the other things we are doing.”
Councillor Robin Brown (Con, Braunston) said: “I do not believe there is any benefit in producing another report to develop another anti poverty strategy.
“The Government has produced a very comprehensive report, which the council is already following.
“I have no belief that we should be creating a political argument about children living in poverty.”
Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Oundle) hammered one final nail into the motion .
“I believe we are working much better with partners than we have ever done in the past. Actions speak so much louder than words.
“I’m not saying there aren’t children out there that need our help, but another bit of paper isn’t going to help that.”
‘Thriving’ charity founder says strategy is the only way forward charity founder
The founder of a social enterprise helping teenagers steer clear of re-offending, says the council needs to be developing an anti-poverty strategy.
Abington-based Community Court Yard offers rehabilitative, education and employment opportunities for young people, who have been involved in crime.
But its founder, Bianca Todd, believes the county council’s dismissal of a dedicated strategy aimed at bringing children out of poverty, is the wrong approach.
She said: “Of course we need a strategy, because whatever is being done at the moment isn’t working.
“We are seeing whole families that are homeless, are starving and this affects young people and their life chances – and ultimately it affects how likely they are to commit crime.”
Community Court Yard runs a launched a Hoodies Are Goodies campaign, which has seen around 3,000 rucksacks containing clothing, pens, paper and food to young people at risk of offending around Northamptonshire.
While many would see this as a handout, Ms Todd said the rucksacks are a lifeline for families wanting to get onto the job ladder, or those not eligible to use foodbanks.
She said: “What our rucksacks do is provide that little lift to give people their self esteem back before they go into the job market. We help them out with clothing too because no one is going to employ you if you turn up to work looking scruffy.”
But Ms Todd said her charity’s ‘success’ was a sad sign of the times .
She said: “The fact that an organisation like mine is thriving is an embarrassment to the council .”