Local Election 2021: What West Northamptonshire Council candidates think should be done to tackle poverty
Online hustings hosted by Northampton-based charity
Candidates standing in next month’s local elections gave their thoughts about how to deal with the issue of poverty at a hustings organised by the Northampton based charity Hope.
The event was held on line on Monday evening (April 19) and chaired by Robin Burgess, chief executive of the Hope group.
The panel was made up of members of parties standing at the elections on May 6. They were Paul Powerville, Green Party; councillor Danielle Stone, Labour; councillor Sally Beardsworth, Liberal Democrats; councillor Jonathan Nunn, Conservative and Ashley Scott of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.
To view the hustings visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYEE17gp9WMMr Burgess said at the start of the hustings: “For us poverty is the single thing for which we exist as a charity.
“Frankly how you vote is up to you, but it is our job to enable you as voters to understand how each party proposes to tackle the issues that obviously impact on the people we serve.
“And for that reason we have chosen to focus on poverty tonight.”
The first question was from Lee Coyle, who works for Hope, who asked: “What plans do you have to support people in entry level roles. People that are workers on low wages who remain poor and struggling.”
Cllr Beardsworth said a lot of people were struggling with bills like the council tax. She said: “I think what we need to do is actually lobby government to make sure that we actually stopped paying council tax and actually do a local income tax which would be far, far fairer and far more evenly distibuted. It probably would bring in more revenue.”
She went on to say: “It’s dreadful in this day and age that we have to rely on foodbanks and I think it’s a sad reflection on our governments that this has happened.
“Because people really need to have the money to be able to live comforatably, I’m not saying well, but can pay their bills, they can have the food on the table, they can feed their children.”
Paul Powerville replied: “In the Green Party, we are constantly battling to bring in a national living wage for everybody and take away the pay boundaries from younger people to older people so that everybody will earn the same as soon as they start work.
“So as soon as people get into work they are earning a living wage.
“Other Green Party policies, we were talking about introducing free bus fares for public transport for children, anybody under the age of 18 to help them get to school education.”
Cllr Stone replied: “One of the things that the Labour Party and the Labour group locally is really very, very passionate about is local authorities developing an anti-poverty strategy.
“What that would mean is that every service, every department, every strand of the local authority would need to produce a strategy that outlines how they would support people who are poor, prevent people from becoming poor and support people out of poverty.
“And the reason for that is you often find one service area and one department doing something that impacts negatively on anther one and in the meantime creates huge issues for people. And we want to stop that happening. Cambridge is a really good example of where that has happened.
“The other thing we want to ensure is that our new authorities are Living Wage Foundation Employers so not the national living wage. This is a much more important benchmark which lifts people out of poverty so that nobody should get paid below the Living Wage Foundation Living Wage.”
She went on to say that an income maximisation strategy, The Big Energy switch, where everyone signs up to the same energy supplier and costs are cut, and making services accessible and local, were other issues to consider.
Cllr Jonathan Nunn said: “We need to grasp the scale of this problem.
“I think we’ve got to be ready for immediate response to the scale of poverty that is rapidly rising and then we’ve got to have a longer term plan for eradicating poverty.
“The first thing just to comment on this review in so far as I will have anything to do with it and let’s see what happens on the far side of the election, but my view it’s something to move on urgently and to start quantifying the scale of the problem.
“There’s a number of ways to define poverty and we should work out how we want to define that.
“We should create a group to take that project forward and that is not just a council led project but some of the things that we’re familiar with, Food Aid Alliance, Hope and so on, should play an important part in guiding that project so that as quickly as we can we have a clear view of what the answer is.
“We have also in terms of quality of life and somewhere decent to live, we have been able to build a lot more social homes wherever possible at social rents, not just affordable rents and we hope to keep that going too.”
Ashley Scott replied: “There’s a lot of emphasis on getting people above a mystical waterline or threshold for survival, well I personally believe survival is not the question.
“I think the ultimate way that TUSC would look to target unemployment but youth poverty within that, is because it’s a mindset shift that I don’t think we’ve heard so far.
“Ultimately, the people you are talking about Lee in your question, these are people I grew up with, these people that I have effectively walked through life alongside.
“They are not people who deserve this, but ultimately they walk into a market where there is low opportunity, they walk into a market where private rents are sky rocketing because there isn’t enough social housing.
“Because there is empty buildings which could be repurposed for council properties and for redevelopment, but actually is allowed to go into the hands of private investors.
“And it’s okay saying there are affordable rents. Affordable rents to one person is not affordable rent to another.”
Mr Scott went on to say public transport has dramatically decreased and the cost of bus fares has an impact on the overall ability for a young person to spend their wage in an effective way. He also stressed the importance of union power and collective bargaining.