Tuesday 17 November 2015

Belper Tories don't believe that there is poverty in our town.

In the last post (An evening with Super Kitchen) we explored the response of Derbyshire County Council to the rising tide of food poverty. It is not wrong that there are those amongst us whose response to this would be, "but how much poverty is there?". Well not an unreasonable question for someone who never reads a newspaper or watches television but it is astonishing that such a question should be asked by members of Belper Town Council. Yes, at the town council meeting last Tuesday evening there was a debate questioning the existence of hunger in Belper. Our correspondent reported:

The Deputy Mayor asked if there really were Belper people going hungry, he asked this question more than once. Another councilor did not believe there were hungry families in Belper but she liked the Street Angels. Deputy Mayor again, ‘How many people are genuinely hungry in our society, it sounds 3rd worldly to me but is it real?’

Belper Town Councilors should be better informed than this. For a start they should read The Good Councillors Guide produced by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC). Within that guide they will find this:

Councillors need to know:

• the population of the parish and how the population is made up 
• how much an average household pays in council tax to the local council

This data would give them an idea of local poverty. Some of the town councillors have also been elected to the Amber Valley Borough Council (AVBC) and they should be aware of the the four yearly study produced by the council:

AVBC Area Profile Belper which contains details of income for Belper households. This is a very informative document which brings together a wealth of information that is invaluable for any councilor wishing to represent every element of the community.

The section on household incomes is very informative and I have copied the relevant data:

Number of households Income below £192 per week
Belper South 2,528 334 = 13.21%
Belper Central 2,403 315 = 13.11%
Belper North 2,147 260 = 12.11%
Belper East 2,402 216 = 8.99%
Total 9,480 1,125 = 11.86%

So 11.86% of Belper households have to exist on less than £192 per week. Perhaps that might not mean much for an out of touch Tory but so-called affordable rents in Belper can be well over £110 per week for a two bedroom dwelling ......... not much left to pay all your other bills plus feed yourself and your family. A privately let 3 bedroom home can set you back over £160 per week. A bleak prospect for those homes where the main income is via insecure zero hour contract jobs.

If you compare the household income data for 2008 and 2013 we find that poverty in belper has increased by 64% .......... see below:

BelperStuff using source data from AVBC
There was a huge rise in poverty in just 4 years.We have to remember that this data spans the years that were impacted by the effects of the credit crunch and only when the next Area Profile is produced will we have easily accessible information to assess the current poverty in the town. That will be (hopefully) in 2017 and I fear that the numbers suffering poverty will only have increased by then.

What we should also remember is that the internationally recognised definition of poverty is 60% of the mean household income which at the moment is around £206 per week. Of course the Tory government has abolished this as a measure of poverty in the UK but I find the Joseph Rowntree Trust Definition of Poverty to be most instructive. If we use this measure we find that a shade under 14% of Belper households were below the poverty line in 2013 ............ that's 1,280 homes ............ the doubting deputy mayor should be aware that up to 300 homes in his ward, Belper North, are having to struggle below he poverty line.

Why has poverty increased so much?

That graph is truly shocking for one such as myself who grew up with the security of the Welfare State .......... the safety net. With this concern in mind I delved into the Belper specific data held by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and what I found has caused me much head scratching.

Belper families receiving tax credits
Year Families In work
2008 2230 1960
2009 2230 1925
2010 2195 1895
2011 1780 1515

The data relating to the number of Belper families in receipt of tax credits is confusing. I have not complicated this basic table with any division involving Child Tax Credits and if I had the data would have been impenetrable. What is disturbing is the fall in numbers between 2010 and 2011, the first year that can be attributed to the ConDem government. I have no idea why 415 families stopped receiving tax credits (around 20%); or the steady fall of those in work receiving tax credits (around 30 to 35 decrease per year) should suddenly become a fall of 380 (again 20%).  Unfortunately there is no more current data readily available but for 20% of those relying on tax credits to boost their inadequate incomes to have lost that help in 2011 we have to assume (pending other evidence) that this had a massive effect on poverty in the town. Have the numbers receiving those credits deteriorated between 2011 and 2015 ............. and what would be the effect of George Osborne's tax credit cuts on Belper families (those cuts have only been delayed by the Lord's digging their heels in).

Tax credits ...... basic facts

In 2008 there were 3,600 children in Belper being supported by tax credits .......... this had decreased to 2,725 by 2011. Obviously for an accurate assessment we need to chart the number of children in the relevant years but ............. in 2011 the number of children aged between 0 and 17 was 4,450 ........ so 60% of Belper children were then supported by child tax credits. Can you image what the effect of child tax credit cuts will be on Belper children and families. To forecast this you would need access to data that is held by government departments but it would be safe to make a basic, conservative assumption that the percentage of Belper families living below the poverty line would rise to at least 25%, with the eventual figure possibly well above that.

We should not be surprised that our local Tories have no idea of the plight of many Belper folk who daily have to struggle to pay their bills, juggle heating or eating, put a roof over their heads, find bus fares to go to work and school, clothe their kids .........basically exist. They should know about this and then they would be able to make a proper judgement on an application for a grant such as last week when they refused to help the food bank.

This is why there is a need for food banks and ideas like Super Kitchen. There is real poverty in Belper and if Tories at national and local level are blind to it then we must rely on cash strapped Labour controlled councils to stem the tide (Derbyshire County Council) and then, ultimately, take action ourselves.

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