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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

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Barrow group to get tough on poverty

WITH the UK in the grip of the deepest economic crisis for generations, a new commission is aiming to shine a light on hidden deprivation in Barrow.

The Furness Poverty Commission, which will report to Barrow MP John Woodcock, held its inaugural meeting at Greengate Infant School, Greengate Street, on Friday.

The commission will be directed by Greengate head teacher Caroline Hoggarth, who received a Love Barrow award nomination for the way she transformed the school.

The aim of the FPC is to identify the underlying causes of poverty in Barrow, and what these figures mean for children growing up in the area. The commission also aims to examine how existing agencies work to combat poverty and will be making recommendations to improve the lives of struggling families.

Mr Woodcock said: “This is a really important piece of work into how difficult things are for a whole range of people and families trying to make ends meet. As an MP for the area, I’m concerned the figures are going in the wrong direction in terms of poverty and hardship, but even more than that the anecdotal evidence reflects that day by day people are struggling to get by.”

According to government statistics, 40 per cent of people in the Barrow and Furness local authority area fall into the most deprived fifth of the national population.

Significant pockets of Barrow are amongst the most deprived one per cent of neighbourhoods in England, and the area also fares significantly worse than national averages in areas including educational achievement, youth unemployment, drug misuse, alcohol-related illness and life expectancy.

Ms Hoggarth said: “Inter-generational poverty is endemic across Barrow. We are looking at a real dearth of aspiration, we need to give children in Barrow something to aspire to.”

As an example of the problems facing the town, Ms Hoggarth handed out national statistics to members of the commission and asked them to guess how central Barrow compared.

Nationally, 26.2 per cent of children are eligible for free school meals, while in central Barrow, 52 per cent are eligible.

For every 1,000 children in the country, there are an average of 3.2 on a protection plan, but in central Barrow the figure is 19.

The commission aims to get to the root causes of poverty in Barrow, and one of the areas set to be scrutinised is welfare reform.

Changes to the way benefits are given out have left claimants without any income for weeks at a time, which has been linked to the increasing demand on food banks in Barrow and across the UK.

Christine McKinlay, chief executive of the Barrow branch of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, said at the commission meeting: “The impact that welfare reform is going to have on people who are already struggling will affect the level of aspiration and hope in children. Of the 60 per cent of people in receipt of benefits, six per cent of people don’t think the changes will affect them. In April when benefit reforms hit we will see a tsunami of people with no income.”

As revealed by the Evening Mail, Barrow Food Bank, at Barrow Baptist Church in Abbey Road, has seen cases such as an Ulverston resident walking 20 miles to Barrow to collect food.

Reverend John Goddard, minister of Barrow Baptist Church, is a member of the commission and said the number of people visiting the food bank is a striking indicator of the problems facing Barrow. But he said it also shows the tremendous spirit in the community to try to help those in need and to make a difference.

Steve Robson, neighbourhood manager with the Barrow Neighbourhood Management Team, spoke of the excellent work being done under an Inspiring Communities scheme with Ashton Theatre Group, Dare Dance and Signal Films.

The commission highlighted the need for families to have positive role models to show there is a route out of their plight and through primary schools to ensure children at an early age are aware of positive opportunities in the area.

Making sure families have effective access to the right support groups was also seen as important. The formation of Barrow and District Credit Union is another positive development.

The next meeting of the commission is set to take place in February.

Have your say

Just one question...
Who is paying for the creation of this commission and its running costs going forward?

And a couple of ways to create an environment where poverty, however it is measured, becomes less of an issue than it appears to be.

Cut business rates completely.
Get rid of VAT.

The former will ensure that every boarded up or empty shop/worksop/factory/business premises is occupied.
The latter will make an awful lot of things at least 20% cheaper to buy, make all fuels cheaper, remove a major impediment to growth.
Sadly such things will never happen a HMG will have to 'let people go' which would never do.

Posted by Tony on 17 December 2012 at 20:29

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