Council leader: ‘We want to help East Devon through cost of living crisis’

Paul Arnott www.exmouthjournal.co.uk 

There can’t be many of us who haven’t felt the financial pinch at some point in our lives.

My own experience was in my 20s, when an over-optimistic project I was involved in collapsed, leaving me about £5,000 in debt.

I had not a penny in the bank account from working that wasn’t owed – either to pay that back, or to pay rent to a chiselling landlord in a flat without heating. Ah, the1980s! Not very yuppy or loadsamoney where I was.

I would never call it character-forming; it was just incredibly stressful on an hourly basis. And being twenty-something, I was too proud to ask for help. Therefore, a luxury meal sometimes would be a bowl of white rice with the addition of a squirt of tomato puree.

I would visit my girlfriend’s family home to witness Billy the Cat being hand-fed slices of prime ham from M&S while my tongue hung out like a hungry dog’s. And above all I remember saving 1p and 2p pieces until I had enough to buy a Mars Bar.

Before I start to sound like Monty Python’s Four Yorkshireman, I should add that life looked up eventually. But the symptoms of poverty which I then endured seem never to leave our nation, despite it being one of the world’s greatest economies.

Strictly speaking, what a district council can do about this is “discretionary”; dealing with poverty is not a core “mandatory” obligation. But we feel we cannot just pass by on the other side of the road, because everyone in East Devon can see the looming acceleration of a Cost of Living Crisis.

What on earth has happened? Well, some won’t like this, but it is now empirically proven that since the self-harm of leaving the EU, our economy has shrunk by 4% according to the Conservative government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility.

Then we have the effects of the pandemic. That was not self-harm like Brexit, but the way we are coming out of it is. The recent increase in National Insurance (basically, just another income tax) is cutting into the budgets of already challenged households.

Then there is another surprising jolt, the Russian crime against Ukraine. Food supply diminishes, prices go up.

In the last two weeks households, especially for those on pay-as-you-go energy tariffs (already paying higher per unit rates), the pain is already here. For the rest of people in poverty, it’s turn off the heating or be faced with an unaffordable increase in your direct debit in the coming months.

Meanwhile, mortgage interest rates are starting to creep up again. A 0.5% rise in total recently, but where will they stop?

At East Devon District Council, despairing of Messrs Sunak and Johnson, we have launched an Action on Poverty Fund. This is not about direct cash handouts; that is not our role and in any case we simply do not have the money to do that.

Instead, we have opened a scheme where those brilliant people already working in their communities to alleviate poverty can apply for funding between £500 and £5,000 to help them develop the work they are already doing further.

We’re hoping that these groups will be able to then do more to encourage those in hidden poverty to seek help, to advise on budgeting, to help access welfare benefits, improve physical and mental health and diet, and aid practical ways of reducing energy and water costs, as well as helping people find employment.

The link for applications is:

www.eastdevon.gov.uk/grants-and-funding/grants-available-from-us/east-devon-action-on-poverty-fund

In addition, our local Conservative MPs, Neil Parish for the Tiverton & Honiton constituency, and Simon Jupp for the East Devon constituency, may appreciate your feedback to encourage them to prioritise poverty in their work for the East Devon public at Westminster.

Local groups, we look forward to your applications, and thank you for everything you already do.