Cabinet received an update tonight (23 March 2022) on the recommendations put forward by the Sustainable Borough Scrutiny Committee’s Task and Finish Scrutiny Review of Hardship and Inequality.
The review focussed on the Council’s response to tackling hardship and inequality since April 2021. This includes the establishment and management of the Council’s £2.5m Better Together Hardship Fund (which was designed to support residents who are financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and has recently been boosted by a further £0.500m taking the fund’s total to £3m) and the delivery of the Government’s Household Support Fund (from which the Council received an allocation of £1.862m which has to be spent by the end of March 2022).
The review also considered projects and support delivered by community and voluntary sector organisations.
Residents and businesses across Knowsley have been severely impacted over the last two years due to the pandemic. Many residents have had to cope with illness themselves, bereavement, job loss, financial issues and the knock-on effect on their own health, including stress and anxiety, as they manage the pressures of providing essentials such as food and heat.
The impact of the pandemic for Knowsley residents had been heightened by the fact that levels of deprivation and health inequalities were much higher in Knowsley than in other areas across the country.
The review also included meetings with local community and voluntary sector organisations to hear about their work in supporting vulnerable residents and families throughout the pandemic. Agencies had mobilised quickly and adapted their operations in line with COVID-19 restrictions to respond to changing needs. Examples highlighted included Citizens Advice Knowsley who invested in technology during lockdown to provide remote services via phone and online.
Organisations such as Incredible Edible, Torrington Drive Community Association, Knowsley Foodbank, Prescot Advice and Flourish and Succeed were embedded within communities prior to the pandemic, therefore many residents felt comfortable to engage with these groups when the crisis hit. The decision by the Council to allocate Better Together Hardship Funding to community groups had helped to reach vulnerable residents who could be less visible to public sector agencies or reluctant to engage with public sector services.
Cllr Jayne Aston, Cabinet Member for Resources, said “The dedication and passion of the community and voluntary sector agencies, along with Council staff, is evident throughout the review undertaken.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, staff had showed great agility and dedication in responding quickly to the rising and changing needs of the community. It was also clear from the evidence that hardship unfortunately remains a key issue in our Borough.
“As well as the pandemic, our communities are also facing financial pressures such as food price rises and increases in fuel costs, that could exacerbate financial hardship, pushing more families into poverty.
What is clear though is that our communities are not alone and help and support is available, providing the right support at the right time. We will continue to provide support to our most vulnerable residents moving forward as we all now try to get back to some kind of normality.”
The recommendations from the review included:-
- the continued prioritisation of hardship and equality
- ensuring information is easy to find and shared centrally from a webpage including a directory of free and trustworthy welfare, energy and debt advice and support
- strengthening financial education within the curriculum across the Borough’s schools
- promotion of mental health and wellbeing support
- provision of bespoke support and consideration for a for white goods
- consideration be given to the development of a hardship community forum
Cllr Jayne Aston added “The recommendations from the review support the Knowsley Council Plan 2022-2025, specifically around the priority to support those in need. Tackling hardship is also a central theme within the Knowsley 2030 Strategy, where it contributes to outcomes which make Knowsley a place where residents have access to the support they need and where communities can shape their future.”
The recommendations were endorsed by Cabinet.