The Committee considered the presentation and report of the Corporate Director of Children and Young People’s Services that addressed child poverty in County Durham since the last update in October 2020 (for copy of report and presentation, see file of minutes).
The Strategic Manager One Point and Think Family Services and Chair of the Child Poverty Working Group and the Research and Consultation Officer, Research Public Health Intelligence Team, were in attendance to deliver the presentation.
Members were provided with details of the vision and priorities of the Child Poverty Working Group.
Members were then provided with a demonstration of the information held within the child poverty section of the Durham Insight website that included a dashboard that was interacted and held the latest public data that was updated as soon as new information was released. There was however a time lag with the data and some data such as the Index and Deprivation was 6 years out of date but other data such as Universal Credit was at the most a month out of date.
The Strategic Manager indicated that the data received from the Research and Consultation Officer enabled the Child Poverty Group to target the resources in areas where they knew there were higher levels of deprivation and the highest number of children on free school meals.
Members were provided with details of progress made in the last two years including free laptops for school children. The Household Support Fund was £4.6 million from central government, 50% of this fund needed to be focused and targeted on families with children. Two support grants had been set up, one for Practitioners to identify vulnerable families to ensure they had essential household items and one grant for schools for cutting the cost of the school day, additional help and support was made available through referrals via the Advice in County Durham portal. They had also supported feeding families and delivered 1300 food hampers over the Christmas period to vulnerable families, kinship carers and care leavers. Additional support for vulnerable children and families was available on the Advice in County Durham (AiCD) portal, the development of ‘Helping families manage their money’ website and the School Benevolent Fund which they had recently taken over and was currently under review. There was also the Stronger Families Grant to support families with essential household items.
Members were then provided with details of the Healthy Start Programme that provided £4.25 per week until the child was four. A new digital application was shortly being launched for this programme. Details had also been provided of the ‘Cutting the cost of the school day’ programme raising the awareness of child poverty and the Department of Further Education Holiday Activities with Health Food and Fun that received £2.3 million of funding this year from the Department of Education. Funding had also been secured from Public Health and the Area Action Partnerships to ensure that all holiday periods were covered.
Details were provided of the County Durham Delivery Model and the Summer Programme activities that was accessed by 19,127 children over the summer, 48% of who were eligible for free school meals.
The Next steps were to conclude the review of the School Benevolent Fund, continue to develop and deliver comprehensive holiday activities with healthy food programme, refresh the cutting cost of school/pre-school day and develop and implement an inclusive offer to children, young people and parents/carers promoting accessible leisure services across County Durham.
Councillor Walton referred to the Advice in the County Durham Portal and asked what was happing for those people who were unable to access the portal.
The Strategic Manager responded that there were family centres in County Durham which provided families access to the portal. There were also leaflets available that provided advice that could be given to families who were unable to access the portal.
Councillor Walton then congratulated the team on the Enriching Holiday Activities with Healthy Food that had been a success in her division, and they had seen a huge uptake. They had also linked this by engaging with a sport provider to target the older children.
In response to a question from Councillor Walton the Research and Consultation Officer confirmed that some of the data on the Durham Insight website was historic.
Councillor Gunn asked if a report could be brought back to the Committee on the School Benevolent Fund on how it was going to be developed. She then referred to cutting the cost of the school day programme and that 106 schools had undertaken the training programme and asked if the Thrive Model could be placed on governing body agendas so that governors were aware of the programme and what it meant. She commented that poverty proofing leisure centres was excellent and indicated that culture was often missing and asked how families could access culture. She then suggested that it may be interesting to get the views of the youth Council which was a valuable resource for the Council. She then referred to Holiday Activities with Food which had come a long way, but she had some concerns regarding the monitoring process that provided a heavy burden on small organisations who had no staff and asked if this could be looked at unless it was Department for Education (DfE) regulations in which case all they could do was lobby DfE. She then asked for further information on the vision for network family hubs.
The Strategic Manager confirmed that it was DfE requirements that was attached to the funding and two community workers had been recruited to work with small voluntary organisations as the information that the DfE required was extensive. They were currently looking into establishing a digital system that might help streamline the returns and would keep members updated on the progress. She then referred to the question around culture and indicated that they had recently taken a number of children to a pantomime, her thoughts around progressing culture were the opportunities around the City of Culture Bid and children would be involved in culture activities over the next two years. With regard to family hubs the government had appointed the Anna Freud National Centre to support local authorities to develop their family hubs and more information would be provided at a later date on the development of the council’s family centres.
In response to a question from Councillor Gunn, the Strategic Manager confirmed that there would not be an increase in the number of family centres as it was about accessibility and integrated working across the partnership.
Councillor Martin referred to the holiday activities and welcomed the inclusivity of inviting everyone in and commented around the stigma of poverty and unintentionally segregating people in poverty. He asked about cutting the cost of the school day in particular unforms and the amount of branded clothing schools opted for, that was forcing parents to go to a sole supplier. He referred to the national push to stop this and asked what the national push was and how this was different to the council’s push and if there was any way to enforce or encourage schools to comply. Councillor Martin commented that while there was support for families in poverty, he was worried for families just above the threshold.
The Strategic Manager responded that there was a new law and guidance around school uniforms and a requirement for schools not to use sole suppliers.
The Health and Wellbeing Lead Officer indicated that they were producing a report for school governors and the item would be included on school governor meeting agendas that would be distributed in the Spring term highlighting the new legislation and the requirements, and seek that schools review their uniform policies where necessary. The Strategic Manager advised that they were trying to change the culture about the use of recycled school uniforms.
Councillor Reed echoed Councillor Martin in relation to people just above the threshold to receive support but who were really struggling. She then referred to the funding for vulnerable families and asked how these families were selected and would this scheme take into consideration families who were just over the threshold.
The Strategic Manager responded that the families were identified through front-line practice, but they could apply through Feeding Families directly.
Councillor Crute indicated that it was reassuring to see that as a Council everything had been done on limited resources to address the problems highlighted in the report, but the council could not continue to do this on its own. He asked for further information on the external partners particularly those that could put pressure on government to tackle the inequalities.
The Strategic Manager indicated that the Child Poverty Working Group consisted of a number of Durham County Council departments including schools, and also health colleagues, colleges, police, housing, voluntary sector and Councillor Shield as Portfolio Holder. With regard to lobbying government this was carried out in regard to holiday activities with food.
Councillor Crute responded that this could be something that they could refer to Cabinet or Full Council as it was impacting on residents in County Durham, and something needed to be done.
The Strategic Manager advised Members that the council were a member of the ‘Northeast Child Poverty Commission that was an organisation that lobbied government on issues.
Councillor Hunt indicated that the holiday activities with food in her area had been a huge success and they had included everyone which had brought a lot of the community together.
Councillor Kellett stated that the figures in relation child poverty in County Durham were shocking that continued to be on the rise.
Councillor Gunn referred to front line staff and the additional pressures on staff due to the pandemic and asked if some assurances could be given that plans were in place to ensure that the services would continue.
The Strategic Manager indicated that contingency plans were developed and in place and that staffing was reviewed daily. Statutory visits were prioritised, and child protection conferences were able to go ahead in children’s centres. There were safe working practices in place and the service worked in collaboration to ensure children were seen and welfare checks were taking place to look at barriers to attending school.
Resolved: That the report and presentation that provided an oversight of the work undertaken during 2020-21 and outlined the priorities for the year ahead be noted.