Cabinet agrees future direction for tackling poverty and inequality in East Ayrshire

At a recent meeting of Cabinet, Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of the Council and all elected members present, recognised that tackling poverty and inequality within East Ayrshire was a top priority and took a decision on the future direction of support to our local communities and businesses.

The paper presented to Cabinet for consideration, set out the initial response to the Cost of Living crisis, including the £3.1m investment made by the Council; and clearly defined the shift from this crisis response to a sustainable delivery model into the future.

In 2022, when the Cost of Living crisis hit, the Council recognised the need for a quick response to support communities and businesses address a wide range of needs and requirements. A key focus was food and the Council helped to support the development of 17 community larders across East Ayrshire. Moving forward, a Food Larder Forum will be established with community groups and partners to further develop this work and Catering Services are scoping the possibility of collecting surplus food from supermarkets on behalf of the larders.

Food continues to play a key role in tackling poverty and inequality locally. Food Education Programmes, free toast for all primary schools and the development of the community van initiative are important and all require further funding. Cabinet agreed that £200,000 would be allocated to ensure the continuation of these projects in the short-term and that plans would be developed with the intention that services can be delivered in a sustainable way reducing reliance on short term funding.

Working in partnership with our communities has been essential throughout the Cost of Living crisis. The Council launched a grant funding application portal for local community groups to help support and strengthen community resilience. 99 grants have been awarded to local community groups and organisations across East Ayrshire. Moving forward it was agreed that an additional £50,000 be provided to support community groups and individuals access grant funding. 

The Cost of Living investment made by the Council has proved successful in ensuring that local people and local community groups get the support they need when they need it. The investment return has been considerable and most evident from one project in particular – the recruitment of eight Financial Inclusion Officers who are based within our schools.

The team provide targeted support to local families, within each school cluster, ensuring that their income is maximised and providing welfare rights supports. A similar model was also approved by Cabinet in 2022 for Early Years, this worked on a referral basis from Health Visiting teams to ensure that babies and children from our most vulnerable families were supported from pre-birth through to five years.

In recognition of the excellent work carried out by this team, Cabinet recently took the decision to extend both projects by six months.

Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of the Council said: "Investment in our communities during the Cost of Living crisis was essential to ensure that our most vulnerable people were warm and well-fed. We worked with local community groups to ensure that support was targeted to need and where we could see a significant difference being made on the ground.

"We also looked at innovative ways of supporting local families and took the decision in 2022 to roll out a pilot project that began at Loudoun Academy, where a Financial Inclusion Officer (FOI) was based within the school and provided support to all the schools within the cluster. Eight FIO’s were recruited along with two dedicated officers within Early Years. This team has, in this very short time, generated financial gains of £2.965m for local families.

"It is worth repeating…..almost three million pounds of financial gains for local people, to support our children and young people and help mitigate the impact of the Cost of Living crisis. It is quite incredible what has been achieved in such a short time. I have spoken to a number of the FIO’s and what is clear is that it isn’t just the relief of having income to support their families, but for our parents and carers, it also removes the stress and worry about how to fill in forms properly, which can be a real barrier to many people. Removing this stress alone greatly improves family life.

"The range of investment made by the Council has been extensive. A Tenant Support Fund of £500,000 received Cabinet approval in June 2023 and has since helped prevent homelessness by sustaining tenancies and helped reduce the impact of fuel poverty and child poverty. The Council has also been working in partnership with Lemon-Aid, helping to alleviate high energy costs and provide relief to vulnerable households."

At all times throughout the Cost of Living crisis, the Council has recognised that poverty and inequality is a national issue that is still significantly affecting our communities and businesses across East Ayrshire. At Cabinet a decision was taken on defining the strategic future direction of the Council to tackle poverty and inequality locally.

It was agreed that the Cost of Living Oversight Group would be refreshed, looking at both membership and the development of a clear strategy, which will focus on the Council’s ambitions for East Ayrshire, on plans for early intervention and prevention work and will be clearly aligned to the Community Plan. It is proposed the Oversight Group, which will have an independent Chair, will report directly to the Community Planning Partnership Board.

Councillor Clare Maitland, Council Spokesperson for Health and Social Care said: "As a Council, we recognise poverty damages lives, health and wellbeing, and that we need to continue to take urgent action to support our communities and businesses. There is no doubt that poverty is at the heart of the current social and economic challenges we face and that this is absolutely the right time to look at our strategic direction and strategy.

"It is clear that we can’t tackle these issues alone, we need to look to our partners and clearly establish a strategic direction, setting out our future direction. An important part of this work is implementing and embedding a local Anti-Poverty and Inequalities Strategy, because we are no longer in crisis response mode, we need to look longer term and work out what can be delivered and by whom.

"The vision for East Ayrshire was clear at Cabinet – we all want a future East Ayrshire where poverty has been mitigated as much as possible and that together with our Community Planning Partners, we are better serving local people’s lives, businesses and further building community resilience."