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Calls for task force to help tackle child poverty levels in Suffolk rejected

Penny Otton, Liberal Democrat, Suffolk County Council. (11850060)
Penny Otton, Liberal Democrat, Suffolk County Council. (11850060)

Calls to set up a task force to address children’s poverty in Suffolk have been rejected, despite new figures revealing that tens of thousands of youngsters have been growing up in poor households.

Data published by End Child Poverty in May revealed that Suffolk had 50,000 children living in poverty.

In the South Suffolk parliamentary constituency, which includes Sudbury, Great Cornard, Long Melford and Hadleigh, it was found that 5,352 children were below the poverty line between 2017 and 2018 – equal to around 26 per cent of the area’s child population.

Coupled with the recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights by Professor Philip Alston, which was critical of the Government’s stance on the issue, Suffolk County Council’s Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group put forward a motion demanding more action at the latest full council meeting.

The motion called on the council to set up a cross-party task group to investigate what actions could be taken to help bring down child poverty levels.

It also asked the leader of the council to write to central government and draw up a plan with the district and borough councils across Suffolk, as well as the county’s voluntary sector.

But the motion was subsequently rejected by 24 votes, prompting criticism from members who had supported it.

Penny Otton, leader of the Lib Dem, Green and Independent group, said: “I am deeply disappointed that the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council chose to ignore this opportunity to address poverty in Suffolk, simply because the UN’s report was critical of government policies.

“Who could have imagined that, in the 21st century, there are families relying on food banks, having to decide between food and warmth.

“Suffolk County Council and the Government have a responsibility to do all they can to eliminate poverty as a major priority.”

The End Child Poverty report sparked fears that children had been going without breakfast before school in the morning, while families had also been missing out on days out and holidays.

In response to the motion, James Reeder, Conservative cabinet member for public health at Suffolk County Council, said: “While it is impossible to ignore Professor Alston’s report, I do consider it to be aimed largely at policies outside of Suffolk County Council’s direct influence.

“I believe it would be much more beneficial to consider what we can do and what we are doing to address poverty.”

Mr Reeder said he was determined to see a reduction in the figures, and pointed to the council’s existing poverty strategy – together with further revisions set to be published this November – as key action points in achieving this.

He added: “We are already in constant contact with MPs who have the ear of the minister.

“Rather than having a standard suggestion of having a PDP [policy development panel], I believe we need to concentrate our efforts on driving forward the work this council is already doing and aspires to do.”

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