Portsmouth to unveil six-point 'poverty action plan' to help struggling families hit by coronavirus fallout

CIVIC chiefs are set to green-light a ‘six-point action plan’ to tackle Portsmouth’s spiralling poverty crisis as leaders vow to pile pressure on Whitehall for more help.

Wednesday, 28th October 2020, 7:00 am

The urgent proposal is being put to leaders at the top table of Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet authority next week and could be implemented in a matter of weeks.

It comes as senior politicians were warned the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic had deepened the deprivation crisis in some of the poorest inner-city wards.

A report by Mark Sage, the council’s tackling poverty co-ordinator, revealed more than a quarter of all city residents (28 per cent) had seen their finances slashed since the start of the pandemic.

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Picture: Shaun Roster

He said prior to the pandemic Portsmouth was ranked 58th most deprived of 326 local authorities in England, with one area – Landport in Charles Dickens Ward – falling into the most-deprived ‘one per cent' of neighbourhoods in the country.

Worryingly, more struggling families could face being kicked out of their homes if action isn’t taken as a temporary ban on evicting people comes to close, Mr Sage added in his report.

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Councillor Cal Corkery, who represents Charles Dickens Ward, said the coronavirus outbreak had pushed many people to breaking point.

Families across Portsmouth are struggling to make ends meet amid the financial fallout of the coronavirus crisis

‘The pandemic has exposed a lot of the cracks that already existed in communities like Charles Dickens,’ he told The News.

‘We have known for a long period of time that Charles Dickens ward has had some of the highest levels of deprivation, not just in Portsmouth but across the country.

‘There have been a series of programmes and schemes that have tried to fix that but fundamentally they have consistently failed to address structural causes of poverty – low wages, insecure work, unaffordable housing – and until we start to address those “bigger picture” issues then I think these problems will just continue.’

Now the authority hopes its six-pronged attack, focusing on everything from preventing homelessness, reducing fuel poverty and employment, to debt management, income ‘maximisation’ and ‘digital inclusion’, could be the key in staving off a future poverty catastrophe.

Councillor Cal Corkery, Charles Dickens ward councillor. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘These six priorities remain central to our approach to reducing rates of poverty, and mitigating the effects of poverty,’ Mr Sage added in his report to councillors.

‘However, the impact of the pandemic as outlined above means that some areas are more urgent and require greater attention while the effects of the pandemic on household finances continue.’

Among the proposals set to go before councillors includes the creation of a government-funded ‘tackling poverty support officer’.

The plan will build on the city’s existing tackling poverty strategy for 2015-2020.

Councillors will also be urged to take more action to lobby government to help.

City Labour leader and Portsmouth South MP vowed to back the plea to help ‘lift the city out of poverty’.

The Charles Dickens ward councillor added: ‘Rising poverty is a choice, not an inevitability. Punitive cuts to social security over the past few years are being felt all over our city.’

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the city council, insisted the new measures would have an impact.

‘They will make a difference,’ he said. ‘We won’t be able to help everybody but if we can get some families to be able to have a bit more money in their pockets so they can buy better food for their kids and keep their houses warm over winter, then that’s a good thing.’

The cabinet meeting will take place on Tuesday.

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