Poverty and debt - the flip side to East Cambs life

Foodbanks feature heavily in the report. This picture was taken recently of Ely Hereward Rotary Club

Foodbanks feature heavily in the report. This picture was taken recently of Ely Hereward Rotary Club donating to Ely Foodbank. Donna and Amy from the foodbank are pictured with rotary club member Mike Judkins. - Credit: Archant

A grim picture of life on the flip side of a booming economy in East Cambridgeshire can be revealed for the first time today.

The study shows increasing levels of fuel poverty locally, a strong and rising demand for food banks, an increase in those looking for debt counselling and help and more elderly people than ever classified as “malnourished”.

The figures, set out in reports to East Cambs Council’s community services committee yesterday (Wed), are in stark contrast to those enjoying rocketing house price inflation and well paid jobs in the expanding Cambridge high tec bubble.

The council sets out many of the issues – with their detailed action plan- in their 2018 to 2023 draft vulnerable community strategy and in a separate report outlining cash grants to Citizens’ Advice Bureaux.

“Whilst East Cambridgeshire is relatively prosperous, with safe and strong communities, there are some areas that have higher levels of deprivation, including Ely East, Littleport and Ely North,” says the report.

The percentage of households in poverty in East Cambridgeshire rose from 7.2 per cent in 2012 to eight per cent in 2014 – a total of nearly 3,000 households.

Councillors were told that although the area “is reasonably affluent, with low levels of deprivation, about 10 per cent of children (around 1,600) live in poverty.

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The areas with the highest levels of child poverty are Littleport West (24.24 per cent after housing costs), Littleport East (23.41 per cent after housing costs) and Sutton (22.65 per cent after housing costs).

“An estimated 10,000 to 14,000 older residents in Cambridgeshire are malnourished, with many more at risk,” says the report.

Councillors were told there are six food banks in East Cambridgeshire located in Ely, Soham, Sutton, Haddenham, Littleport and Newmarket.

“Definitions of food poverty vary, and the situations that lead to people coming to food banks are often very complex,” says the report. “Many clients have mental health issues.”

The figures show that between January-June 2017, 711 food parcels (three days of food in each parcel) were given out in Ely, Haddenham, Sutton and Soham.

Between July 2016 and December 2016, Littleport food bank issued 610 food parcels, with an increase in demand reported towards the end of 2017.

People that receive parcels at the Littleport Food Bank include Job Centre users, people on zero hours contracts, people on low wages, people with mental health issues and people with drug and alcohol additions.

“The Ely food bank partnership forecasts that there will be an increased demand for its services following the full rollout of Universal Credit,” says the report.

Councillors heard that “there is evidence from other parts of the region that shows that our people receiving Universal Credit are more likely to have debt problems than those on legacy benefits.”

When it is rolled out shortly it is estimated that 7,500 families will be receiving Universal Credit in East Cambridgeshire by 2022.

“Analysis shows that UC is currently pushing people further into debt, and placing an even greater strain on local public services,” says the report.

The council’s housing team have reported that they forecast an increase in demand for their services within 6-12 months of the full roll-out of Universal Credit.

Housing officials also estimate that a large percentage of older people will be “vulnerable to properties being in disrepair and fuel poverty because of limited pensions.

“Fuel poverty is a growing problem, with the percentage of households in fuel poverty increasing from 11.5 per cent to 14.5 per cent between 2008 and 2010.”

The council says there is no nationally or internationally agreed definition of vulnerability but for the purposes of

dealing with it in East Cambs they agree “a vulnerable person is defined as a resident who may need additional help and support to prevent, reduce or delay the need for statutory services or is at risk of losing their independence.”

Councillor David Ambrose-Smith, chairman of the community services, pledged the council’s commitment to ensuring that “all residents have access to the services and resources to meet their needs and ensure that we are doing everything we can to make this happen.

“We recognise that the district is evolving and will ensure that effective engagement is in place so that the right services are in place to build resilience and support those in need.”

He said the council’s strategy “looks at what can be done to address the inequalities within our communities as we believe that everyone has the right to feel and be safe; and for their circumstances and background to be recognised and valued.”