Agenda item

Reducing Poverty & Improving Financial Inclusion

To receive an update from the Chief Officer Community Hubs, Welfare and Business Support in relation to work to reduce poverty and improve financial inclusion in Leeds.


The Chair introduced the item noting that the Scrutiny Board had requested an annual update on work to reduce poverty and improve financial inclusion in Leeds.





Those in attendance for this item were:


·  Cllr M Harland (Executive Member)

·  Lee Hemsworth (Chief Officer, Community Hubs, Welfare & Business Support)

·  Jo Rowlands (Financial Inclusion Manager)


·  Dianne Lyon (Citizens Advice Leeds)

·  Hannah Bailey (Voluntary Action Leeds)

·  Rifhat Malik (Give a Gift)

·  Chris Joyce (Department for Work and Pensions)

·  Gemma Sharratt (Department for Work and Pensions)



Lee Hemsworth introduced the report, noting that poverty and financial exclusion have been deep-rooted challenges for many years. However, key factors affecting the financial climate since 2022 that have further escalated the situation, leading to a ‘cost-of-living crisis’.


Members were advised that the Executive Board Report ‘Understanding & addressing the Cost-of-Living Crisis’ was appended to the Scrutiny Board report by way of contextual information.


Lee reiterated the importance of a partnership approach to the challenges of poverty and financial exclusion. He set out the focus of activity over the last 12 months, which has included communication, information, funding and advice. In addition, initiatives such as ‘Welcome Spaces’, the Zero Waste Winter Coats Appeal and Emergency Warm Packs have delivered practical support.


An update was provided in relation to themed strategic meetings which have taken place since June 2023. Topics have included housing, children’s services, health, crime and community safety, third sector and crisis support.


The short term, often annualised, nature of funding streams in this area of work creates a risk for services, and the reality for all partners is that available resources cannot meet the demand for support.


Dianne Lyons described the “grim” situation for many people in Leeds and offered thanks to the staff and volunteers working at Citizens Advice Leeds.  She raised concern about the behaviour of some energy firms in dealing with vulnerable customers and outlined the way in which her organisation can advocate for those individuals. Similarly, she provided examples of recovering unclaimed entitlements to a range of benefits, which can significantly improve the financial circumstances of some people.


Dianne highlighted escalating demand for services and confirmed funding has been sourced to increase capacity. Funding from West Yorkshire Combined Authority for the Leeds Advice Service has been used to increase staffing in the telephone team and recruit caseworkers to provide specialist advice in housing, benefits, employment and debt. Work is ongoing with Leeds MIND and Trussell Trust on one of six pilot projects in the country, to improve support for people experiencing mental health issues and financial difficulties.


Hannah Bailey welcomed the continuation of strong partnership arrangements in Leeds including via the Leeds Community Anchors Network. She noted that many third sector partners are in receipt of an allocation of the Household Support Fund in recognition of their trusted role and reach into communities, particularly for those less likely to engage with statutory services. Hannah also provided an overview of the Welcome Spaces network that has been developed for the winter period of 2023/24.


Rifhat Malik updated members on the work of the cultural food hub for East Leeds and involvement in projects including Healthy Holidays and Welcome Spaces. Rifhat described an upsurge in demand post-pandemic as a result of the cost-of-living crisis and expressed particular concern about the increase in referrals from schools on behalf of families. She highlighted challenges for vulnerable families including changing criteria at food banks, restrictions on crisis support and the need for the third sector to “step into the gap” to support communities. She expressed concern about future sources of funding in light of increased demand.


Chris Joyce acknowledged the strength of the partnership approach in Leeds and thanked city work coaches for the support they provide to people looking for employment in Leeds. He outlined the next stage of the roll out of Universal Credit, which is gradually replacing legacy benefits for people of working age. He informed members that migration notices will start to be issued to households in receipt of the other means tested benefits that Universal Credit will replace. He also provided an update on job centre relocation and the closure of three temporary jobcentres.


Members sought clarification about the timescales for the migration to Universal Credit and the difficulty of accessing city centre jobcentres for people living in the outer areas. Chris confirmed that where there is an identified need, staff can travel out to localities to provide support but there are limited resources available for such community-based work across the city.


In response to member queries Chris confirmed the support that is available for anyone struggling to respond to migration notices, including access to the Help to Claim service.


The Scrutiny Board welcomed the collaborative approach being taken in Leeds and thanked all partners for their work.


Clarity was sought about the use of relative poverty measures as opposed to referencing absolute poverty. Members were informed that data illustrating relative poverty is more accurate in this context.


Concern was expressed about the impact of the migration to Universal Credit for diverse communities where English is not a first language and for low-income families.


Members recommended exploring ways in which elected members can escalate concerns raised with them by constituents. Lee confirmed that there is an ambition to explore a more accessible route for referrals and officers are beginning to consider how that may work.


Members explored ways in which organisations could evidence the value of their work to help ensure finite resources are directed to the places where most impact can be achieved.


Other issues raised by elected members included:


-  The inclusion of poverty indicators in the social progress index.

-  The risks associated with the closure of temporary jobcentres. 

-  The impact of inflation on the cost of food provisions and energy.

-  Uncertainty about the future provision of the Household Support Fund.

-  Opening hours for community hubs. It was noted that this would be a subject for discussion as part of the budget consultation process.

-  The importance of a place-based approach to support and funding.

-  The challenge for elected members of signposting constituents to the right places to access support and advice.

-  Examples of innovative community responses to the cost-of-living crisis.

-  The way in which the DWP calculates the ‘nearest’ jobcentre for people to report into. It was confirmed that an extensive mapping exercise had taken place incorporating public transport routes, rather than a calculation ‘as the crow flies.’

-  The distribution of Welcome Spaces and ways in which to access further information about locations in Leeds.

-  The importance of reflecting lived experience in the approach being taken by partners.


Members requested a future update on the work of Leeds Poverty Truth in relation to learning that has emerged from previous commissions, the ambitions of the latest commission and the Resourcing the City project with the city Council.



Members agreed:

a)  To examine the content of this report and to review the evidence and approach being taken in respect to reducing poverty, and improving financial inclusion in the city, with consideration as to the current cost of living crisis.


b)  To recognise that national economic factors and context are limiting the ability of the Council and financial inclusion partners to undertake actions and measures to reduce poverty in the city, thereby increasing the risk of more households experiencing poverty and destitution.


c)  To receive a further update in 2024/25.


d)  To invite Leeds Poverty Truth to a future meeting to discuss the 4th Commission and the Resourcing the City work with the Council.


Supporting documents: