Brent Council poverty commission shows high deprivation

Brent Council vowed to do more to tackle financial inequalities after a report showed around a third of households in the borough live below the poverty line.

A commission set up by the council highlighted the high levels of deprivation in Brent, including the startling statistic that more than two in five children (43 per cent) are living in poverty.

Speaking at the launch of the report earlier today (August 17), Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, gave an emotional address about the depressing state the UK finds itself in when it comes to poverty.

“We are the fifth-richest nation and we are still talking about people not being able to heat their homes or put food on the table,” he said.

“My hope is for a better and fairer society where everyone supports and looks after each other.”

Several speakers at the presentation reeled off more damning statistics – Brent has the sixth-highest amount of poverty in London and the highest in outer London, while it has the second-highest number of people furloughed in the capital.

And surveys carried out as part of the commission showed that 50 per cent of residents have less than £1,500 in savings, with a quarter of these struggling with credit commitments.

The commission, which was led by Lord Richard Best, noted that a key barrier to reducing the poverty gap is better, more affordable housing.

Lord Best said there is a clear “mismatch” between incomes and living costs in Brent and that “peculiarly high” housing expenditure can act as a “killer blow” for many people.

He bemoaned the drop in council housing available in the borough – going from 32,000 to just over 8,000 – and pointed out that lots of privately-rented homes are often “very expensive, of poor quality and insecure” with high eviction rates.

Jacky Peacock, from Advice4Renters, said problems can be exacerbated by poorly insulated homes, noting the link between cold properties and respiratory conditions – a particular concern with the threat of a second wave of Covid-19 over the winter.

As well as the need to shake up the housing sector, respondents to the surveys found that those living in poverty need more channels of advice.

Alice Woudhuysen, of the Child Poverty Action Group, suggested these should be offered at places people visit regularly, such as GP surgeries, where they can be clearly advertised.

She was supported by Citizens Advice Brent’s Jacqueline Carr, who said many people are “not sure where to go or who to turn to”, especially when it comes to debt.

Ms Carr urged the council to work with credit unions to offer interest-free loans to tackle dependency on high-interest borrowing and the use of loan sharks – something discussed by the council’s cabinet last month.

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