'Warm and welcome' places to help people in South Tyneside through cost of living crisis this winter

Borough councillors have backed a pledge to promote “warm and welcome places” and to offer extra support for residents during the cost of living crisis.

South Tyneside Council, at its most recent full council meeting on Thursday, September 29, agreed a raft of measures in a bid to help those facing hardship across the borough.

The decision followed a motion from the South Tyneside Green Party which included calls for warm and welcome places and extra resources to alleviate fuel and food poverty.

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An amendment to the motion was proposed by the council’s ruling Labour Group, aiming to “enhance and strengthen” measures and highlight work already under way, with the revised proposals winning unanimous support.

Picture by John Devlin.

Labour council bosses have previously highlighted ongoing work on the poverty agenda, including an agreement to provide ‘warm spaces’ where people who cannot afford to heat their homes can go to keep warm.

Councillor Anne Hetherington, Labour cabinet member for adults, health and independence, said the council’s commitment to poverty issues had to be “ambitious, realistic and sustainable”.

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At this week’s full council, councillors agreed to support the establishment of a ‘Poverty Truth Commission’, which brings together community, civic and business representatives with those who have had lived experience of poverty, with an aim of understanding challenges and finding practical solutions.

Councillors also agreed to the publication of a full list on the council’s website of publicly-accessible buildings which can offer warm and welcome places this autumn and winter.

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In addition, the council will be involved in a Cost of Living Summit on October 4, 2022, uniting the voluntary community sector, council partners and schools to help develop initiatives to mitigate the impact of the cost of living crisis.

Councillor Ruth Berkley, cabinet member for voluntary sector, partnerships and equalities, said poverty “devastates families” and that the cost of living crisis is “further exacerbating the situation”.

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Cllr Berkley added the council had “already committed to do all we can to support our residents through these incredibly challenging times” and that the amended motion ensured “further direction” on work across the borough.

Green Party councillor, Sarah McKeown, noted the Government had brought forward measures to help some households but had “crashed the pound in the process”, creating more issues for residents.

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As a result, she explained, residents are now facing more potential financial problems “as well as their energy bills, soaring mortgage payments potentially and huge potential increases in their rent”.

Cllr McKeown added South Tyneside had previously been recorded as an area of high deprivation with some “very economically and socially vulnerable communities”.

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The Green Party councillor also welcomed the amendment from the Labour Group, which she said would “fine tune” actions and help produce a “comprehensive support network”.

Councillor David Francis, Green Group leader, added it was a “disgrace” the council had to consider taking steps set out in the motion.

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But as residents struggle to decide between heating and eating this winter in some cases, Cllr Francis explained, the local authority had a “duty to step in” if there were “concrete steps” that could be taken to keep people warm.

Councillor John Robertson, independent councillor, welcomed the motion and amendment and said it was “great to work together and back it”.

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Councillor Glenn Thompson, independent councillor, said any response to the cost of living crisis should include messages to reach out to communities to “check on the elderly and infirm”.

Councillor Ian Forster, Conservative councillor, said the Government had shown some “positive action to alleviate the fuel problem”, adding it was important to recognise that issues raised in the motion were a “world problem, not just a UK one”.

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Following debate, the amended motion won unanimous support across the council chamber.

The key pledges in the amended cost of living motion include:

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:: This council resolves to give its full support to the Poverty Group and the creation of the Poverty Truth Commission for South Tyneside.

:: To provide elected members and to publicise on the council’s website a list of the relevant contact details and opening times of publicly-accessible council buildings which can be accessed free of charge and offer a warm and welcome place where people can keep warm and comfortable in this coming autumn and winter.

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:: Under the direction of the lead member for the VCSE sector and equalities and partners, give full support to the work already under way with other partner organisations to identify and promote locally-based voluntary community faith and social enterprise provision that offers similar support.

:: To ensure that these organisations can signpost our residents to additional support and advice services, to help individuals and families access other services which may assist them to alleviate food and fuel poverty.

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:: To give full endorsement to the Cost of Living Summit involving partners from frontline groups working across South Tyneside which has been rescheduled for October 4, 2022.

:: To request that as soon as possible after the Cost of Living Summit meets that a report is submitted to the strategic cabinet to consider the possibilities for additional resources to be made available from existing resources to support our response in time for the autumn and winter months.

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:: Ask the leader of the council and our two MPs Emma Lewell-Buck and Kate Osborne to write to the Government and the big six energy companies to highlight the seriousness of the plight of the residents of South Tyneside and to encourage them to use their energy support funds to prevent our residents from falling into debt.