THE LEADER of the council said he hopes to bridge the gap between low and high income families across the borough.
Speaking at the borough council executive meeting held virtually on Thursday, July 30, Cllr John Halsall said: “Much of the work done by Wokingham Borough Council, and its partners, aims to bridge this gap, enable self-sustaining lifestyles for our vulnerable communities and offer targeted support.”
He was responding to a question from Cllr Sarah Kerr, who asked Cllr Halsall to acknowledge that poverty exists in the borough.
She said: “A lot of people assume we haven’t got that big of an issue with poverty. The fact is, we have foodbanks and the demand is increasing.
“Whatever we’ve been doing as a council hasn’t been working as poverty has been increasing not decreasing.
“What are we going to do to tackle this rising poverty, that has risen not just through covid, but has been rising for years?”
Cllr Halsall said: “My understanding is that we have looked after the people in this borough — we are a very compassionate council.”
He added: “We can only continue to look after people if we have the resources to do so. We as councillors will face challenging conversations going into the future.”
Cllr Andrew Mickleburgh pushed further, asking: “What processes and procedures are in place in our borough to ensure timely, meaningful and comprehensive data on poverty, in all its manifestations wherever it might exist in our community, is being collected and used to good effect?”
Cllr Halsall said the council analyses a variety of national data sources to monitor changes in the levels of poverty across the borough.
He added: “Our community engagement team, who work directly with our residents, have a good knowledge of the demographics within the borough and through their local connections, understand and know residents and communities who may be more vulnerable; and are able to plan and target their support work and initiatives to directly benefit those communities most in need.”
And Cllr David Hare asked how the council would ensure charities helping those in poverty would be supported across the borough, as charity finances and resources had been “slashed” during the pandemic.
Cllr Halsall said the council has set up a service sustainability fund to support charities.
He said: “The fund is administered through an application process for additional retrospective funding it has been promoted to all providers of adult services including all those we contract with in the voluntary and community sector.”
Those who have already been allocated money through this include WADE, CLASP, ASD Family Help, Age UK Berkshire, Young People with Dementia and Ridgeline Trust.
Cllr Halsall added: “It is also important to recognise that the council itself is, too, suffering unprecedented financial hardship with declining balances.
“We must be judicious in our approach to poverty ensuring we are truly supporting those most in need.”