Talking about poverty in Cheshire West and Chester is changing lives and reducing inequalities

Welcome to Local Spotlight, a regular feature in Collaborate, our stakeholder newsletter, that shines the light on the amazing public health people, teams, programmes and projects in Cheshire and Merseyside’s nine local areas that are really worth shouting about.

This month, we are shining a light on Cheshire West and Chester’s Poverty Truth Advisory Board.

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Talking about poverty in Cheshire West and Chester is changing lives the Marmot way

Since 2017, Cheshire West and Chester Council has been listening, learning, and improving lives, thanks to the borough’s Poverty Truth Advisory Board.

Before the Board, the council held two Poverty Truth Commissions, which allowed a group of Community Inspirers to share their experiences of poverty and the impact it’s had on them.

The ultimate aim of the Board is to tackle the root causes of poverty and address the gaps in services across the borough. This work has played a role in the council declaring a poverty emergency in October 2020.

This work has been heavily endorsed by Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, and Cabinet Member of Poverty and Wellbeing. She explains: “It is a hard pill to swallow, but it is a simple fact that poverty is everywhere, and as a Council, we need to act.

“We cannot expect people to live happy, healthy lives when they feel that the world is completely stacked against them and on any given day, they’re grappling with the decision to heat their homes or feed themselves and their children. That is an incredibly difficult way to live, and it’s our responsibility to help as much as possible.

“I am exceptionally proud of this work. Not only have we learned so much as a Council, but we have also worked incredibly closely with our public, private and third sector partners across the patch, which needs to be our default way of working now and in the future. Put simply, our people do not care which organisations provides a service or helps them when they need it, they just want an integrated, friendly, compassionate service that understands their needs and doesn’t pass them from pillar to post.”  

An independent evaluation of the two commissions found that 100 per cent of Community Inspirers reported much more respect, motivation, inspiration, hope, friendship and understanding of others, and 100 per cent of civic and business leaders also reported much more understanding of others.

Gus Cairns, a Cheshire resident, was one of the Community Inspirers and is Co- Chair of the Board. In a blog for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, he talks about his life-long battle poverty and how this has impacted him.

Organisational changes were also abundant thanks to the commissions – including a 75 per cent reduction in evictions from one housing association, improved access to food in schools, improved ‘pick lists’ at food banks, and increased socio-economic inclusion awareness across seven local organisations.

Councillor Lisa Denson, who represents Westminster ward, is the Council Leader’s Champion for Poverty and Inequality, Co-Chair of the Poverty Truth Advisory Board and a vocal advocate for this work. She says: “Through the work I have been doing in communities over the past nine years it is clear that poverty is a huge issue for many of our residents. Everyone is feeling the pinch as the cost-of-living rises, but for those people who are already struggling it is a source of a great deal of stress and uncertainty. We know there is no quick fix for poverty but by working together with partners and communities I am sure that we can make a real difference on the ground.”

The entire subregion of Cheshire and Merseyside is a Marmot Community, which means that public, private and voluntary sector leaders and organisations are working together to reduce inequalities and improve health.

This work is based on the principles set out by Professor Sir Michael Marmot and his team at University College London’s Institute of Health Equity. Ian Ashworth is Cheshire West and Chester’s Director of Public Health and Chair of the subregion’s Marmot Community Advisory Board, which is driving this work.

Talking about the links between Marmot, poverty and health, Ian said: “Unfortunately, we are seeing more poverty in our society and not less. We also know that for many, work is no longer a route out of poverty and that it has an even greater impact on those who are disabled, in an ethnic minority group or have underlying health conditions.

“In Cheshire and Merseyside, we feel that we have a moral responsibility to do something about this, which is why I’m delighted that we are working so closely with Sir Michael to enact whole-system change. However, we can’t say we are doing everything we can to irradiate inequalities and reduce poverty without speaking to those who are living in it right now, which is why our Poverty Truth Advisory Board is so important.

“This work is a fantastic example of what working as a Marmot Community looks like. Even though it is just one of many initiatives in one local authority area, it has made a massive impact, and demonstrates that we mean business when it comes to improving the lives of our people by working together to create a fairer future for them.”

The work of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Poverty Truth Advisory Board has informed a new ‘Fairer Future Strategy’ an ambitious 10-year plan to reduce poverty.

It sets out a commitment to continue to hear the voices of people experiencing poverty and take action to address the issues they raise, alongside addressing the underlying causes of poverty through long term economic transformation.

To find out more and sign up for details about launch events, please click here