Opposition groups call for more evidence on how poverty being tackled, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter
Enfield Council claims to have made “significant progress” on its drive to reduce poverty and inequality in the borough, amid scepticism from opposition councillors.
The council has set out how it has responded to the recommendations made in a report by the independent Enfield Poverty and Inequality Commission, a panel made up of local and national stakeholders and experts.
Published in January last year, the report revealed Enfield had risen to become the ninth-most deprived London borough, with 27% of households in poverty after housing costs and one-in-three children living in poverty.
The update on the council’s progress reveals it launched a £1.1million scheme to ensure the borough’s lowest-paid residents have access to good-quality food. It helped to establish the Enfield Food Alliance, which has more than 30 member organisations that are working together to tackle food poverty.
Funded by £1.3m from the Mayor of London, the Inspiring Young Enfield programme, run by 20 community organisations alongside the council, helped nearly 5,800 young people to take part in sports, arts, drama and other activities.
The council says it has increased support for people who are at risk of homelessness through its housing advisory service and is driving up standards through council-owned company Housing Gateway. It has supported more than 400 households at risk of homelessness to secure accommodation since January 2020.
A welfare advice and debt support team set up by the council in March last year has so far supported more than 3,100 vulnerable residents to access income and benefits.
Council leader Nesil Caliskan said the Covid-19 pandemic had further exposed the borough’s social, economic and health inequalities and made the commission’s recommendations more relevant than ever.
She added: “We have made good progress since the commission published its report, but we know there is a huge amount still to do, working with local people, local organisations and our partners across London and nationally to tackle the causes of inequality and poverty.”
But opposition groups expressed reservations about the council’s claims. Community First – a group of seven councillors who quit Enfield’s Labour group over the last year – issued a statement saying they were pleased to see the council believed it was making good progress on the report’s recommendations, but raised concerns over the commission’s terms of reference.
Community First stated: “[The commission’s] findings did not seem to add much to what we already knew, and some recommendations were to do what we were already doing.
“There were no clear actions, timelines or costings, and some important issues were either absent or not adequately covered.
“For example, there is no evidence-based economic modelling and no consideration of transport connectivity and its economic impact, other than for Meridian Water.”
Community First also highlighted the report failed to mention that as an outer London borough, Enfield receives less support from the Greater London Authority than inner boroughs do, which, the group claimed, results in higher charges for council services.
The commission’s report cited the austerity policies introduced by the government since 2010 as a major challenge for the council. In the foreword, Cllr Caliskan said the core funding the local authority receives from government to provide services for its residents had been cut by an average of £800 per household.
But Tory leader Joanne Laban claimed some of the measures in the council’s update had been paid for by the government. She said: “I do not believe that the Labour council has made significant progress, and where it has done well it has mainly been paid for by the Conservative government, which the report omits to mention.
“The programme to deliver food and fuel support last Christmas was a project paid for by the government as part of the Covid Winter Fund. Enfield Council also received the largest award for funding in the entire country from the government to tackle rough sleeping and help them into settled accommodation.”