A council watchdog will write to the government following a call to "change political will" on poverty.

Points raised about poverty will be sent to central government after a debate at a meeting of Durham County Council's corporate scrutiny management board.

Councillor Rob Crute said during the meeting: "We've got to change political will.

"Someone's making those choices at the top, we're have to scrape up at the bottom.

"We need to lobby government long and hard until they accept that their political choices are having a directly adverse impact on the economy and the most vulnerable people in this county.

"We need to draw all of these issues together and present them to government. I think we need to get the message out there as quick as we can."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Rob Crute. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Rob Crute. Picture: Northern Echo.

He added: "I was having a go at the policymakers. I haven't mentioned any particular government of any particular colour. These are decisions that are made out of our hands.

"It's about political choices, whoever makes them."

His proposal to write a letter to the government with the board's points was agreed.

Mary Readman, the council's head of transactional and customer services, gave a presentation on the council's poverty action plan, saying they were consulting with more than 200 organisations on a "refresh and refocus".

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Councillor Patricia Jopling raised the issue of free school meals, around 16% of which are not being claimed.

She said: "I find that really worrying because that may be their only hot meal of the day.

"There's enough food out there. It's getting it and getting the support that's out there, letting people know what the council can do, that's the serious thing.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Patricia Jopling. Picture: Durham County Council.Cllr Patricia Jopling. Picture: Durham County Council.

"It's there. We need to find a way to deliver it."

Cllr Andrew Jackson said: "Some families still feel there's a bit of stigma in terms of claiming school meals.

"I think we need to get the message across to them, please do claim. You're actually helping the school itself obtain extra funding from the government to help all of us."

Cllr Olwyn Gunn said: "I always think it's really sad that we have to have a poverty action plan, but we do.

"One in three children in our county living in poverty is quite an appalling statistic. That's very worrying."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Olwyn Gunn. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Olwyn Gunn. Picture: Northern Echo.

She said schools, community groups and volunteers were crucial and did "enormous work to alleviate poverty" supporting families, and more should be done to bring their work together.

Ms Readman said there was a separate child poverty plan, a consultation in schools, work looking at the barriers for children and families, and links to the council's new economic strategy.

She said: "There is some fantastic work going on across the county.

"I'm trying to reach out as far as I can and get that message far and wide."

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Other councillors raised links to communication, public transport, home-building, low pay, skills, training, "hidden families", isolation, help for working families and defects in the universal credit system.

Cllr Carl Marshall said austerity caused "total decimation of the public sector" since 2010, removing opportunities and putting up more barriers, exacerbated by a "dodgy Brexit".

He said: "We haven't got enough money to deal with poverty in County Durham as a council.

"Parts of County Durham now are poorer than parts of Romania, and that is an absolute categoric fact.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo. (Image: Northern Echo, Newsquest)

"I think unless we address that resource issue once and for all and we have a national government that actually puts people before its own members, that's not going to change.

"I think there's something to be done by the council in writing to government and setting out our views on what the cause of poverty in County Durham is."


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