Council declares cost of living emergency and pledges to help Stevenage residents

Council leader Sharon Taylor presented Labour's motion at a full council meeting last week

Council leader Sharon Taylor presented Labour's motion at a full council meeting last week - Credit: Stevenage Borough Council

A cost of living emergency has been declared in Stevenage, with the council setting out a number of pledges to help those struggling the most in the town.

At a full council meeting last Wednesday, council leader Sharon Taylor put forward Labour's motion on the cost of living, which was carried forward.

The motion stated that the council had already set up the "Cost of Living Task Force", which will work with the Stevenage Together Partnership to identify the support needed in our community and ensure we have actions in place to address the needs identified.

Cllr Taylor also listed what the council had already begun doing to help those most in need, but urged that more should be done.

The carried motion will included a pledge to "call upon our MP to lobby his Chancellor of the Exchequer to take urgent measures, call on Hertfordshire County Council to make permanent commitment to providing holiday food to children entitled to free school meals, work with the retail sector to reduce food waste, donate surpluses to foodbanks, and ensure that all our schools have established and responsive systems for identifying and supporting those children who are struggling through food and fuel poverty."

It also calls on central government to scrap the national insurance increase, continue to impose windfall tax on oil and gas companies, restore the Universal Credit payment introduced during COVID, and call on the Secretary of State for Levelling Up to point out the financial impact the cost of living crisis will have on council finances.

Cllr Taylor said: "The cost of living crisis will hit the poorest people in the UK and in Stevenage the hardest. Stevenage contains some of the most deprived wards in Hertfordshire, with over 73 per cent of our output areas appearing in the bottom 30 per cent in the county.

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"This is higher than any other district or borough within Hertfordshire, with Bedwell being the most deprived ward in the town and the second most deprived in the county.

"While there are undoubtedly factors external to the UK impacting on the economy, there's no doubt that our current situation has been considerably worsened by some of the actions of government.

"Until we have a caring government, there's plenty local councils can do to help fight poverty and the impact of the cost of living crisis."

She stated that Stevenage Borough Council has already been taking action to help with the cost of living, including supporting foodbanks and helping 16 schools deliver healthy snacks, shoes and clothing to children.

"There's much more to do," she added. "Things will get worse before they get better, and that's why we need our motion tonight."

Liberal Democrat Councillor Robin Parker speaking at the full council meeting last week

Liberal Democrat Councillor Robin Parker speaking at the full council meeting last week - Credit: Stevenage Borough Council

Liberal Democrat leader Robin Parker pledged the support of his party for the motion, but added "we should also remember, so we're not just attacking the Conservative government, that back in 1975, there was a previous cost of living crisis under a Labour government, so let's keep it all in perspective".

"Yes, the present situation is bad. We will support the motion, but we just have to put a bit of historical context in it," he said.

"Of course Stevenage Borough Council has very few local powers on this matter. What will our task force actually do?"

Conservative group leader Phil Bibby added: "I'm not surprised to see this motion from the Labour group, and we do empathise with the sentiments behind it, I must emphasise that.

Conservative Councillor Phil Bibby moved to abstain from voting on Labour's cost of living motion

Conservative Councillor Phil Bibby moved to abstain from voting on Labour's cost of living motion - Credit: Stevenage Borough Council

"Handing out more money, which cannot be afforded, will only increase inflation and make matters worse. Additional financial measures demanded in this motion seem to be the 'go-to' areas at present, but I would make the following observations:

"£37billion is being put into people's pockets one way or another to help with the cost of living increase, and this is already over and above what the country can afford. If we are to scrap the recent NI increase, I wonder how important the administration feel a properly funded health and adult care service is - it is only the taxpayer that can pay for this, so what are the alternatives?

"How will reducing taxes overall help pay for supporting residents more? The sums don't add up.

"We thought of amending this motion, but this would have been too extensive, and our suggestions wouldn't have been acceptable anyway. So as we agree with the sentiments of the motion, we will this time abstain."