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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for February 2019

Child Poverty Shames Us All

Friday, 22 February 2019

Of all the evils that inflict our society, child poverty must surely be one of the worst. It should be one of the first duties of any government to stamp it down wherever and whenever it raises its head.

So you can imagine my shock and anger when I read a recent report by the Resolution Foundation think tank (chaired, I should add, by a former Conservative minister) on child poverty. The report, titled “The Living Standards Outlook 2019”, concludes that child poverty has risen year-on-year since 2011. If that wasn’t bad enough, it also predicts that if things keep going the way they’re going then by 2023-24 the proportion of all children in the UK living in poverty will reach 37%, exceeding the previous record of 34% in the early 1990s. That’s 1 million more children living in poverty over the next five years. As is always the case, this will hit some children harder than others. Children of single parents, or who have two or more siblings, or whose parents don’t work, or who live in private or social rented housing; by 2024 they are all more likely to be living in poverty than not.

Not only is it morally indefensible, but the impact it has for those living in poverty echoes down through their entire lives and communities. On average, children living in poverty are more likely than their more affluent peers to experience a variety of health problems – including malnutrition, chronic disease and mental health issues. The effects of poverty can also have a severe impact on a child’s education, with the inevitable consequences this has for them going on to further education and training or finding employment when they grow up. More harrowing than these facts and figures are the accounts from the children themselves; the shame of going to school in ill-fitting or worn-out clothes, the isolation that comes from not being able to invite friends over for dinner, and the stigma that they often feel has followed them far beyond their early years.

The reasons for increasing poverty can often be complex, but the Resolution Foundation quite rightly points the finger at two major causes. Although the number of people in work in the UK remains high, wage growth since the 2008 Financial Crisis continues to be worryingly and stubbornly low. The Resolution Foundation estimates that non-pensioner incomes will remain stagnant for the next two years, and rise by an average of just 0.7% a year for the following three years after. Put simply, for many people work is no longer a route out of poverty.

This has been made worst by the impact of the government’s cuts to benefits. Despite some U-turns, the vast majority of the £12 billion in cuts announced back in 2015 remain government policy. This year alone they will take away £1.5 billion from the poorest and most vulnerable in our society through a continuing freeze of most benefits (which, due to inflation, means it’s actually a cut) and the “two child limit” for child benefit. I’ve written in the past about how the benefits system in its current form fails at both supporting people and getting them back into work. It’s become even clearer since then that for too many the safety net of society is no longer there to catch them if they stumble.

We are doing what we can to address some of this in Tameside, working with charities and partners to help people gain skills and employment, tackling issues such as poor health or debt and putting on events to make sure that children in poverty can have a day out or a present at Christmas. But I need to make it clear that local authorities can only do so much with the resources and power they have at their disposal. For real and lasting change at a national level, the government needs to accept the child poverty disaster they’ve created and put in place serious policies to reverse it. There’s no time to waste, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the future of many of our children may depend on it.


Posted by: Executive Leader

Doing Ageing Differently in Greater Manchester

Friday, 15 February 2019

This week, in my capacity as the Lead for Equalities and Age Friendly GM in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, I had the pleasure of opening and co-hosting the GM Age Friendly Conference alongside the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham at the Museum of Science and Industry. The second such event we’ve held in our city region, the day gave us an opportunity to come together and discuss progress and best practice in our mission to make our city region to best place in the world to grow old and be old in. Almost 350 people attended the event, representing a dizzying variety of local, national and global organisations and partners that have worked with us to make this a reality.

These included individuals from central government, the Centre for Ageing Better, the International Longevity Centre UK and the GM Older People’s Network. We even had people attending from as far away as Amsterdam, Oslo, Barcelona and New York. Their presence was a fantastic validation of the work we’ve done over the past few years, and I look forward to continuing our relationships with all of them as we go further still.

The reason we’re doing all this is simple. By 2037 we estimate that almost a fifth of Greater Manchester’s population will be over the age of 65. Moreover, on average a person aged 65 today has a very good chance of celebrating their 85th birthday and beyond. Not only are there going to be more people in Greater Manchester, but they’re almost certainly going to live longer as well.

Unfortunately, far too often we hear facts and figures like that presented like some kind of catastrophe. I’m sure you’ve heard the predictions; pensions not being paid, unsustainable pressures on health and social care, and phrases like “time bomb” and “perfect storm” being thrown about. I don’t agree with that view. This is an incredible opportunity to make sure that older people are welcomed fully into the social and economic life of our city region in a way that they aren’t always at the moment.

And we have backed those beliefs up with action. In March last year, Greater Manchester was recognised by the World Health Organisation as the UK’s first age-friendly city region.

We’ve established the GM Ageing Hub, bringing together local universities, service providers and residents to navigate the opportunities and challenges of an ageing population. Through the Centre for Ageing Better, we’ve worked to make sure that older people are in our thoughts when it comes to making decisions on employment, housing and planning. With support from a £1 million investment from Sport England, we also set up the Greater Manchester Active Ageing programme, encouraging older people to develop and sustain an active and healthy lifestyle. 

Neither have our efforts been restricted to the confines of Greater Manchester. With assistance from European Union funding, we have collaborated with a number of cities across Europe like Amsterdam, Oslo and Gothenburg, reaching out across borders to share our successes and build new and strong partnerships. The Conference itself also paid tribute to some the excellent work that has been done in Tameside. 32 neighbourhoods in Greater Manchester received commendations for what they’ve achieved in their local areas, and I was delighted to announce that Denton South, Ashton Waterloo, Mottram and Hyde Newton were among them.

Older people make a vital contribution to Greater Manchester, and can make an even bigger contribution still. That isn’t a narrative, it’s a fact. This week, we came together to find out what that meant. Next week, we start putting it into practice in our city region and beyond. Because this is an issue that, sooner or later, will directly affect us all. And because, in the words of one of our most famous sons, this is Manchester and we do things differently here.


Posted by: Executive Leader

It's Okay to Talk in Tameside

Friday, 08 February 2019

Nearly one in four teenage girls are suffering from mental illness, and half of them have either self-harmed or attempted suicide. Almost a fifth of young people between 16-25 years old disagree with the statement that they find life “really worth living”. 6.8% of boys and 4.2% of girls under the age of 5 are experiencing a medically-diagnosable mental disorder. Over half of all children and young people say they worry about at least one thing “all the time”. Every single one of those numbers go up even further if the young person being asked is LGBT or from a deprived background.

Those facts, gathered by a number of organisations including the NHS and the Prince’s Trust, indicate that we facing nothing less than a full-blown crisis in mental health among Britain’s young people. Politicians and medical experts have blamed everything from social media, difficult economic conditions for young people and even air pollution, but one thing they all agree on is that nowhere near enough has been done to identify mental health problems in children at an early stage, or to provide adequate treatment and support if it is required. Many young people at the moment are turned away because they are considered “not ill enough”, while others face waits of months or even years for basic therapy services.

This week, Tameside joined with a number of other councils, NHS organisations and charities to raise awareness of these issues during Children’s Mental Health Week. In the Hive on Katherine Street in Ashton, our local mental health charity Tameside, Oldham and Glossop Mind has created a “Time to Talk” table, encouraging people to open up and have positive conversations about how they’re feeling. A text, a walk or a simple “How are you?” can sometimes make a real difference. Remember that you don’t have to be a doctor to talk to people about mental health, and sometimes people will be more willing to confide in friends or other people they know.

We’ve also been talking about what we can do in Tameside to improve mental health treatment and support. On Monday, we held the first of our three annual Partnership Engagement Network Conferences in Hyde Town Hall. These conferences bring together representatives of organisations and the public to discuss how we can improve health and social care in Tameside and Glossop. This time we heard about how we’re trialling new approaches to mental health, tailored to fit the individual’s life circumstances, strengths and interests. Counselling service “Off the Record”, also in Hyde, is working closely with the Hattersley Group Practice to provide weekly drop-in sessions every Tuesday for any 10-25 year old in Hyde who needs support with their mental health. We’re also lobbying the government at every opportunity to improve funding and access for mental health services in the NHS, with a particular focus on young people.

In the meantime, there are a number of ways in which you can help improve your own mental health, regardless of how well or down you feel at the moment. As physical and mental health are closely linked, lifestyle choices like exercising, eating a healthy diet and drinking in moderation can help you both look and feel better. If you feel stressed out, try and take a break or do something you enjoy for a while. Even five minutes can be enough to take the edge off. And if you start thinking that nothing is working, reach out to a friend or a doctor and talk to them about your problems or contact the local Samaritans hotline on 0161 116 123.

For too long mental health has been the elephant in the room. That needs to change. Talking about suffering from anxiety or depression should be as ordinary as talking about suffering from a cold or flu. Thanks to the hard work of many medical professionals, charity workers and local residents, we’re closer to that point than we’ve ever been. Let’s keep going and make sure that it’s okay to talk in Tameside.


Posted by: Executive Leader