Offering people the “opportunity to prosper” is critical to tackling poverty in the city, the co-leader of Aberdeen City Council claimed today.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Evening Express as part of a five-part series on poverty in the city, Jenny Laing, who leads the Aberdeen Labour Group, said maximising opportunities for people to gain employment is essential in targeting the root causes of poverty.
However, providing decent affordable housing and tackling fuel poverty also form part of her administration’s anti-poverty strategy, agreed in 2017.
Ms Laing said: “Quite often when we talk about food poverty people focus on foodbanks.
“And while that is an important element within the work that is going on in the city, I think it’s really important to us that we make sure we’re trying to address the issues that lead people into being reliant on foodbanks.
“So what we’ve tried to do… is make sure when people are visiting foodbanks in the city, we’re giving that help and support.
“We’re also looking at ways in which we can help people improve their skill set, give them the confidence to get back into employment, which would obviously increase the income coming into the city and the households.
“It’s more than just handing out parcels of food – it’s about making sure the help and support is there to give people the opportunities to improve the circumstances that they’re living in.
“CFINE does a huge amount of work in the city and at their premises they also have facilities where they help people learn about healthy living and cooking.”
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The city’s Community Planning Partnership has set ambitious targets to improve areas and reduce poverty.
The partnership, made up of representatives from Aberdeen City Council, Police Scotland and NHS Grampian, has compiled a document it plans to refresh every two years.
Ms Laing said: “We have to provide the opportunities for everybody to prosper.
“It is about providing opportunities, particularly for our young people, to get into employment, to have the skills base to allow them to secure good employment that will then help them to move forward.”
To this end, the council is again joining forces with the Department for Work and Pensions for the annual Progress Through Positive Partnerships jobs fair on September 11 at the Town House, which attracted almost 1,200 job hunters last year.
Another aspect of getting people back into work is making sure when the council puts projects out to tender or awards contracts, that local people benefit.
Ms Laing said: “We’ve done that with the Tillydrone Hub and we’ve done it with the P&J Live.”
However, she said it is also “critical” the council provides “decent affordable housing”, with her administration aiming to build 2,000 new council homes by 2022.
“That’s always been a problem in Aberdeen because of the buoyancy of our economy,” she points out.
“Housing has been at a premium and it’s expensive.”
It also needs to be of a quality that helps “keep heating bills down”, claims the council leader, and the local authority is working with those on the housing lists.
She said: “We’re carrying out financial assessments for people when they first come on to our lists but also if they’re in rent arrears and things like that, to make sure people are claiming maximum benefit they’re entitled to and helping people to navigate those welfare aspects, because it can be really confusing.”
The council co-leader said the council would “probably” like to do more but financially it has to try and use a “finite resource to best effect”.
However, she added: “Poverty is at the root of inequality in the city so if we are to tackle that and close the gap then we need to address the poverty issues.”