Around that time, Marcus Rashford was again in the headlines regarding concerns about school holiday hunger and free school meal provision and it was difficult for anyone to disagree that the whole issue of poverty, including the disproportionate levels of loss of life as well as income on those already struggling financially, were in need of serious attention as a broader equalities issue.
The declaration is symbolic, in the same way that the Climate Emergency declaration is important for its symbolism. It shows a commitment to speaking up on this issue. It marks this loss of life. It says that despite this being a problem that is much bigger than one or two councils, there is a willingness join collectively on the social injustices that result from poverty.
The motion outlines key practical changes for councils to commit to in order to build a socially just and green recovery and provide essential building blocks for avoiding an automatic default to business as usual. It sets out how creation of that new normal must be based on an evidence-based rather than media narrative-driven approach - a more honest approach as to why poverty happens.
The declaration proposes that strong networks are created across councils, to improve evidence and data, share good practice and join together to lobby government on key concerns. The intention is to join the democratic ‘voice’ of councils that recognise that the 'normal' we had before COVID-19 was only working for some people and that number of people was decreasing steadily. Alongside and on behalf of people who have borne the harshest impacts, councils can together ensure this data and these experiences are not lost in the national conversation about how we create a fairer future nationally, because the conversation has moved on, but during this crisis we have realised that we aren't happy with frontline essential workers being written off as only worthy of poverty and insecure pay, with our nation's children going hungry or with people living on the streets whilst billions are handed in illegal contracts to allies of the government.
Building Back Better can not just be about returning to 'normal' if normal is unfair and puts some at much greater risk than others just based on their position in the socio-economic structure. If our values turn out to have been upside down we need to address it, not just move on as if those deaths didn't happen. Poverty also needs to be discussed as a much wider issue than that of 'food poverty'. It is far too easy to write the issue of poverty off as solvable by a focus on single issues that capture the public mood - hunger, children, homelessness - in fact these are just a few of the many symptoms of people not have sufficient income whether inside or outside the workforce. We also need to look again nationally at how we value and reward certain types of work - this has been one of the big learning curves from the pandemic that we must not now overlook, however swiftly the political agenda seeks to move on.
In a functioning modern society, people should be able to feed themselves and there should be dignity and a basic expectation of housing security, a job that pays the bills, robust support when needed and some quality of health and life, for everyone.
What needs to happen now is adoption of this motion by as many councils and partner organisations as possible. Council motions are not usually this long and detailed, but it was felt that the moment called for this issue to be addressed thoroughly. The progress being made by Cheshire West and Chester Council and other councils will be updated on the new Poverty Emergency web pages, within the council's website and can be found here. It is hoped that Universities, Trades Unions and national poverty-related organisations will make this fit their context and fully support all of the principles and commitments. This can lead to a powerful collaboration for change as we recover from the crisis.
The Poverty Emergency initiative has the formal backing of the Equalities Trust.