CAN COUNCILS HELP TACKLE POVERTY? Stockport thinks it can and has launched an anti-poverty strategy - a LETS local currency scheme.
Liberal-Democrat News by Paul Porgess
Stockport's first LETS scheme is getting under way, assisted by a grant from Stockport's Liberal Democrat-led council's anti- poverty budget. LETS - Local Exchange (Employment) Trading Scheme - is a scheme by which local people on low incomes can have work done without spending money, and then repay their debt by providing a service to someone else. In other words, it is a barter scheme which enables people to use their skills and creative talents for mutual benefit. To be successful, the scheme needs to be organised by committed volunteers within the community it serves. It also needs good control of the credits gained or traded in. To assist in that, the council is providing money for a computer which is to be used for the effective control, as well as money for training of the volunteers running the scheme. Fours years ago, Liberal Democrats on Stockport Council, concerned about the link between poverty and ill-health, and that nationally one in three children live in poverty, set up an anti- poverty strategy and allocated money in the council budget for anti- poverty work. Stockport covers some of the more deprived parts of Greater Manchester, as well as some of the wealthiest. When we embarked on the anti-poverty programme, we wanted to know what the needs were in the various parts of the town. We wanted to find out where people on low incomes were living, as not everyone living on council estates is in poverty, and many people on low incomes do not live on council estates. We therefore held a series of anti-poverty forums, open to the public, voluntary organizations, churches, as well as the health authority and front line council employees. LETS schemes were a subject of one of the anti-poverty forums where their advantages and difficulties were explored. A major issue with LETS schemes is that officials sometimes view the credits gained in monetary terms, even though there is no exchange of money. A member on Support and participating in LETS schemes is in danger of having their benefit reduced. The Heatons LETS scheme is the first to be started with the initiative coming from residents of the area. Progress will be reviewed after six months and, if successful, a second LETS scheme will be supported. STOCKPORT'S anti-poverty drive has two main aims, to - - ALLEVIATE the effects of poverty amongst residents of Stockport; - REDUCE the number of people living in poverty in Stockport. There is a small budget - L60,000 for 1996/1997 - against which local groups can bid for grants. Bids are assessed against published criteria which are based on improving quality of life, increasing people's disposable income and ability to pay for essentials, influencing other agencies and organisations which contribute to a reduction of poverty, and supporting people in poverty to take action on their own behalf. Assessment is made with the help of council officers, the health authorities, and the Council for Voluntary Service. Self-funding or the ability to gain outside funding when council support ceases is also expected. Other activities assisted include healthy eating cafes, fruit and vegetable co-ops - with the health authority - a toy library and several other projects run by volunteers... Also funded has been a country court case worker to give free representation in court for home owners facing mortgage repossession... Stockport Council has subscribed to the National Local Government Forum Against Poverty and - in recognition of the work done in the borough - the January meeting of the North West and North Wales Anti- Poverty Forum is being held in Stockport. Cllr Paul Porgess is chair of Stockport's equal opportunities.
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