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Tackling the Cost-of-living Crisis – Next Steps for Durham County Council

Durham County Council
Amanda Hopgood

Cllr Amanda Hopgood

Leader of Durham County Council

Recent news that the UK is likely to avoid a recession this year is reassuring but sadly, it does not offer a great deal of comfort to those struggling to pay their household bills.

While the economy is expected to grow marginally over the coming months, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has warned that it will still feel like a recession for at least seven million households across the UK, who will still be impacted by the rising cost-of-living.

One in four households are expected to be unable to fully cover their food and energy bills in the 2023/24 financial year, with a significant proportion of those affected living in the North East of England.

“It’s important to me that we help those who need it, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because we are a community in County Durham.”

Cllr Amanda Hopgood, Leader of Durham County Council

As the leader of the region’s largest local authority, I am well aware of the issues families across our area are currently experiencing. In County Durham, the County Council is working alongside the County Durham Community Foundation to fund 200 ‘warm spaces’, where people can go to get warm if they are struggling to heat their homes.

Together, we have made £200,000 available, with organisations able to bid for a share of up to £1,000 to set up a warm space. We have also made the Council’s 39 community-based libraries part of the warm space network.

I’ve visited many of them and it warms my heart to see community groups opening their doors to provide a cup of tea and a biscuit or a bacon sandwich to those who need it. The majority of people who use these warm spaces are single, older people, so it’s also good to see people who may otherwise have been sat at home alone, having the chance to socialise. However, it’s sad that we have reached a point where warm spaces are necessary.

Additional financial support from Durham County Council

They are far from the only support we, as a council, are currently having to provide for vulnerable households. Our Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which is the only one in the North East to provide a 100%discount on council tax payments to all financially vulnerable adults, is currently providing a full discount to around 54,800 people.

Families are also seeking financial support through our Welfare Assistance Scheme, which is available for those whose circumstances change unexpectedly, and our Household Support Fund, a £4.6 million government pot to help with everyday living costs.

We also run a popular Fun with Food programme, through which, we provide free activities with healthy food during school holidays for children from families with lower incomes.

Our Warm Homes team is supporting low-income and fuel-poor households to save money on their heating and energy bills – providing grants for home insulation measures and new boilers.

The importance of community

It’s important to me that we help those who need it, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because we are a community in County Durham.

I grew up here and am passionate about the area and the people. I was born in Durham City, went to the local primary and comprehensive schools, and for the past 18 years, have been a councillor in the area where I was raised. The people I represent are the people I grew up with, their parents and their children.

We are a community and we work together and for each other – and that is very much an ethos I share with my fellow councillors in a ruling administration that includes Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, independents and a Green councillor. It is very much a collaborative effort. Our strength is having a variety of voices – from different political views to a balance of male and female. Our strength is in our different views, visions and approaches, but also in our desire to build, grow and develop our county – that’s why we recently signed up to the North East Devolution Deal.

The deal, which will see us joining forces with Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland, will unlock £4.2 billion of investment for the region over the next 30 years and will see the transfer of powers from Whitehall to local representatives.

The deal is expected to leverage £5 billion of private investment, create 24,000 extra jobs and create 70,000 new education and training courses, giving people the skills and knowledge they need to get better jobs.

We have also recently adopted our new Inclusive Economic Strategy, a bold and ambitious countywide strategy that will shape our economy for the next decade and beyond. Through harnessing our strengths and addressing areas for improvement, the strategy aims to create more and better jobs in an inclusive, green economy.

We’re also investing in our communities through a range of other initiatives and funding streams.

As well as boosting our economy and improving County Durham’s reputation as a place where people want to live, work and visit, all of this will mean improved opportunities and a better quality of life for our residents.

While we will always be here to support those in need, through our warm spaces and other such schemes, our long-term aim is to build a county and an economy where everyone can thrive and where fewer people have to turn to such sources of support.

Nicola Sturgeon
This article is an extra from the special International Women’s Day edition of our Journal
Levelling Up Commission
To learn more about Curia’s Levelling Up Commission click here.

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