Area Board discusses poverty in the Marlborough area - and what to do about it
In the week we learned that children's health in Britain is being put in jeopardy by poverty, it was fortuitous that the Marlborough Area Board scheduled a keynote discussion asking whether there is poverty in the Marlborough area. Many people - it seems - fail to realise that the relative wealth of the area does leave people sorely disadvantaged and in poverty.
This week's national report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health showed how inequalities in child health have widened over the past five years. Statistics such as those showing that 40 per cent of children in deprived areas are overweight or obese compared to 27 per cent in the most affluent areas - have shocked many health professionals.
The latest figures for the Marlborough Area show seven per cent of its children and young people (0-20 years old) are living in poverty as it is officially defined. That equates to about 230 children and young people.
The first presentation was by Rachel Rosedale and Betty Dobson of the Marlborough Area Poverty Action Group (MAPAG), which was founded in 2013 to find out whether the area needed a food bank - which it did. It is now an independent charitable association and carries out research and lobbying.
Betty Dobson gave an example of a young single mother they had heard was living locally and was in some distress. With two children, she was in a house with no proper heating and an unsafe garden. MAPAG had given advice, some work in the garden and enabled her to make relationships within the community.
Though not primarily a fundraising charity, MAPAG had also raised money to give some children access to Activ8 sessions - which helped beat their isolation.
MAPAG meet once a month and raise concerns about the lack of provision in the area - for the homeless and young children. And they are getting going with Facebook.
They and others at the meeting are worried too about the recently reported 16 per cent national rise over a year in rough sleeping.
Philip Morris from the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE - a national charity based in Bristol) told the meeting about fuel poverty and how cold homes become a health issue - costing the NHS about a billion pounds a year and sometimes causing unnecessary deaths.
Wiltshire's homes are 23 per cent less heat efficient than the national average - mainly because so many of them are old stock. CSE offer advice and help access proper ways to stay warm.
Telling the story of one man CSE had helped, he mentioned the Priority Service Register. This ensures people get emergency generators if they rely on electricity to stay alive - with, for example, oxygen pumps - and are hit by a power cut.
The third speaker was Samara Heel, a regional coach for Tesco's impressive Community Food Connection programme. Tesco run this with the charity FairShare whose aim is fighting huger and tackling food waste.
Using Food Cloud technology, Tesco's programme makes use of surplus, unsold food by alerting charities and non-profit organisations to what is available. Launched early last year, by the end of April 2017 it will be in every Tesco - whether an 'extra' or a 'convenience' store - by the end of April this year. So far they have provided 5,100,000 400 gram meals.
And at the meeting to prove its worth were two young people from Aldbourne Youth Centre who make use of the food to learn to cook - and to eat well. They were very pleased indeed to benefit from this scheme.
One of the main points to come out of these three presentations is that rural poverty is often hidden and hard to address - among its causes are low pay and variable pay packets due to zero hour contracts or part-time work, expensive and poor transport and poor housing.
How far the Marlborough Area is equipped to cope with poverty and homelessness is something MAPAG is working to establish and bring shortcomings to the attention of those who can or should help.