Borough declares state of emergency over cost of living

Councillors voted to agree a range of support schemes for struggling residents last night
By Victoria Munro

A food bank in Waltham Forest (credit: WF Council)
A food bank in Waltham Forest (credit: WF Council)

Waltham Forest councillors voted to declare an official state of emergency last night over the spiralling cost of living.

The majority of councillors voted for a motion, moved by Cllr Vicky Ashworth, agreeing new measures for residents, including a £1m jobs programme and £250 vouchers for food and bills.

An amendment from the Conservative group, which suggested measures like free parking and campaigning against the ULEZ expansion, was rejected. 

Cllr Ashworth told the chamber: “It’s an absolute travesty that, here in Britain, we are experiencing a cost of living catastrophe like no other in the G8.

“We have a financial crisis so deep it’s taking many residents and businesses down with it. Bills are spiralling and local households are expected to see an £800 increase on average this autumn. 

“More than 11,000 residents are regularly using foodbanks in Waltham Forest, it’s not ok. I spoke to one man who has two jobs but recently began using a food bank to feed his children. He described how humiliating it was and how it is affecting him and his mental health.”

The council is launching a £1million jobs programme on 27th July, which will support 3,500 residents to gain new skills and qualifications, find work or start their own business.

It also committed to distribute £2.3m through its Household Support Fund by September, issue £250 vouchers for food and bills through Citizens Advice Waltham Forest and provide £75 council tax credit to the more than 11,000 local households who receive Council Tax Support.

In August, it is launching a “new model of borough-wide food distribution” in collaboration with local food banks, although details have yet to be announced.

Cllr Tim James, former leader of the Conservative group, called the motion “cheap political point-scoring” and said it was “limited in its support for residents and its ambition”.

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His rejected amendment suggested further measures like moving away from the use of heating networks in housing schemes, free parking for carers and campaigning against the ULEZ expansion.

Pointing to the experiences of residents in the Marlowe Road Estate and Walthamstow Stadium development, he said: “They are tied, through their leaseholds, to a heating network and some pay in a week what some of us pay in a month.”

Councillors also heard from Iftakhar Latif, chair of Waltham Forest Council of Mosques, about how the crisis was affecting the work of charitable organisations.

He explained that Faizan-e-Islam Mosque in Corbett Road currently runs a hot food programme distributing 300 free meals every weekend but that this “may well” be impacted by their annual energy bills rising from £12,000 to £36,000.

In a press release after the meeting, council leader Grace Williams said: “We do not have any time to sit on our hands and do nothing as this crisis looms… we can’t sit back while the problem gets even worse.

“That’s why we have increased our support. I urge anyone who is experiencing difficulties not to struggle in silence but to reach out as soon as possible. The sooner you ask for help, the sooner we can assist.

“At the same time, we are putting pressure on central government to step up and provide genuine assistance.

“We are calling for an emergency budget to tackle the impact of inflation and the rising cost of living and for VAT on fuel bills to be cut.

“Universal Credit must be increased so it is in line with inflation and local authorities… should be given a fair funding package to allow them to continue [their] vital work.”

Find out how to access council support on their website here

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