PROGRESS reports on Scottish Borders Council's (SBC) anti-poverty policy will be presented to councillors this week.

The reports – which include SBC's cost-of-living response, the Anti-Poverty Strategy Action Plan, and the Local Child Poverty Report (2022/2023) and Action Plan (2023/2024) – show "significant progress" has been made by the local authority to tackle the issues arising in the region.

In its response to the cost-of-living crisis, the council made £1.2 million available from its reserves to cover the period 2022/2023.

To enable immediate support £585,000 of the fund was made available on August 25, 2022.

Since then, proposals regarding how the remaining £615,000 should be spent have been considered and approved.

Proposals to the cost-of-living fund include:

  • Warm and Well Fund – Supporting voluntary, community and charity organisations to provide warm spaces.
  • Warm Space Sessions – In Berwickshire, more than 200 warm space sessions were delivered between November 2022 and March 2023, with more than 4,000 people attending
  • Warm-up Wednesdays – St Boswells Village Hall developed these sessions which ran for 14 weeks and supported more than 200 members of the community
  • Warm & Well: Youth Work Collaborative – Grants were awarded to 25 Youth Borders member organisations to deliver additional activities or enhance provision to keep young people warm and well over winter 2022. A total of 1,488 young people directly benefitted from this funding through 280 additional youth work sessions, 430 households were signposted to further advice and support, and 182 care packs of food, blankets and warm or waterproof clothing were also distributed
  • Breakfast Clubs – £60k was awarded for breakfast clubs to 20 schools/community groups. These included: three in Berwickshire, four in Cheviot, nine in Eildon, three in Teviot & Liddesdale, and one in Tweeddale. Funding is being used to provide free breakfast for everyone with the aim of maximising attendance in school, providing a nutritional breakfast and working towards providing an equitable offer across the Scottish Borders

Councillor Robin Tatler, SBC’s executive member for community and equalities, said: “It’s really important to recognise the significant progress that has been made up to now, but it’s also important to recognise that there is still work to do.

"These three reports give an update on the progress that has been made to date, and it’s essential that we continue to take action and work with partners to deliver these plans and strategies."

The Anti-Poverty Strategy report will present councillors with an update of the progress made to deliver the strategy's action plan – including the work of the Anti-Poverty Members Reference Group which was formed to provide guidance to officers, receive input from council partners, other organisations and other individuals, particularly those with lived experiences of poverty.

The Anti-Poverty Strategy was adopted in 2021.

Details of the progress made against the action plan's 11 outcomes are outlined within the Anti-Poverty Strategy Progress Report.

Highlights of that report include 15,000 iPads being distributed to staff and pupils in Borders schools since 2019; and initiatives such as No One Left Behind, the Employment Support Service, the Parental Employability Service and the Job Creation Scheme – which were supported by the Borders Local Employment Partnership (LEP) – to help people into paid employment.

The third report covers the Local Child Poverty Report and Action Plan.

The report and plan align with the Scottish Government's plans to tackle child poverty between 2022 and 2026 – Best Start, Bright Futures.

Problems arising in the Borders include:

  • The number of children in low income homes has risen by more than five per cent since the period 2020/2021 – in 2020/2021 the figure was 14.6 per cent, for the period 2021/2022 the number rose to 19.7 per cent
  • The average gross weekly pay for full time workers in the Borders for 2022 was £69.20 less than the £640.50 earned by similar workers elsewhere in Scotland – Borders workers earned £571.30 per week

Despite the clear problems facing children and families in poverty in the Borders, "significant" work has been undertaken by SBC, NHS Borders and other partners to tackle these issues.

Work to improve employability has been varied, and midwives and health visitors are referring new and expectant parents to the benefits system – resulting in an uplift in benefits of £1.2 in 2022/2023.

And last summer (July 4-August 16, 2022) Live Borders worked with SBC to deliver a programme of sport and activities, as well as free spaces for children through discounts, and made other activities entirely free of charge.

All three reports will be presented to a full meeting of Scottish Borders Council on Thursday, June 29.

To read the reports, click here.