Labour Councillor in Kirkstall ward shares concern over 'Victorian levels of poverty' in Leeds

Councillor Fiona Venner has described Leeds as having “Victorian levels of poverty”.

By Tom Coates
Thursday, 4th August 2022, 4:45 am

Recent figures from campaign group End Child Poverty suggested over a third of children in Leeds are living in poverty.

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Coun Venner, a Labour representative of the Kirkstall ward, has predicted poverty will get worse in the midst of the cost of living crisis despite hope there would be an improvement following Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns.

Although she many not be able to implement them herself, the Labour councillor has ideas for tackling the issue of poverty in Leeds and across the country. Image: Tony Johnson

She said: "It’s disgraceful in the 21st century that we have Victorian levels of poverty.

“We thought the pandemic would be the peak of the poverty we were witnessing but actually, I think it’s just going to get worse as the cost of living crisis gets worse.”

Coun Venner is the executive member for adult and children’s social care and health partnerships, as well as the chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board in Leeds.

She chairs the child poverty strategy for Leeds and has worked closely with families experiencing poverty, although has been left frustrated by the limits on the impact Leeds City Council can have.

She said: "One of the things that's very frustrating as a Labour Councillor is that the council doesn't control the levers to lift people out of poverty, a lot of that rests with central government.

"But we do have a moral responsibility to try and combat the impact of poverty and I see that as a really important part of my role.

"Unfortunately, dealing with increased levels of poverty is a really regular part of our work.”

Although she many not be able to implement them herself, the Labour Councillor has ideas for tackling the issue of poverty in Leeds and across the country.

Her suggestions include the reinstating of the £20 uplift on Universal Credit, which was introduced in 2020 to help people financially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, it was only a temporary measure and was controversially stopped in October 2021.

Coun Venner said: "For me, the absolute first thing would be to reinstate the £20 uplift on Universal Credit.

"I also think [we should be] reversing the increase in National Insurance.”

Coun Venner has also addressed what she has described as "really prejudicial ideas” present in society about people living in poverty.

She said: “The reality is that most children in Leeds living in poverty are living in a household where at least one adult is working.

"It is a real misconception that people living in poverty are not trying or are lazy.

"They are just really prejudicial ideas about people that are living in poverty.”

There are various charities within Leeds working to combat poverty in the city and Coun Venner has paid tribute to the work they do.

She explained: "We're really proud to work in partnership with charities.

"They shouldn't have to exist but we're really incredibly grateful that they do.

"I know they've seen demand hugely escalate and they are really struggling to meet needs.

"I think that is the case as well for the foodbanks across the city.”