Agenda item

Presentation regarding the Social Justice Strategy Review - Consultation exercise.


Officer Cath Fallon gave a presentation on the Social Justice Strategy, following a brief introduction from Councillor Sara Jones. The strategy was published two years ago as a live document which can be adapted, taking account of external factors, and ensuring it is always relevant and applicable to the most vulnerable in our society. The strategy was refreshed last summer following consultation with members, and we were due to do the same this year but the process has been extended due to the pandemic. The challenges we will undoubtedly face as a result will need to be reflected in the latest iteration.

The Social Justice Strategy is about people, place and prosperity, the aim being to put social justice at the heart of what we do, with the strategy being a broad programme of work to turn the vision into reality. We want to make a difference in the lives of local people, while working in partnership with them. We have committed to enabling connected and caring communities to support people to live independently, but also delivering on social justice, better prosperity, and reducing inequality. We want to enable better local services through supporting volunteers and social action.

This aligns with the PSB priorities to reduce inequalities between, and within, communities, as well as supporting and protecting vulnerable people, and considering our impact on the environment. Further, it aligns with the PSB objectives to provide children and young people with the best possible start in life, and responding to demographic challenges and changes. It also allows us to develop opportunities for communities and businesses to be part of an economically thriving and well-connected county.

The Community And Partnership Development team drives the Social Justice Strategy, working as a bridge between community needs and aspirations. We have concluded that area working and community development works well. Some of our area clusters have more engagement and are better attended than others, but we are working in an environment in which there are other opportunities to engage.

There have been some positive developments because of the team’s partnership work, in our youth support services network and community cohesion approaches, which have been essential, especially during the pandemic, in terms of how we engage with our BAME residents. The Community Focussed Schools Programme, working directly with schools, volunteers and parents to capture and mobilise our social capital, has also been positive.

Prior to Covid-19, we felt that we needed to promote the plan more widely, both internally and externally, but with a stronger focus on community development. ‘Be Community’ ensures we are providing the best possible support and advice to our volunteers. We are also maximising Flexible Funding to ensure that we can help when we see a real need in the community. We have found that as we have committed as an authority, town and community councils will follow. We felt it was important to look at our Partnerships and PSB, asking if our Partnership structure is too complicated, with areas of overlap or duplication, and ensuring that the community is an equal partner.

Once the pandemic hit, our work changed dramatically, with the focus shifting to volunteers and community groups shopping for residents, picking up prescriptions, etc. This was coordinated through the Volunteer Action Group Virtual Network. A Volunteer Safe Recruitment Team was set up to ensure we were undertaking the right checks on volunteers. The Need Team ensured that the right support was put in the right place – we realised quickly that we needed to work very closely with Social Services to triage every enquiry we had. Through the Monmouthshire Digital Community Exchange we connected digitally to maximise those opportunities, while also bringing our Third Sector partners into the relationship, ensuring we had the most volunteer and specialist support possible. This has involved 76 colleagues from 15 different teams and 3 external organisations. 765 contacts were made, with 227 volunteers addressing 537 requests for help.

The PSB is now looking towards adopting a place-based approach to partnership working, with a focus on prevention and early intervention. The PSB provides governance and direction to the teams, ensuring the report is multi-agency, not duplicating efforts and is as coordinated as possible. Emphasis on working successfully via the Virtual Network is important in advance of a potential second lockdown. Next steps: we feel it is a neighbourhood networks approach and maintaining cross-directorate working and the momentum we currently have. Targeted, evidence based and data driven delivery is very important – we are at the point now where we can identify specific households in specific areas, then provide the right kind of support. We also need to make sure that teams have a permission structure and the support that they need, too.

In terms of policy coherence, we need to consider how our revised social justice strategy looks in light of the changes. Clearly, we need to keep social justice at the heart of everything we do. We are looking now at reducing disadvantages, and intergenerational justice. Within the overarching strategy, we have targeted action plans for tackling poverty and inequality, which have been in development for a while – we are working on a document that should be ready for consultation soon. We also have a Food Development Action Plan, as food insecurity is a big issue. We are looking at how this links with our local supply chains, and from an economic wellbeing perspective. Mental health/wellbeing and social isolation also play into this. We are working with our Housing colleagues to address homelessness. The policies will be integrated with the Equalities Plan and Colleague Community Volunteering Framework.

There was a motion earlier in the year from Councillor Batrouni regarding the need for a specific theme in the Tackling Poverty & Inequality Action Plan. We have refocussed the role of Judith Langdon and Ryan Coleman, who are looking now at the theme of achieving equitable prosperity and preventing our citizens from experiencing poverty. However, we recognise that despite our efforts there will be points in people’s lives in which they experience financial hardship. When this does occur we will come together to provide support to make the experience as brief, infrequent and manageable as possible. We will help people to emerge from that experience with greater levels of resilience.

There is a huge amount of data behind this, which Officers Langdon and Coleman have been working on. The priorities are Employability skills and employment support, In-work poverty, Mental Health and emotional support, equitable support for isolated poverty, and crisis prevention. Our activities are focussed on support for individuals, families and households to build self-resilience; creating prosperous and supportive neighbourhoods to enable communities to build local resilience; working towards a connected county where people and communities can thrive and inequality is reduced; inequality; and using our leverage to influence the structural causes of poverty and disadvantage, working collectively to improve opportunities for prosperity for all.

We are in consultation now with our PSB partners to implement place based working structures, and revising our Social Justice Strategy to include preparation of individual Action Plans. We will present that revised strategy to the next Social Justice Advisory Group and to Cabinet for approval.



Officer Judith Langdon answered the members’ questions.


The strategy talks about tackling inequality – what type of ‘inequality’ does this refer to?


‘Inequality’ has the potential to cover a wide number of areas. At the moment it is shorthand for ‘Income Inequality’. We are fortunate to have an increased amount of data on that, which makes it easier to show the extent of the inequality in a visual way. That is therefore our primary focus, though perhaps more important is the lived experience as a consequence of that inequality. We will therefore look at aspects such as how income inequality is manifested in educational disadvantage, food insecurity, etc.


In ‘tackling poverty’, whom are we defining as poor?


This is a complex issue. There are standard measured used in terms of low income, either below 50% or 60% of median income, but this doesn’t necessarily equate to the same thing as ‘poverty’. The reason why there isn’t a single nationally agreed definition is that it is possible (as shown, for example, by the work of the Joseph Rowntree Organisation) to be below 60% but as a single household with relatively low outgoings, which then doesn’t necessarily equate to poverty. Equally, there can be people who are closer towards the threshold but whose lived experiences will be closer to what we recognise as poverty. We have discussed this as a partnership group; hopefully, when the action plan comes forward supporting the strategy, we will expand on a shared understanding of we mean by ‘poverty’.


Is there a specific budget for the two new officers, and how does it work?


There isn’t a specific, dedicated budget for this area of work but there is a considerable amount of resource that sits behind work that addresses poverty and inequality. In particular, as Cath Fallon mentioned, we are going to look at the recommissioning of the Housing & Communities Grant over the next 6 months or so, which has a significant resource behind it. It is largely a matter of how we intelligently use and apply our resources as an authority to make the best possible impact.


When will the committee see the KPIs, so that we can hold the Cabinet member and officers to account?


This is a high level presentation. There is an enormous amount of data sitting behind it. When the full action plan comes forward as part of the strategy, it will be clearly seen that that there is a lot of KPI data in it.


The new trend, as shown in two recent reports by IFS and the Social Justice Commission, is that income inequality is reducing but wealth inequality is increasing hugely. Will you consider this problem?


Yes, this is a very important point which we recognise and will certainly consider in our work.


Housing is key: child poverty doubles when housing costs are considered, for example. Is this area being given the necessary attention?


Housing is essential for a good quality of life. The priority is high level set of immediate areas for action. There is a huge amount of existing work that continues. The Housing & Communities Grant highlights that housing underpins a huge amount of this work; therefore, the absence of the word ‘housing’ in the list of priorities should not be interpreted as indicating a lack of attention to housing. This should be evident in the full action plan.


Why is there no mention of social mobility? Concerning education, are we considering implementing individual action plans much earlier than GCSE age, with the hope of an improvement in our figures later on, as those children grow up?

One of the two officers that have been brought in to work on poverty and inequality has worked until this point on the community-focussed schools programme, an area in which we have been ahead of the game. We have looked at how we can harness all of the assets of a local community to help support the education and life chances of the least advantaged in our schools. The programme has been running for around 18 months, and because of its importance, the officer has been brought into this poverty work. He is integrating the programme’s work into this wider work on poverty and inequality. There are a developed set of KPIs around education, FSM attainment gaps, etc. that feature explicitly in the overarching strategy.


Chair’s Summary:

The work by officers during the pandemic has been excellent in supporting the communities across Monmouthshire. Councillor Batrouni raised a number of points: he wishes to know the details of the partners with which we are working, and asked for the definition of inequality on which we are operating. We discussed the complex matter of how we define being ‘poor’, social mobility, and the budget for the two officers. We would like to see KPIs in place so that officers and Cabinet members can be held to account. Cath Fallon confirmed that officers will take these points forward when the individual action plans that sit behind the overarching social justice strategy come through.