Recently, City Mayor Ian Stewart, has been crowing at council meetings and elsewhere how Salford has growth rates `equivalent to China'. Indeed, according to Council reports, over the past five years, £1.3billion of private sector investment and £425million of public sector investment has created `over 5,000 jobs, encouraging new businesses, building new homes and developing the city's education and health services'...
This week, however, the full Council meets to discuss family poverty in the city which hasn't improved, despite `growth rates equivalent to China', `£1.3billion of private sector investment and £425million of public sector investment'... So, it appears that something isn't right in Salford...
The report to be discussed at the meeting notes that there are "over a quarter of
families (around 13,000 children) living in poverty...At 26%, the rate is higher than that experienced both regionally (22.7%) and nationally (18.6%)". It adds that in the Irwell Riverside ward the level of child poverty rises to "more than 45%". *
It is to the city's shame that the Irwell Riverside ward contains the geographical areas around Chapel Street and the University of Salford where tens of millions of pounds have been invested in new unaffordable flats and houses, offices and posh pavements, with plans for iconic bridges in the offing.
If 5,000 jobs have been `created', questions must also be asked about who they are going to and what wages Salford people are getting from the jobs that are available to them...
"Whilst moving into employment remains the best route out of poverty and a way of tackling social inequality" the report states "there is now increasing recognition that employment does not always move a household out of poverty, but can result in a shift from `out of work' to `in work' poverty.
"Reasons for this may include a rise in low wage, part time, zero hours and short term employment opportunities" it adds "as well as the rising costs of accommodation, childcare and living costs such as fuel".
Meanwhile, 70% of Salford's population live in areas classified as `highly deprived' and nearly 10% of the working population is long-term unemployed. Something is clearly going wrong with the Council's `feed the rich' policy that has led to massive public investment in MediaCityUK, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, the AJ Bell Stadium, the `Ugly Sisters' office project, Chapel Street, the Greengate Fountains and, latterly the £19million RHS Garden in Worsley to name just a few; plus allowing developers almost a free rein to turn the city into a Monopoly board.
The theory is that wealth will somehow `trickle down' to reach those less well-off but the poverty figures in the city haven't moved since all this investment has happened – and, indeed, since Salford Council's last `Better off in Salford: A strategy to end family poverty and improve life chances' produced five years ago.
The Council's answer is to create a new `tackling poverty strategy' which will "enable the development of a partnership approach and programme of action to tackle poverty in the city".
The difference this time, however, is that the slight poverty safety net which was there previously is being torn to shreds by the Tory Government. The report lists new `Welfare Reform' measures, including "£12 billion of further cuts to the working age benefit bill by 2019-20 which will effectively reduce the financial support available through the benefits and tax credit system to both out of work and in work households and limit housing options for many under 25s".
It gives numerous examples of how Government policy will make life even harder for those in poverty. For instance, the Tories' new Living Wage, at £7.20 per hour falls short of the Living Wage Foundation's rate of £8.25 per hour. And, given that it only applies to those aged over 25, might act as "an incentive to recruit younger, cheaper workers potentially at the expense of older adults".
Meanwhile, working age benefits and Local Housing Allowances are to be frozen for four years, and the `work related activity component' of Employment Support Allowance will be abolished for new claimants from 2017, leading to a reduction of around £1,500 per year for those with health problems and disabilities. Add this to cuts to tax credits, reduced work allowances under Universal Credit and previous atrocities like the Bedroom Tax and cuts to Council Tax benefits, and the perfect poverty storm is complete.
The scenario is that Salford people, who are either unemployed or on low incomes, are going to get hit even harder over the next few years. At the same time, the rich parts of the city and their inhabitants, egged on by Salford Council, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, George Osborne and the Tory Government, are going to get even more resources, more favours and more infrastructure, in the hope that it will somehow help alleviate poverty.
It hasn't worked in Manchester (which has the highest rates of wealth and poverty in Greater Manchester). It hasn't worked in London (which has an even more obscene wealth divide), and it hasn't worked in Salford. No amount of strategies to tackle poverty is going to change that...
Read Salford Council's 2011 Poverty Strategy - click here
• "Children are officially considered to be living in poverty if an adult in the household is either out of work and in receipt of benefits, or in receipt of tax credits where their reported income is less than 60% of median income. The child poverty rate effectively measures whether the incomes of the poorest families are keeping pace with the economy as a whole" states the report.