Challenge Poverty Week underlines the importance of positive action in our communities

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Aberdeen City Council is proud to be one of more than 100 organisations across Scotland to have pledged support to Challenge Poverty Week.

Running through to Sunday, it is an opportunity to raise awareness of the reality in our country as well as challenging stereotypes and increasing support for action against poverty.

Crucially, it’s also an important vehicle to highlight the positive change taking place throughout our communities and to give impetus to the progress that is being made here in Aberdeen.

The vision for Aberdeen as a place where all people can prosper revolves around breaking down barriers, eradicating inequality and giving every individual the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Much has been achieved and we should celebrate the momentum that is building – but we cannot shy away from the fact that in a city that is an economic powerhouse for the country, we have individuals and families who are battling against poverty every day. We will not rest while that’s the case and are committed to challenging poverty in all forms.

As the Council’s financial challenges intensify, in the face of reduced central funding and increased demand for services, we have taken a very deliberate approach in targeting resources where they can have the biggest impact in protecting the most vulnerable. As part of Challenge Poverty Week, we want to underline that pledge.

The Council, with one of the city’s largest workforces, earned Scottish Living Wage accreditation two years ago and we recognise that raising income is fundamental to challenging poverty. Increasing employment opportunities throughout the city as well as supporting individuals to take positive steps towards new careers are also important pieces of that jigsaw and we are at the centre of a number of partnerships in that area.

The big picture is one of a focus on inclusive economic growth in Aberdeen, with huge investment being made in response to the oil and gas downturn experienced over the past decade with a view to ensure we have a city that diversifies and is equipped to support its population in a sustainable way. The creation of The Event Complex Aberdeen, for example, will create more than 350 jobs and there will be a wave of new opportunities arising from the many other major projects currently coming to fruition.

A robust economy provides the foundations, but the building blocks are being laid in our communities and particularly in the vital regeneration areas.

The opening of the Tillydrone Community Campus this summer has given a focal point for one of our key communities and we look forward to that model being rolled out in Torry, where development plans are gathering pace.

Innovative partnerships such as Big Noise Torry demonstrate the willingness to embrace new ways of thinking in tackling inequality, giving young people and parents an opportunity to use music as a vehicle to thrive and improve outcomes. The work with Sistema to deliver Big Noise Torry has been a real success story, but it isn’t being delivered in isolation.

The Torry Tasters project is another example of a different way of challenging poverty, helping to provide the skills and knowledge to cook at home as well as increasing awareness of access to free school meals.

We know food poverty remains a problem to be solved and it’s important to take the opportunity to thank the charities, including CFINE, and volunteers who work tirelessly to provide for many people in many different circumstances through the network of food banks that operate. It is vital work and at the same time is a reflection on the huge challenges we face in society.

As a Council food poverty is high on our agenda, with our food growing strategy to go out for consultation following approval in recent weeks to move forward with plans that will have major health and social benefits.

The Food and Fun initiative, established to provide free meals to young people during school holiday periods, has delivered thousands of meals and activities in our communities. We know from our engagement with parents that the holidays represent a pressure point and there are families going without food – that is something we can’t accept. Food and Fun is a positive part of the response, more must and will be done.

Aberdeen’s next generation must be protected from the inequalities created by poverty and to that end we have made poverty proofing in city schools a priority. From uniform and school meals to activities and transport, our primaries and academies are making great strides in ensuring inclusive environments designed to give every pupil the chance to prosper. We have to keep working hard in this area.

Addressing period poverty is part of the progress in schools, with free access to sanitary products for academy pupils across the school estate and to anyone who needs them at recently introduced access points at Marischal College, Airyhall Library, Mastrick Access Point and the Whinhill Medical Practice.

As winter looms, fuel poverty is another issue that comes into sharp focus. The creation of the city’s combined heat and power network is an ambitious and bold part of the effort to provide low cost and efficient household energy, with a large number of houses already benefiting and more to follow. Free insulation programmes and the modernisation of housing stock is also crucial – with the largest council house building  programme in a generation well underway and further significant investment being made in existing properties. Warm, dry and fit for purpose housing is a basic human right just as being able to put food on the table is.

We recognise our role as a local authority in delivering for all those we serve and in challenging poverty in every guise.

Cllr Jenny Laing and Cllr Douglas Lumsden