West Lothian Council's current Better Off: West Lothian Anti-Poverty Strategy is regarded as one of the best in the country and has delivered a number of achievements since it was launched in 2012.The strategy set out a plan to address poverty over a five-year period between 2012 and 2017 and focusses on seven key priority areas including Income, Employability and Economic Development, Housing, Health, Education, Community and Tackling Inequality.
The council works closely with Community Planning Partners including the Voluntary Sector to deliver a range of important actions which help those affected by poverty and low incomes.
Key successes to date include:
- Working to improve access to affordable credit.
- West Lothian Council has committed funds to ensure that the school clothing grant in West Lothian is the highest in Scotland.
- Partners have worked together to ensure that vulnerable women have access to a free supply of sanitary products. Secondary schools now having free access to a range of sanitary items and those stocks are also held in primary & special schools.
- Schools, West Lothian's Young Peoples Team and local organisations have worked together to reduce food insecurity. Over the whole of the county there are activities and a hot meal during the Easter, Summer and Autumn holidays.
Depute Leader Kirsteen Sullivan welcomed Jeane Freeman, MSP, The Scottish Government's Minister for Social Security to Bathgate Partnership Centre this week to see, at first hand, the work that is already being undertaken to tackle inequalities in West Lothian.
Councillor Sullivan also confirmed that West Lothian Council will be looking to agree a new Anti-Poverty strategy later this year to build upon existing good practice.
She said: "There has been considerable progress in tackling poverty in West Lothian over the past five years but everyone recognises that there is still a huge amount of work still to do. Nobody is standing still and we will continually seek to improve the lives of local people. The council is developing a new strategy that will build upon the successes to date, whilst identifying a number of new actions that will effectively tackle the issue of poverty, with a particular focus on children.
"Work on developing our new strategy is underway and we aim to have the new strategy in place later this year, following consultation with our community planning partners. Despite the significant budget challenges that we face, we are always trying to adapt to the financial climate and changes within our society, and we will look at ways to support the strategy with resources and funding so our work has the maximum amount of impact for those that need assistance.
"Minimising poverty, the cycle of deprivation and promoting equality is one of the council's key priorities which were identified through consultation with our community. This particular priority moved from being the fifth most important priority for local people to the third most important. It is clear that the people of West Lothian want to live and work in a community which believes in helping and protecting the most vulnerable."
Anti-Poverty and Welfare Advice Manager, Elaine Nisbett added: "I have met with many other local authorities from across the UK who have visited West Lothian to see the work that is being undertaken and they have all been extremely impressed - our work and strategy to tackle poverty is regarded as best practice.
"That is something that we can be proud of but we are very aware that our work is nowhere near complete. Tackling poverty and helping people on low incomes is one of the most complex tasks that any council undertakes because there are many, many factors that can cause inequalities and poverty. It cannot be tackled by councils in isolation either. It requires councils to work with Governments, community planning partners, volunteers and service users to make the best use of resources and work together.
"We have made significant progress to date and we will always strive to ensure that poverty and the cycle of deprivation is effectively and proactively tackled in West Lothian. Our new strategy will be a fundamental part of that process."