Wirral Council praised for plan to tackle economic impact of Covid-19

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WIRRAL Council has attracted national attention over its radical ideas for combatting the economic impact of coronavirus.

It was the first in the country to target a fund specifically at self-employed people.

As the lockdown began, many were worried that self-employed workers had been forgotten in the government’s crisis measures.

But at the end of last month, Wirral Council pledged £100,000 to support them while they waited for government assistance.

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The move was praised on The Martin Lewis Money Show, aired on ITV 1 on April 16.

The money was a top-up to Wirral's existing Local Welfare Assistance Scheme, which has seen a tripling in the number of people applying for it since the coronavirus outbreak began.

As well as this, the cash-strapped local authority has spent £2.9m on making sure all care workers are paid the living wage, which currently stands at £9.30 per hour outside London.

That is a big improvement on the National Minimum Wage, which stands at £8.72 per hour for those aged 25 and over and just £8.20 per hour for 21-24 year-olds.

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Wirral is the only borough in the Liverpool City Region to award all carers with this pay rise.

Unison bosses in Wirral said this was great news for local care workers.

Research from the Resolution Foundation suggests more than half of frontline care workers battling coronavirus are paid less than the living wage.

There are calls for this pay rise to become permanent, in recognition of the invaluable work carers do, particularly in these testing times.

Labour councillor Pat Hackett, the leader of Wirral Council, said it is an “ambition” of the council’s to make this rise permanent, as all those working on the front line of the fight against Covid-19 are “heroes”.

Cllr Hackett said that he was glad that councillors from across the political spectrum were able to put their differences to one side and agree on these measures.

A key part of the New Brighton councillor’s message was the cross party nature of the council’s action plan.

Cllr Hackett added: “We must continue to provide essential services to the wide range of people affected by this crisis.

“If you cast your mind back, we’ve had to deal with the realities of coronavirus since January, when people were repatriated from China to Arrowe Park Hospital.

“Volunteers rushed to support these people and they have continued to do so since.

"It’s great to see people support those less fortunate than themselves.”

This spirit is evident in Wirral’s Emergency Food Hub, which involves charities including Feeding Birkenhead Supporting Wirral and Wirral Foodbank and is coordinated by the local authority.

Since it was set up at the end of March to help people struggling to get food either due to the pandemic or any other reason, it has reached more than 24,000 people.

Other key measures Homelessness has been brought into sharp focus by the coronavirus crisis.

Official figures suggest there are 4,266 people sleeping rough on the streets of England on a typical night, though many say the true figure is much higher.

Having such a large number of people who cannot isolate themselves by definition is a huge problem when it comes to tackling the spread of Covid-19.

Since the outbreak of the virus, 116 people have been rehoused by Wirral Council.

This includes finding more secure accommodation for people who previously resided in night shelters, as well as taking a number of rough sleepers off the street and relocating those who have nowhere to go due to family or relationship breakdowns.

The council said it is using a variety of short term and long term living spaces for these people, including bed and breakfasts, hostels, supported housing schemes, student accommodation and for a small number general mainstream housing.

Wirral Council also stepped in, like other local authorities across the city region, to provide free school meals to children before the government’s scheme kicked in this week.

The council provided vouchers for eligible children to redeem their free meal against.

Changes to council tax have also been made to help residents through the crisis.

People who are already receiving Local Council Tax Support will get another £150 taken off their Council Tax bills.

All residents can opt to pay their Council Tax in 12 monthly instalments rather than in 10 payments from April to January, helping to spread the financial burden across the year.

The council has also approved more than £34m of grants to local businesses.

These grants, which come from government funding, have been distributed to more than 3,000 firms in the borough.

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