THE CHANCELLOR is delivering the Government’s ‘Emergency Budget’ in Parliament today.
It feels a little odd that George Osborne feels the need to change the previous budget, which he had also set, but what is certain is that it won’t be good news for many people.
The budget detail is likely to include further welfare reform changes which won’t just hit those of our residents who are most in need, but will also have a big impact on our overstretched public, voluntary and community sector partners.
With that in mind I invited three important players in our area – Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), Oldham Foodbank and our own Welfare Advice Service – to guest blog this week about their experiences and the impact of welfare reform already in our borough…
“Citizens Advice has been an integral part of Oldham communities for more than 75 years and in the last month alone we’ve helped more than 900 residents with 1,600 enquiries.
Welfare reforms are having a large impact on families and are generating the majority of issues.
Debt and housing problems also account for a high proportion of our work. Benefit sanctions, Universal Credit and delays in processing claims and appeals are having severe knock-on effects for families such as not having any food to eat, falling behind with rent payments and potentially being homeless.
In total last year we helped 9,000 people and increased income in Oldham by £4,443,572 and rescheduled or wrote off £5,200,000 of debt.
People are often in a high state of stress and desperation by the time they seek our help – and we have seen a definite increase in those suffering from mental health issues as a result of their problems.
We work closely with a number of partner agencies such as the Food Bank, First Choice Homes, Age UK and the Welfare Rights service to ensure the best possible remedies that look to alleviate the longer-term issues as well as short term need.
We also work hard to raise awareness of current and future issues in order to prevent or at least minimise impact. We campaign to change laws and policies and their application where we realise they are unfair. Recently this has resulted in changes in the regulations for pay-day lenders and greater scrutiny of how sanctions are applied to job seekers. Since April we’ve been working with Channel 4, providing evidence of our experience with Universal Credit and had our work praised by Oldham MP Debbie Abrahams.
There are always new issues arising for us to concentrate on. The prevalence of scams in the wake of pension law changes is becoming increasingly concerning and is now a national awareness campaign.
If you have an issue that is likely to get worse if you continue to leave it, please contact us. We can be reached on our Adviceline on 03444889622, or you can access our advice and self-help tools on our website oldhamcab.org.uk where you can also find details of our many drop-in surgeries that are available across Oldham in community locations and most libraries. You can also phone our Adviceline service from the Council’s Freephone access points in libraries and Access Oldham at the Civic Centre.”
“Last year saw yet another increase in the use of Oldham Foodbank. We provided food for 3,716 adults and 1,620 children (Whilst the majority of people only access the Foodbank once, this figure does include people who may have needed our help on more than one occasion).
The people who use the Foodbank are from every ward across the borough. The major reason for people needing the service is because of benefit changes and delays – few people realise that a new claim for the new Universal Credit takes five weeks before the first payment is made(!).
We also have families who struggle to make ends meet during school holidays and to this end we work with other groups providing holiday meals.
In addition to providing food and some essential toiletries, we also signpost clients to other agencies who may be able to help solve problems in the longer-term. For example, we are shortly starting a basic course to help people learn to eat healthily and cook simple dishes from scratch.
We continue to be grateful for the support from across the community, individuals, schools, faith groups and the local supermarkets.
For more information, please see our website: http://oldham.foodbank.org.uk/ “
“Oldham Council’s Welfare Advice Team was initially established in 2011. The team of four works primarily to support vulnerable residents with welfare rights advice to reduce poverty and improve wellbeing.
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 brought many challenges for our residents including the introduction of Universal Credit, the benefit cap, the size criteria (restricting the amount of benefit to be claimed if there is a spare room) and Local Welfare Provision.
Additional reforms were also made to Employment Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and the delivery of the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
In the last 12 months we have helped more than 1,100 residents. We have provided benefits advice, helped to fill in forms, submitted appeals and also represented them at tribunals. This support saw £2.3m brought into the borough’s economy in 2014/15 either through an increase in benefits for clients supported by the service or through backdated and one-off payments.
And it isn’t just the financial benefit that the service is concerned with – improving health and wellbeing is also an important part of our work.
Having worries about money can be particularly detrimental to someone’s mental health and not having enough money to feed a family or buy healthier foods can have a similarly devastating effect on physical health. No matter what the client’s needs we will do all we can to ensure that they are treated fairly.
It is widely expected that further welfare reforms will take place over the next parliamentary period and we will again be ready again to help ensure that people are supported to receive the benefits that they are entitled to.
You can contact the Welfare Rights Service on 0161 770 6655 to make a referral
Or follow this link to go to the online form
Thanks for listening,