A leaflet given out to Salford's councillors this month by UNISON members working in the Council's Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service stated everything that needed to be known about the effect of a 37% reduction of ten posts to its staff and a £346,000 cut in its budget, on top of over ten posts cut in the last three years.
First, the leaflet listed Salford's poverty problems…
• We have the 18th most deprived borough in the country
• We have rising unemployment and household income falling for many
• We have the second highest rate of child poverty in Greater Manchester (14,750 children)
• We have the 35th highest rate of possession orders in England
• We have high and increasing levels of household debt with 21,500 households in fuel poverty
• Welfare `reform' will cost the city £28million and 1,000 jobs.
Then it stated… "Salford people desperately need the help provided by this Service and need it like never before. Vital assistance with income maximisation, debt resolution, problems with rent arrears, challenging negative decisions on benefit entitlement and sanctions, appeals, taking up issues around the Bedroom Tax etc…
"The Service is focussed on the most vulnerable, generates £10million for the poorest residents and the local economy" it added "It is well respected over the last 27 years by local people and members…"
You could say that the Council's Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service will be needed even more as the Universal Benefits system is set to be introduced in Salford, with no-one fully understanding yet its dire consequences.
The public consultation on the cut to Welfare Rights and Debt Advice generated 1,071 responses, 729 of whom disagreed or strongly disagreed with the plans. Even the Council's own report on the consultation states that "There was clear and consistent disagreement with the proposal across all respondee groups. 93% (271) of service users were in disagreement with the proposal, and 90% (75) of carers felt the same…
"There was also a significant level of concern from organisations who responded" it adds "With 75% of organisations disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the proposal."
The Council is aiming, in part, to make the cuts by putting the advice online or through other agencies, like the Citizens Advice Bureau. But those who commented on the proposals "expressed concern at options to move to more online advice, with access to PC's and the internet highlighted as a common problem. This was also picked up in the Community Impact Assessment (CIA). The CIA has also highlighted that older people are more likely to be disadvantaged by any move towards online service…"
The report adds that "The majority of respondees expressed concern at the ability to access advice from other agencies. In particular, there were concerns raised at future increases in demand negatively impacting on how accessible other services would be if the proposal was implemented."
So, the public is opposed to the cut, the people who use the service are opposed to the cut, organisations who work with the service are opposed to the cut, and obviously those working within the service are opposed to the cut. Yet the cut goes ahead. So what was the point of the consultation, apart from the Mayor ignoring its findings?
The stupid thing is that the Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service actually brings in money to the city and its poor by helping people access unclaimed benefits and lots more.
The Service claims that it brings in £8 for every £1 spent by the Council on it. And the `saving' by Salford Council will actually mean a loss of £4million to the poorest people in the city and £5million to the local economy.
"Welfare Rights and Debt Advice brings millions of pounds into the city in benefits that people wouldn't claim without their support" says Salford City UNISON's Ameen Hadi "By reducing the workforce you're not, in effect saving money, you're costing the city of Salford money. If the Labour Council won't stand up for our services and fight for people's rights to have access to welfare and debt advice, then our UNISON members are placed to do so and are willing to consider taking industrial action if required."
* To read part 2 of this article - Salford Labour Council's New Tory Style Dickensian DIY Welfare - click here
See also previous Salford Star articles...
* Welfare Cuts - If You Need Advice You've Got A Problem - click here
* Horror Cuts Will Drive City Mental – click here
* Salford Council Cuts Services To Pay for Prestige Projects - click here
Photo by Steven Speed