Welfare and benefits advisers are likely to be stretched beyond breaking point in the coming months, a leading Labour councillor warned this evening (Thursday 28 February).
Councillor Warren Morgan told the budget meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council that the small advice team should be bolstered given the burgeoning workload.
As the council voted through a 2 per cent rise in council tax at Brighton Town Hall, he said: “Hundreds of residents in my ward and thousands across the city are being affected by alterations to the benefits system currently under way.
“Incapacity benefit, income support, the work programme, ESA (employment and support allowance), JSA (jobseeker’s allowance) and DLA (disability living allowance), council tax support, welfare assistance, housing benefit, bedroom tax and universal credit – there are dozens of often complex changes coming through as a result of the Welfare Reform Act.
“Many thousands of our residents have to somehow navigate their way through these changes and we have a duty to help them.
“This council employs three part-time staff in the welfare rights team, with an advice line open from 10am to 1pm just one day a week.
“Notwithstanding the work done by housing staff, revenue and benefits staff and others, alongside the measures to improve this council’s financial inclusion work that we put in place via a budget amendment two years ago, this level of welfare rights advice is likely to be stretched beyond breaking point in the coming months.”
He spoke in favour of amending the budget to spend £70,000 on a full-time welfare adviser for the next two years and £5,000 to help explain the changes to council tenants.
The amendment was passed with Labour and Green Party members voting in favour.
Councillor Morgan said that the amendment was intended to strengthen the support given by the council, working with other advice agencies, to low-income residents.
He said that those residents faced huge financial challenges in the months ahead.
He added: “Without adequate advice and support these families and individuals could fall into debt at the hands of loan sharks and payday lenders, will struggle to pay their bills and may well find themselves homeless.
“Alongside the dreadful human cost, more poverty, more debt and increased homelessness will see this council spend more in the long run on housing, education and social care costs.
“I urge members to join with us in putting a relatively small amount of money into a vital service that will help a great many people in my ward and your wards meet the very difficult financial challenges to their household budgets in the coming months and years.
“It is moral and it is right that we do what we can to keep as many of this city’s most vulnerable residents out of poverty, in their homes and in control of their lives so I ask you to support this simple but important amendment.
“This amendment, like the others set out today, is one based on Labour values of fairness and equality, aimed at supporting those most vulnerable, most disadvantaged and most in need.
“I’m pleased to support amendments that put money into services for the children and families, the homeless and those in temporary accommodation, those on low incomes facing cuts to their financial support and of course the users of our mobile library.
“While I regret that council tax has to rise because of the unprecedented cuts to this council’s grant imposed by the Conservative government, I’m pleased that the increase is below the rate of inflation and considerably less than the increases of up to 3.9 per cent made by the Conservative administration between 2008 and 2010.”