23 August 2013

Looking into how to help the vulnerable in the city

The national welfare reforms are impacting on the lives of many people in Brighton & Hove. The changes to a range of benefits and allowances are beginning to take effect and the long term impact is as yet unknown.

Brighton & Hove City Council is preparing for the future by researching what the real consequences of the changes are for people in the city.

The council estimates between 17,000 and 20,000 households have been affected by welfare reform changes so far. These households include single people, families with children and pensioners. The elderly, young and disabled are the main recipients of state aid. Many are vulnerable members of the community needing help to adapt to the new systems.

The reforms include changes to housing benefits, Council Tax, the end of crisis loans and community care grants, implementation of the Benefit Cap, introduction of Personal Independence Payments to replace the Disability Living Allowance and introduction of Universal Credit.

The nature of the wide ranging reform makes a complex task of anticipating what residents will need to do to ensure an acceptable standard of living when using the new system.

The council is supporting research to identify those most affected by the reforms and how people are experiencing the change on a practical day-to-day basis.

Dr Tom Scanlon, Director of Public Health for the Council, said: “The new welfare reforms are complex and it is not clear what the overall impact will be on people’s lives as each reform is implemented. In a time of austerity, this sort of research is essential as it helps us to identify those people who will experience the greatest hardship. It will help us understand the practical difficulties they face and how the council and other services can help to lessen this hardship with practical support.”

The research will look at what people are able to spend their money on, including food costs, where they can afford to live and housing conditions. The research will also look at where the most affected residents receive support. The data will show how reliant people are on avenues such as advice lines and services, church, community or friendship networks, GPs, child and family services and mental health services and food banks.

By carefully assessing the results of the research, the council will be able to adapt services and implement actions to provide practical support for those in need. The long term aim is to provide essential support at the best value for money by learning where to focus limited resources.

In the meantime, the council is listening to all residents affected by the changes and actively seeking to provide appropriate help through a range of support networks.

Councillor Rob Jarrett, Chair of the Adult Care and Health Committee, said: “There is a real danger vulnerable people will suffer if we do not help provide appropriate advice and support. The information from this research will ensure that we get the right help to the right people during this turbulent time of change. We are committed to doing all we can to ensure the well being of everyone in the city and will do all we can to help residents struggling with the affects of the national welfare reforms.”

More information:

The government is introducing a range of changes to how benefits are administered and calculated, including:

  • Reductions in Local Housing Allowance rates for those living in the Private Rented Sector (implemented in 2012)
  • Restriction to the Single Room Rate of Housing benefit for those under the age of 35 (implemented in 2012)
  • Housing Benefit under-occupation rules for council and housing association tenants (from April 2013)
  • Localisation of Council Tax Support (from April 2013)
  • Abolition of Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants and localising of welfare provision in its place(from April 2013)
  • Implementation of the Benefit Cap (by September 2013)
  • Introduction of Personal Independence Payments to replace Disability Living Allowance (from June 2013)
  • Introduction of Universal Credit (from October 2013)

In Brighton & Hove the level of government funding being removed from Housing Benefit alone is £13million.

The council’s current support for those affected by welfare reforms includes:

  • Financial inclusion and money advice workers supporting council tenants
  • A debt prevention team is working within the revenues and benefits team to help vulnerable customers
  • Money Advice and Community Support Services (MACS) are providing those affected with impartial support around money management
  • Outreach work is being undertaken with families who are seeing the most severe impacts of these changes to make sure they are aware of their options and the appropriate support is in place
  • In many cases the council is working in partnership with Job Centre Plus to help families into work