27/09/2010

Threats to future of welfare rights services

One of the meanest and most mistaken cuts so far anticipated in Dundee has been set in train by the SNP led City Council. They have initiated a short term review of welfare rights services in the city as part of the measures they devised to identify savings to deal with the anticipated £20 million shortfall in the council's budget for the next financial year. At a point when many Dundee folk are exposed to the negative side effects of the bankers' excesses, why do our SNP Councillors think that there is any scope for significant savings to be made in welfare rights agencies in Dundee ?

Recent news on the Dundee economy have made for grim reading. Rising levels of unemployment, combined with job losses at Realtime Worlds and low vacancy rates. And the prospects are not looking good with alarming levels of public sector cuts in the city amounting to 1000 jobs disappearing. Add to that the impact on low income households of proposed cuts in social security benefits announced by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition. Already some agencies such as CAB in Dundee are reporting that demand for welfare benefits advice and debt counselling are stretching their resources.

Councillor Laurie Bidwell said:

"As a council, I think its our civic duty to protect the citizens of Dundee when they experience reductions in household income. If we don't have a vibrant range of free and independent advice agencies in the city, we can't guarantee the rights of our citizens when they are experiencing financial hardship or treated unfairly by public bodies and private organisations. Without access to free and independent advice services, these rights would only be reserved for people who can afford to buy their own financial and legal advice from solicitors and accountants. It's also common sense that if you maximise a household's income by helping them claim the welfare benefits they are entitles to, it not only raises the household's income but also increases the money circulating in the local economy in Dundee. It's a 'no brainer' that the demand for debt counselling and welfare rights advice in our city is likely to escalate rather than reduce. Why are the SNP being so unsympathetic to our citizens at times in their lives when they are experiencing hardship?"

Councillor Richard McCready said:

"I am outraged at these proposals. The welfare rights services across the city offer a diverse service to a diverse group of users. We need to ensure that there is as much support as possible for those who need welfare rights advice. I think that proposals which might lead to a diminution of the service available to the people of Dundee are misguided. Our top priority must be prosperity and we need to do all we can to promote jobs in the city and for those who need welfare rights assistance we need to support the best service possible. I note that an SNP councillor in the city is agonising over the threats to benefits from the ConDem Government, this is exactly why the various welfare rights providers in the city should be supported.'

'Councillor Bidwell and myself have been denounced over this issue and if by exposing the proposed SNP cut we have prevented them then I am glad. It is clear that as soon as the council administration are challenged to defend any of their policies they capitulate. Labour will continue to stand up for the people of Dundee in the face of unfair cuts from the ConDem government and the SNP in Edinburgh and the City Chambers.'



ENDS

Notes

As part of the wide ranging 'Changing for the Future' package of measures, approved at the Policy & Resources Committee of Dundee City Council on Monday 23rd August, there was a Review of Welfare Rights provision.

Link to the Policy & Resources Committee Agenda and Papers which run to 204 pages. NB you will only need to examine/print out pages 7 - 16.
http://www.dundeecity.gov.uk/reports/agendas/pr230810-1.pdf

The Review of Welfare Rights was one of the reasons why Labour Councillors voted against the 'Changing for the Future' agenda but the SNP group pushed ahead using their majority on the Council.

There is a thirteen week time frame for the review concluding at the end of November 2010.