Writing a blog about welfare reform has been on my ‘to do’ list for a while and yet somehow I’ve struggled to get round to it. It’s not like we can stop the big guns in Westminster from making the cuts so why rub salt into wounds by banging on about it?
Well, the reason we persist, the reason why I’m finally tackling this task, is because whilst change is inevitable, if you know what’s coming and where the pitfalls lie, you are better placed to make the best of it and help the people you care about to do the same.
Already we’re seeing young people in North Lanarkshire being sanction and losing out on weeks, or even months worth of money, when in some cases this could have been avoided just by knowing how it all works.
To give you an idea, since 2010 our guys in Welfare Rights have helped residents from North Lanarkshire claim well over £100million in benefits that they would not otherwise have had. And that’s just because we know the system.
The simple fact is that we want North Lanarkshire residents to be okay. We want them to have as much money as they are entitled to. We don’t want our young people to be sanctioned and have to beg from a friend or family member. We don’t want anyone to miss out on an entitlement that they didn’t realise they could claim. We want, wherever possible, to help you challenge sanctions and understand the system. We want, in a nutshell, whatever we can get for North Lanarkshire residents.
But it’s all so confusing. The media blow some things way out of proportion while completely ignoring others. And there’s been so much rubbish written about claiming benefits – phrases like ‘scrounger’ and ‘freeloader’ being bandied around by people who clearly haven’t ever had to pass on dinner so their kids can eat.
My job is to figure out how to tell you what’s going on – to provide straightforward, unbiased information which you can use to work out how to be prepared for the changes that are coming and avoid things being harder than they have to be. And we have been trying – quite hard actually! But the goal posts keep shifting. Changes have been delayed, changes have been changed and we just don’t think that many folk have been ready to listen.
Even without these shifts the messages are unpalatable – I mean who wants to hear bad news before they have to? The worst of it is that, despite the sharp rise in people visiting food banks and the first increase for years in people sleeping rough, the majority of the welfare changes haven’t even happened yet.
The Government plan is to save £25.5 billion within the next 5 years. The total saved from changes made so far is a mere £2.5 billion. So we’ve got a long way to go.
And there still isn’t clarity about when the outstanding changes will be made. ‘Sometime’ in the next 4 years is about as much as any of us have to work with.
So, back to the point of this blog. We thought it might be a handy, not to mention affordable way of conveying some of the finer details that often get lost but which you may really need to be aware of – a way of letting you know when it looks like a decision is about to be made about transferring people from an old benefit to a new one, or when the criteria for a new benefit are clarified.
It may ramble on a bit from time to time because we’re trying to cover the stuff that isn’t yet certain. But it will be true, up to date and our best attempt to give you the facts as soon as we know them. If you have questions about anything we post, by all means comment on the blog, or use one of the many contact numbers that we’ll include a link to.
At the moment this is just a trial. We’ll go for 6 months and see if it helps. If it doesn’t, we’ll pack it in and try something else.
We want to talk a bit about food and how to avoid not having it. We want to discuss money and how to have it. We need to look at how benefits work. Headings like Sanctions, Claimant Commitments, Manadatory Reconsiderations are horrible, clumsy names for processes that you really do need to know about since this knowledge could be the difference between receiving a benefit and not.
We also want to guide you in where to get any help you may need to keep you healthy and on track. And that’s just for starters! Other things will no doubt pop up as the DWP moves forward with the many changes that have been agreed but have yet to be fully implemented.
If there are any subjects you would like us to try and cover, comment here or give us a call. You can also obtain details of where to go for help and advice using the contact details below.
Call our Your Money information line on 01698 403170 or visit us at northlanarkshire.gov.uk/yourmoney
Be back soon!