I regularly see people in my advice surgery who need help with balancing their household budgets, either because they have got into debt or because they find it difficult to keep up to date with what benefits they are entitled to. This is especially the case with in work benefits, where changes in income or eligibility are hard to keep up with but crucial in making work pay and keeping a family afloat.
I do all I can for people who come to my surgery, but it is essential for me to be able to refer people to specialist advisers. It is equally important that when people become ill or hit hard times, they are able to get advice that enables them to claim what they are entitled to quickly.
Tower Hamlets has an outstanding borough wide network of organisations offering that specialist advice. There are providers which specialise in support for BAME women, or for particular communities such as the Somali community. Welfare advice provision is also sited in organisations which also support people with health and Wellbeing, employment, enterprise or ESOL teaching, creating opportunities for people to build relationships that could open up their futures.
Welfare advice providers have seen their funding cut by up to 75% in the council’s current mainstream grant proposals. The Independent Mayor has delayed his final decision on this funding, so putting pressure on him now is crucial. If he doesn’t change his mind, local people will have nowhere to go when the Tory benefit cuts come into force. Universal Credit and cuts to Housing benefit will be devastating for many of my friends, neighbours and constituents in Tower Hamlets. Now, they have somewhere to go to ask for help.
In tough times, people need support, and I’m fighting with my Labour colleagues, the centres themselves and the local people who use the services to keep that support in place.