Stockport integrated support

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By Cllr Amanda Peers, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Neighbourhoods , Stockport MBC

As many of you will be aware, and has been covered in depth by GMPA, responsibility for crisis loans and financial assistance for those experiencing difficulties was transferred from DWP to local authorities in April 2013 in the form of local welfare assistance schemes. You are also probably aware that since 2010 the  government has continued to reduce budgets for essential services to local authorities year on year. In Stockport this reduction has amounted to around £110 million in total (i.e. over 60% of the overall budget).

Over the last 4 years in Stockport we have been working hard to deliver a balanced budget without making  excessive cuts and reductions in services. As you can imagine this is virtually impossible with increasing costs and reducing funds. We have tried where possible to do things differently, to do more with less and to work efficiently and effectively with partners to maximise resources and avoid duplication.

The Stockport Local Assistance Scheme was reviewed over 2019/20, and from this review, which included 2 pieces of consultation, a proposal to change to Stockport Integrated Support was agreed for the 20/21 budget.

Under the new proposals a number of funding streams that are used to support people in financial crisis are to be administered under one system, a ‘one door entry system’. On initial contact residents will be advised what funding is available to them, plus additional support through a variety of partners including CAB, Age UK, Signpost for Carers etc, who will all offer specialist advice and services. This could include money management, debt advice, employment support and housing support.

As a large proportion of the applications to the Stockport Local Assistance Scheme were for white goods and furnishing for new tenancies we have worked with our Social Housing partners to look at how we can support people with these needs. Our housing partners are able to offer furnished tenancies, providing a good start for those with little or no means, enabling and supporting  sustainable tenancies, the costs of which can be met through housing benefit, which then comes back into the system to support others.

We have also worked with our local Credit Union who have developed flexible loan packages in response to residents’ needs.

The administration team behind the new process will be trained to seek and secure additional external funding streams from specialist charities and organisations to meet the needs of the individuals, this in effect will bring more funding into the borough for the benefit of local residents.

This holistic person-centred approach will ultimately offer our most vulnerable residents a hand up rather than a handout, with advice and support empowering people and enabling them to move onto a pathway out of poverty.  As an experienced community worker by profession, I know this is preferable to so many people who like to maintain their independence and are often finding it difficult to accept help.

With  Brexit and other political and funding uncertainties facing Stockport Council, it was felt that there were many unknowns that may adversely affect our residents so we have set aside some reserves to meet the needs of our residents over time.

Stockport Cllr Amanda Peers article for GM Poverty Action

Cllr Amanda Peers

The new scheme was due to be implemented at the start of the new financial year. However, with the impact of Covid-19 we have deferred the implementation until a later date and in parallel provided a small grant pot through our Stockport Local Fund to support the voluntary and community sector, charities and mutual aid groups in our neighbourhoods who have been providing direct support to those vulnerable residents adversely affected by Covid.

Stockport MBC Community webpage


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Out-of-hours Citizens Advice helpline service

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By Rachel Howley, Director – Citizens Advice Greater Manchester

Citizens Advice Greater Manchester (CAGM) is a consortium of all 10 GM local Citizens Advice services. In March they escalated plans with GMCA to launch a new helpline service to all GM residents in direct response to the critical situation we faced with the Coronavirus Pandemic. In the space of 4 just weeks they set up an Out of Hours Emergency Support Service for vulnerable people facing crisis or emergency across GM via a clear, single point of contact. On April 19th, they officially launched their new Helpline to all residents of Greater Manchester, funded by a £100,000 grant from the GMCA.

The Helpline is available for all GM residents to call Monday to Sunday from 7pm to 10pm on 0161 850 5053. Calls are charged at local rates. This service will increase access to generalist and specialist advice: Debt and Money, Welfare Rights and access to Benefits, Housing and Mortgage, Employment.

In addition, the service will also increase access to specialist support from a joined up, comprehensive network of Greater Manchester agencies. Initially through the GMVCSE Leadership Group, CAGM will build up a strong holistic network of external partners to signpost clients to support for mental health and suicide prevention, employment, foodbanks, domestic violence, young people older, people, family, and immigration,

Through the suspension of most face to face services as a result of Covid-19, they are particularly interested to explore how they can support the most vulnerable and hard to reach clients through new technology.

A further objective of the project is to improve the strategic partnerships with Foodbanks. CAGM will work together with local Foodbanks across GM to develop a better understanding of how the services can work more seamlessly together. This will include a dedicated CAGM Campaign to highlight, combat and alleviate food poverty, linking into the current GM Food Poverty Action Plan.

CAGM will work closely with GMCA to spot occurring trends across GM as a direct result of the pandemic including: welfare reform including Universal Credit; debt; employment including furlough, redundancy and discrimination; unemployment, particularly 16-24 year olds; housing including mortgage and rent and landlord tenant issues.

Citizens Advice Greater Manchester website


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Welfare at a (social) distance

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Welfare at a (Social) Distance: Accessing social security and employment support during the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath

By Lisa Scullion, University of Salford; Daniel Edmiston, University of Leeds; and Kate Summers, London School of Economics.

The Sustainable Housing & Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU) at the University of Salford, working with the universities of Leeds, Kent and the London School of Economics, is leading a large-scale national research project to understand how the working-age benefits system responds to the coronavirus crisis. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19, this project will rapidly produce large-scale evidence to inform policymaking in the coming months.

As newsletter readers will know, the benefits system is crucial to supporting people during, and after, the COVID-19 crisis. With a growing number of new claimants, it faces two challenges. Firstly, to ensure people quickly get the money they need. And afterwards, that people are helped to quickly return to work or supported further if unable to work. This project will provide vital information on how we are meeting these challenges and where the system is struggling in order to help develop rapid solutions.

The project has three main components. We are conducting an online survey of 8,000 new and existing claimants, to provide a nationally representative picture of what is happening. Second, we are conducting four local area case studies in Leeds, Newham, Salford and Thanet, to identify how local support systems, including local authorities, third sector providers, and others, support claimants. Third, we are interviewing 80 claimants twice over the next year. These in-depth interviews will help us understand the details of claimants’ experiences.

This project is particularly important because of the ongoing and new challenges that the benefit system is facing. The coronavirus crisis has created a group of ‘new’ claimants, who might not have prior experience of the social security system: we need to understand how their experiences compare to those of existing claimants. Specifically, we need understand if support and income is reaching all claimants in a timely way, when the wave of new applications has put higher levels of strain on DWP processes. COVID-19 has also accelerated the shift to a digitalised benefits system – navigating this ‘virtual’ system often depends on in-person help for some claimants (from e.g. advice agencies) and the extent to which claimants can access support remotely is unknown. Later, claimants will need support to quickly return to work, while those who remain out of work will need ongoing

Can you help us?

We are looking to speak to current benefit recipients from across England about their experiences. If you can help put us in touch with anyone currently in receipt of Universal Credit, JSA, ESA, or Tax Credits we would be grateful to hear from you. Interviews are treated confidentially and participants receive a voucher as a thank them for their time.

We would also like to hear from organisations in the Salford area who are currently supporting benefit claimants and are able to share their experiences of providing support during this time.

For further information about the project, or if you would like to be added to our project dissemination list to receive updates from the project, please contact:

Professor Lisa Scullion (University of Salford)
Dr Daniel Edmiston (University of Leeds)
Dr Kate Summers (London School of Economics)Welfare at a distance article logos for GM Poverty Action

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Is now the time to be fighting for a Real Living Wage in Bolton?

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By Amy Rothwell, Business Development Lead for Boo Coaching & Consulting, Bolton

An increase in wages for the lowest paid workers in Bolton. An hourly rate calculated according to what employees and their families need to live. How does the case for that stand, now, with recession looming?

1 Capture the Impetus
There are actually strong opportunities while the public feeling is that something needs to change, when social value no longer just a concept to most of us.

Julie Ralph, Policy and Public Affairs Analyst for Bolton at Home, says “Now seems like the right time to join up with other Community Wealth Building initiatives, such as Strength in Places, and Build Back Better. The Living Wage campaign doesn’t need to be a standalone voice.”

One of the common themes of such strategies is a call to keep money local;  to spend within our communities and
support those local businesses that have kept us supplied us through these challenging times.

2 Shop Wisely
John Hacking, Campaign Coordinator at the Greater Manchester Living Wage campaign says that the current crisis very quickly divided businesses into those that did the right thing, and those that didn’t. “Companies are now being judged on how they instinctively reacted – whether in their treatment of staff, or whether they honoured payments to suppliers. People are now considering more than ever what it means to be a good employer.”

If we, the public, remember this when we make our choices as consumers and services users, we have the power to influence positive change in workplaces. Ensuring that all employees are paid fairly for the work they do seems a natural part of this.

3 Honour our key workers
There has been wide recognition of the burden that ‘key workers’ have shouldered during this pandemic. No more so than in the notoriously undervalued care industry. Adrian Nottingham, Social Value, Quality and Impact Officer at Bolton CVS  says “There’s a momentum that cannot be ignored. We’ve been clapping, but now there is a demand for our care workers to be respected in a meaningful way.”

Amy Rothwell for GM Poverty Action

Amy Rothwell

It’s time to strike while the iron is hot. Harness the goodwill of the people – who are customers, services users, decision makers – and fly the flag for fair pay.

How do we Build Bolton Back Better?

By making the Real Living Wage one of the cornerstones. 


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Covid-19: The impact on food support providers in GM

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Update July 1st 2020:

Your participation is very important, and to thank you for taking part, a donation to a charity of your choice will be made.

If you would like to participate please either:

  • Click here and fill in a 20 minute survey (£10 donation)
  • or get in touch with Filippo Oncini by email or via whatsapp on 07340 483318 and schedule a longer interview via Zoom or Skype (£30 donation)

A new study on the impact of Covid-19 on food support providers in Greater Manchester is being conducted by Filippo Oncini, a researcher based at the University of Manchester.

Filippo Oncini research - Covid-19 article for GM Poverty Action

Filippo Oncini

The research aims to explore in depth the obstacles, the needs and the prospects of the food providers active in Greater Manchester. The findings will be used to increase awareness of the many challenges met by these organisations, to shed light on their needs and to gather a picture on the general situation. Teamsearch, a research agency hired to collect the data, will call each food provider based in Greater Manchester starting from next week to ask permission to conduct an anonymous phone survey. If they agree, the director or a spokesperson of the organisation will respond to a questionnaire on the characteristics of the organisation and on the impact of Covid-19. In addition, the interviewer will also ask if the respondent would like to participate in an hour-long digital interview with Filippo to better explore some aspects of this crisis.

You can find the participant information sheet with detailed information regarding the survey here. If you have any questions or comments, do not hesitate to contact Filippo by email.

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LockdownLIVEs: Co-Production and Creative Advocacy during Covid-19

By Katy Rubin, LockdownLIVEs

When the pandemic hit, the first priority for the Greater Manchester Homelessness Action Network and the GMCA was to ensure that GM residents in hostels or rough sleeping would be able to self-isolate and stay safe. The next priority has been to direct food, health care and other essential services to these emergency accommodations. While this urgent work has been underway, the needs for creative expression, co-produced research, and a sense of connection were also increasingly pressing.

In mid-April, the LockdownLIVEs project was born, in collaboration with the GMHAN and Street Support Network. LockdownLIVEs is a docu-series co-created by GM residents in emergency and temporary accommodation during the pandemic. The project aims to creatively connect people who are self-isolating in emergency accommodation; and help the broader public understand how this crisis affects those who don’t have their own homes. All GM residents experiencing homelessness are invited to submit 1-minute videos, poems, drawings, and photos about what life is like right now. The submissions are edited into twice-weekly, themed episodes that air on social media (@StreetSupportUK and @LockdownLIVES) on Tuesdays and Fridays at 3pm. LockdownLIVEs aims to offer an opportunity for viewing and discussion online, to help build community over the weeks and months that the lockdown continues.

LockdownLIVEs video screen grab for GM Poverty Action

In the first three weeks, five episodes have been released addressing the challenges of communicating with GPs and support workers over the phone, and the resulting feelings of isolation and anxiety; the experience of food insecurity, and not having choice about your own diet; the frustration when those around aren’t observing social distancing; and the added anxiety when the government is unclear about their response. There have also been examples of collaboration, beauty and hope: residents in hotels bringing music back to the lockdown; working together (with masks and gloves) to build planters for flowers; and sharing humorous poems about what to watch (or not watch) on TV.

Project coordinators have heard from staff at front-line organisations that watching these videos at the end of a workday has been both emotional and encouraging; overall, the project has been received with enthusiasm from staff and residents. Some residents don’t have access to devices or data to send content, so staff are helping to coordinate the submissions; additionally, the Mayor’s Charity and other groups are endeavouring to distribute more devices and data, as internet access is crucial in the current moment.

The LockdownLIVEs team is working with other groups conducting research, so that co-produced reporting and artistic expression can support more formal evaluation efforts.  A final video product will tie various themes together, to be used as an advocacy tool. Upcoming episodes will dive deeper into the experience and help shed light on what’s working in the GM response to covid-19; what’s not working; and what GM residents experiencing homelessness hope will happen next.

Katy Rubin, LockdownLIVEs article for GM Poverty Action

Katy Rubin

Currently, the team, consisting of Jez Green of Mustard Tree, Katy Rubin, an arts-and-policy strategist, and Alex Bower, video editor, are working to spread the word to include a diversity of voices in the project. Any organisation supporting emergency or temporary accommodation is very welcome to participate: new prompts go out on Tuesdays and Fridays, and staff or residents can send any content – videos, images, poems – via WhatsApp or text message to Katy at 07926 358983, or email. Watch and share past videos via, and reach out with any other inquiries or suggestions.


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Children’s Food Campaign

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Government urged to keep feeding children during school holidays

By Barbara Crowther, Co-ordinator for the Children’s Food Campaign

Charities, organisations and education unions have called on Education Secretary to announce additional funding for continued food provision during the forthcoming school half-term and summer holidays.

In a joint letter to the Secretary of State Gavin Williamson MP and Schools Minister Vicky Ford MP, the  organisations point to recent figures from the Food Foundation that show around 2 million children across the UK are directly experiencing some level of food insecurity or hunger. Before the crisis, 1.3 million children in England were eligible for benefit-related free school meals, however a further 1.4 million families have applied for Universal Credit since the start of the outbreak.

Campaign Co-ordinator for the Children’s Food Campaign Barbara Crowther says, “Hunger does not know the difference between term time and school holidays, and the Government’s support for families should be continuous through this crisis. Given the scale of food and income insecurity being experienced by so many families, it is critical that the Government makes national level funding available to cover all the school holidays until the start of the new academic year.”

The Welsh Government has already committed £33m additional funding to cover all holidays until the end of August, which is equivalent to holiday provision of £19.50 per week per child eligible for support. However, in England, the Department for Education has so far only committed to £9m funding for pilot holiday food projects in a few selected areas, with successful funding bidders still to be announced. In the letter, the organisations say this is not enough and a national level holiday provision funding formula is now needed “at a level sufficient to expand provision of free school meals substitutes, and to the National School Breakfast Programme, to cover all holiday periods across the whole of England until end of August.”

The Government did extend funding to allow the national school voucher programme for England to cover Easter holidays. The organisations are arguing that giving more advance notice for forthcoming holiday periods would allow schools, academy trusts and local authorities to make better plans with their relevant food and catering suppliers, or alternative voucher/cash support provision, with confidence that they will have the funds to deliver.

More information about Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign and a list of the organisations who have signed up is available here

More information about the GM Food Poverty Action Plan is available here


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GM VCSE letter

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GM VCSE leaders are asking the Government for urgent help

The Chairs of GMCVO, the GM VCSE Leadership Group, the GM BAME Network and GM BAME SE Network and the GM Social Enterprise Network have written to the Chancellor, the Rt. Hon. Rishi Sunak asking for more support for voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations.

The response of our local voluntary organisations, charities, community groups and social enterprises to the
current crisis has been genuinely inspirational. The letter explains just how vital they are to people in need, and how important they are to ‘building back better’. But their future has never been less certain, with every income stream disappearing at once.

So far we have had very little help for our local organisations from national government.  Of course we welcome the funding recently announced, but it is just not enough.  In Greater Manchester alone we need an additional £19.5 million. Meanwhile the job retention scheme is unhelpful when organisations need to stay open and keep staff working and they have had no access to the small business grants offered to other SMEs.

Without urgent action from the UK government to provide support, we are afraid that many GM VCSEs will soon be gone – just when they are needed most.  More information and to read the letter in full


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Passport to Housing

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Passport to Housing

By Clare Maskrey

Over the last fifteen months Bolton’s Money Skills Service and Furniture 4U (part of Bolton Council) have been delivering a programme of ‘pre-tenancy’ sessions to residents in supported and temporary accommodation to teach them about sustaining a future tenancy.

The aims of the project are to provide residents with the essential tools, skills and knowledge to maintain their tenancies and to educate them on their tenancy rights and responsibilities and make sure they are ‘tenancy ready’ before they move into their own homes.

The Passport to Housing is delivered direct to residents via 1-2-1 sessions over several weeks with each session lasting around an hour and covering one or two topics such as budgeting and banking, furniture options, a pre-residency check list, energy efficiency, value for money and credit repair and understanding a wage slip.

Feedback from those who have taken part in the programme has been excellent with everyone saying that they felt more confident, particularly around budgeting and energy consumption, with many applying for Warm Home Discount, switching their supplier and buying energy savings bulbs.  Their awareness of the alternatives to high street lending or rent to own schemes has meant that none had bought furniture on payment plans.

One gentleman who attended the session said he had found it very useful and was now fanatical about switching things off at the sockets. He said that he was able to read the meters correctly and the knowledge gained helped him notice when there was a problem. He felt confident raising issues with his supplier.

A staff member at a hostel in Bolton who provide supported housing to young people and their children, promoting independence and enabling them to sustain their own tenancy said: “I met with Money Skills initially to learn more about their service and the Passport to Housing scheme. A Money Skills team member came into the hostel for around 3 months to work with some of our most vulnerable customers.  During that time, they met on a weekly basis, supplementing the support that we offer. Using their expertise and connections they were also able to signpost some of our customers to other relevant services such as ‘Furniture4U’ who also worked closely alongside us.

They understood that some of our customers are dealing with some complex and challenging personal issues and circumstances and they took this into consideration when helping our customers to budget and plan for various different outcomes. They were kind, friendly and approachable and The Passport to Housing idea was welcomed by our customers, one of whom said ‘everyone should make sure they do the Passport to Housing Course because it helps you so much’.  We would always welcome them back!”


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Healthy Start vouchers

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Healthy Start Vouchers – Applications Made Simpler

Families can now apply for Healthy Start food vouchers without a health professional’s signature on the form, as was previously required.

Healthy Start is the UK’s food welfare scheme for pregnant women and young children in low-income families. The vouchers, worth £3.10 per week, can be used to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables, milk or infant formula, and vitamin coupons are issued in addition. The application process and other issues have limited their reach, with uptake between 51% and 62% in Greater Manchester’s boroughs, charted by GM Combine Authority. This means many families are currently missing out, costing close to an estimated £4m per year across GM.

However, the regulations around the application process have now been changed, so Healthy Start application forms (which can be found here) no longer require a health professional to complete and sign Part B. These new regulations are welcome during the Covid-19 pandemic, as families at risk of food poverty desperately need support to buy healthy food, and health professionals are already at capacity.

“Low-income families need to be able to access all available support during this time of economic and social upheaval, so the timing of the new regulation is very welcomed as they will enable pregnant women, parents and carers to apply without having to seek out a health professional. Simplifying the application process is something that’s been needed for years and we are so glad to see it happening now, when it is vital to improve food access for our most vulnerable families,” says Maddie Guerlain of Sustain.

We are calling on relevant agencies across Greater Manchester to do all they can to make more residents aware of the scheme, and help eligible residents to apply. There will be a Food Power webinar at 11am on Tuesday 28th April for those wanting to find out more, including an update on upcoming digitisation plans and case studies from two food partnerships on how they’ve been working to increase take up locally. The webinar will be recorded so if you cannot attend the live session, you can register anyway to receive a link to the recording later in the week.

Find out more about Healthy Start vouchers and how to apply here.


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