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Local welfare safety nets

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The safety net beneath the safety net?

The North East Child Poverty Commission (NECPC) is calling for the Government to strengthen both the national and local welfare safety nets if it wants to build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic, after new analysis has revealed the dramatic decline in funding for ‘local welfare assistance’ in the North East over the last decade.

This new report from NECPC acknowledges and strongly echoes the recommendations made by GMPA on strengthening the role of local welfare assistance schemes (LWAS).

NECPC urges local authorities to use their full LWAS budgets each year and review how they communicate their LWAS. Also review the different routes for accessing their LWAS, with no scheme having online-only applications. To reconsider the practice of not providing cash awards, to promote dignity, choice and autonomy; to reverse the entrenchment of emergency food aid as a response to poverty and to consider working with other local councils to develop agreed minimum standards of LWAS. They also urge local authorities to undertake all of this work in ongoing partnership with VCSE organisations and local communities, particularly those with lived experience of socio-economic disadvantage, to co-design improvements to local welfare assistance schemes in the region.

To read the NECPC’s full report please go to the website

 

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Food insecurity

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Hunger and the welfare state

By Lisa Scullion, University of Salford & Ben Baumberg Geiger, University of Kent

A major new research report looks at food insecurity among benefits claimants during COVID-19, finding that half of Universal Credit (UC)claimants are insecure, and one-quarter severely food insecure – even before the removal of the £20/week uplift.

This is the conclusion of a new report by Welfare at a (Social) Distance, a major national research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19.

Using a large nationally representative survey of benefits claimants in May/June 2021 together with a survey of the general public, the Hunger and the welfare state report shows people claiming UC (which received the £20/week COVID-19 uplift) saw no rise in food insecurity during COVID-19. In contrast, those claiming ESA/JSA (which did not) saw sharply rising insecurity. This suggests the £20/week uplift helped reduce food insecurity.

The new Household Support Fund will not compensate for the end of the UC uplift or benefit announcements made in the Budget. Simple arithmetic means that a £500 million fund can only make up for the loss of £20 a week for around 1.3 million of the nearly 6 million people claiming UC. Even if the fund is targeted perfectly, it cannot cover even the 1.7 million who were severely food insecure and can cover less than half of the 3 million UC claimants who had any food insecurity. Most UC claimants already in food insecurity will therefore lose £20/wk.

Yet the report finds that food insecurity is a broader problem: even with the uplift, 50.0% of UC claimants were food insecure, and 28.8% were severely food insecure. Even among UC claimants receiving the £20/wk uplift and not subject to any policies that raise the risk of food insecurity, we estimate that 29.4% were food insecure, and 16.1% were severely food insecure. A significant fall in food insecurity would require a much broader increase in the level of benefits.

The report also finds that food insecurity is noticeably higher among (i) claimants receiving deductions from their benefits (e.g. due to past advances), or subject to the under-occupancy penalty (‘bedroom tax’) or benefit cap; (ii) the 55.1% of claimants who made debt repayments in the previous month; and (iii) disabled people, particularly those not receiving multiple disability-related benefit payments.

Even ignoring DWP deductions from benefits, more than half of claimants repaid debts in the last month. These claimants are 20 percentage points more likely to be food insecure than other claimants. Inescapable debt payments reduce the amount that people have to live on and need to be taken into account in poverty measures.

If benefits are to provide an adequate income, then the DWP cannot ignore claimant debt. While the Government have taken useful steps towards tackling problem debt by launching the ‘Breathing Space’ scheme, more needs to be done to check for debts among all claimants and then to help them by comprehensively providing orsignposting claimants to debt advice.

 

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Elephant in the room

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A new film, made by local people has been released that reveals big social challenges facing many communities in Greater Manchester.

The film, ‘Made in Bury: Elephant in the Room’, draws on local and diverse voices rarely heard in mainstream media or politics. It explores insecurity, poverty and inequality, and how local people are organising to create system change that will tackle and prevent these issues. The film reflects the work of the Elephants Trail project. Presently working in both Bury and Rochdale, the Elephants Trail creates spaces for local people to explore issues around severe and multiple disadvantage and then produce solutions together with agencies and professionals. These currently include challenges such as homelessness, mental health and community power.

‘Made in Bury: Elephant in the Room’ was made jointly between a community reporting team from the Elephants Trail and video journalists at The Guardian, with support from The Guardian Foundation as part of the Made in Britain series.

Members of the Elephants Trail commented: “We all have that power within us to be able to say: ‘this is not how my story ends’”, said Juliet Eastham. “How amazing to have a group of people with lived experience able to advise those people that really are at the top”, added Melanie Humphreys. “We feel that there is a need to do journalism differently in our communities”, reflected Patrick Tierney “We think that people like us who have experienced severe struggles should have a role in bringing issues in our communities to light.”

John Domokos, video producer at The Guardian said “With Made in Britain, we are trying an experimental and participatory approach to film-making: giving up or sharing control with the people we work with locally”.

 

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Water bills

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United Utilities – supporting customers affected by a reduction in benefits

United Utilities is inviting customers affected by the recent changes to benefits to get in touch if they are worried about their water bill.   The company has a range of support schemes to help make water bills more affordable, especially if you’re receiving benefits such as Universal Credit. The number to call to find out more is 0800 072 6765.

They can also offer support to those customers who are applying for Universal Credit for the first time, delaying water bill payments for up to eight weeks until their first UC payment arrives. Then, when the customer is able to start paying again, United Utilities can spread those payments across a much longer period of time so they are not under any additional financial pressure.

Jane Haymes from United Utilities says: “When you call, we will also check to see if you are eligible for any of our other support schemes, such as Back on Track which provides a lower bill based on the benefits you receive or if you have been financially affected by COVID, such as being furloughed or made redundant at any time since the start of the pandemic.”

People who qualify for the warm home energy discount are also being encouraged to contact United Utilities to apply for a reduction in their water bills. The company’s Help to Pay scheme is aimed at customers who receive Pension Credit and can reduce water bills by as much as £168 a year.

“If you’re eligible for the warm home discount from your energy company due to receiving Pension Credit, I would encourage you to give us a call as it’s likely you are also eligible for a lower water bill.” added Jane Haymes

To find out more about the Help to Pay scheme, please call the team on 0800 072 6765 or visit the website

 

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GMHP Anti-Poverty Pledges

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GM Housing Providers sign up to new anti-poverty pledges

Greater Manchester Housing Providers (GMHP) members have already made a significant contribution to the fight against poverty. Last year they helped 7700 residents towards work, supported 600 apprenticeships, and secured 230kickstart placements for young people at risk of long-term unemployment. They helped tenants secure over £22m in unclaimed benefits and grants and in the last 3 years they’ve developed 5000 new homes in GM, over half of which were for social and affordable rent and they have helped over 800 rough sleepers and homeless households into secure homes.

Their new anti-poverty pledges are aimed at alleviating poverty amongst their customers and tackling the root causes of poverty in our communities. The housing providers have pledged to support, promote and implement activities and initiatives that help to address these priorities, and to work individually and collectively to meet the commitments made in the pledges.

This is not the full list of pledges.  You can read them here, but these are some of the commitments GMHP have made.

Reducing Inequalities:

•  co-ordinate an approach to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage, in line with Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 and adopt the principles of the socio-economic duty* by assessing the socio-economic impact of our policy decisions;

•  extend the successful Black, Asian and minority ethnic Leadership Programme to make leadership pathways within the organisations fair;

•  carry out an annual survey of member organisations to measure approaches to managing and promoting equality, diversity and inclusion, and to share good practice.

Social Inclusion:

•  provide and promote money advice services along with advice on energy use and fuel providers;

•  work with GMCA, local councils and VCSE partners to ensure that there is access to emergency food aid for those who need it, and identify longer term, more sustainable ways to support access to healthy and affordable food for all;

•  reduce the digital divide through the provision of training, funding, and support for digital inclusion measures to maximise the opportunities available for tenants and residents;

•  reduce the financial burden on new tenants by offering a range of ways to access free or affordable furniture, white goods and carpets and access support with decorating.

Employment and Skills:

•  work collaboratively to identify and deliver accessible pathways for tenants and residents to access jobs in the growth sectors;

•  work collaboratively to support underrepresented groups into our construction vacancies and supply chains;

•  create job opportunities for all ages, with an emphasis on supporting those from vulnerable and diverse backgrounds who have been significantly disadvantaged;

•  embed employment support work across all activities;

•  Deliver pathways into entry level jobs for tenants and residents.

Housing and Homelessness:

•  provide safe, warm, dry homes that meet or exceed the decent homes standard and by improving the energy efficiency help residents reduce their outgoings and to support health inequalities;

•  work collaboratively on development sites and schemes to maximise impact and reduce costs and develop ways to accelerate delivery of good quality new homes and continue to prioritise the delivery of low-cost rented housing;

•  use LetUs, the GM Ethical Lettings Agency, to reduce homelessness by increasing the number of good quality private sector homes available to rent;

•  provide housing with support for rough sleepers and homeless people through a variety of programmes;

•  adopt an ethical policy to ensure that social rented homes remain in the sector wherever possible.

Social Value:

•  maximise the value of the procurement and supply chain by adopting and implementing the principles in the GMCA Social Value Policy;

•  build capacity and sustainability in the VCSE sector through the provision of grant funding and access to training opportunities for tenants and residents.

Fair Employment:

•  pay the real Living Wage and seek accreditation with the Living Wage Foundation as Living Wage Employers;

•  sign up to the GM Good Employment Charter.

You can read the full list of pledges and other related articles on the GMHP website here

*GMPA’s Socio-economic duty guide details how local authorities and other public bodies should go about implementing the duty.

 

 

 

 

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Credit Union Awareness Month

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By Beck Golubows, South Manchester Credit Union
Sound Pound logo for GM Poverty Action
This October, the eight community credit unions of Greater Manchester, collectively known as Sound Pound, will be launching our first-ever Credit Union Awareness Month; getting people talking about one of the finance industry’s best-kept secrets.

Credit unions are financial institutions that are owned and controlled by our members; like community banks, aiming to bring financial inclusion back to the city region. We build the wealth of local people by providing low-interest loans and convenient savings accounts with a community-first ethos.

In Greater Manchester, there are 65,000 credit union members, some borrowing to afford their dream car, some setting up businesses, some saving for retirement, and some on low income who use credit unions services to pay for vital energy and food. In 2020, borrowers from the Sound Pound credit unions saved £13m in interest and charges, making them better off than they would have otherwise been. The vast majority of those who borrowed also spent their money locally, creating a financially resilient eco-system by driving the local economy.

The Covid-19 pandemic has altered people’s lives. For some, their bank balance has been hit hard due to reduced pay or redundancy. Credit unions have stood by those experiencing financial hardship, offering a friendly and human approach to provide financial help as well as referring people for additional support. Others have had time to focus on personal ventures and started something new for themselves. Credit unions have backed entrepreneurial opportunities and given them a fresh career path.

Throughout the pandemic, so much changed. People came together for support bringing positive energy. Sound Pound’s credit unions are determined to continue with this energy whilst building back fairer and giving more people in our communities better life chances through safe and honest lending, fair rates of interest and dedicated time to listen and understand their current circumstances.

Whilst the country focuses on levelling up, our key messages need to be amplified. In this spirit, our #HowsYourBalance challenge will be launched as part of Credit Union Awareness Month this October.HowsYourBalance for GM Poverty Action

The campaign challenges people to balance something on their body, take a picture and post it on social media – nominating three friends to do the same along with the hashtags #HowsYourBalance and #CreditUnionAwareness.  This has a fun double meaning; whilst asking you to balance something on your body, #HowsYourBalance also asks people to reflect on the state of their finances.

If you’d like to join in the fun, why not start it off yourself? Get the funniest, most challenging object you can find, balance it your body and take a picture, then post it on social media including the hashtags and challenging three friends to do the same. Alternatively, any time soon you could receive your nomination and get to show off your skills.

The Sound Pound credit unions will also be very active on social media over the month, sharing facts and statements about credit unions that you may have previously not known. Watch out for these and share them, you could be helping someone in need of credit find the cheapest and most sustainable option.

Happy balancing Greater Manchester!

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Employer views on UC

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New research project seeks employer views and experiences of Universal Credit
By Katy Jones, Research Fellow in the Centre for Decent Work and Productivity at Manchester Metropolitan University

Research and policymaking has largely ignored employer views and experiences of Universal Credit – the main benefit for people who are out of work or on a low income. As job creators, and those ultimately in control of the job opportunities claimants are seeking to access, this is an important gap. Exploring how employers engage (or could engage) with local employment services like Jobcentre Plus is also critical given ongoing recruitment struggles in key industries.

In a similar way to legacy benefits including Jobseekers Allowance, Universal Credit requires claimants who are out of work to engage in job seeking and other work-related activities. It is underpinned by the UK’s long-established ‘Work First’ approach, which requires claimants to make a high number of applications and move into work as quickly as possible.

Critically though, Universal Credit is also an in-work benefit (it replaces working tax credits), and in an unprecedented move, may involve the introduction of “in-work conditionality” (IWC). This may mean that claimants who are in work must continue to engage with the Jobcentre and demonstrate ongoing efforts to increase their earnings (e.g. through increasing their hours/earnings in their current place of work or by taking up additional or alternative jobs elsewhere).

Employers and the opportunities they offer are critical to the outcomes of such policies, and associated programmes like Kickstart and Restart. And while job-search expectations are applied to claimants, Universal Credit may have implications for the way employers recruit, manage, retain and progress their staff. Do employers see agencies like Jobcentre Plus as a recruitment channel? Does the Work First approach help them to get the right candidates?

Now more than ever, we need to understand how our welfare system interacts with the labour market. More than 6 million people now claim Universal Credit, and areas like Greater Manchester have relatively high numbers of Universal Credit claimants compared to other Districts (326,978 in April 2021).

As the UK faces high unemployment, and new programmes such as Kickstart and Restart are introduced, it is critical that we consult with employers about how policies impact on their businesses and their important role in helping people to enter and progress in work .

A new research project will do just that. Led by Dr Katy Jones from Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School and supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), this important project will gather employer views of UC, how expectations placed on UC claimants may (or may not) impact on businesses, and how employment agencies like Jobcentre Plus can best work with the business community.

How can employers get involved?

The research team are currently looking for Employers (anyone with influence/power over recruitment and line management including Owner-Managers, HR managers, line managers) operating in Greater Manchester who are willing to take part in a confidential interview (face-to-face or online).

Employers from any sector can take part but they are particularly interested in speaking to employers in Retail, Hospitality and Social Care. Employers do not need to know anything about Universal Credit to take part – the researchers are interested in their insights and expertise as business owners and managers.

If you are interested in taking part, can help us to connect with local business communities, or simply want to find out more about the project, please contact Dr Katy Jones or Dr Calum Carson You can also follow the project on Twitter @UC_Employers

All responses will help towards a research paper which will be submitted to the government alongside suggestions for changes to the Universal Credit system.

 

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Universal Credit cut – Insult to injury

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NICs increase ‘adds insult to injury’ for families facing devastating cut to Universal Credit

New JRF analysis estimates that around 2 million families on low incomes who receive Universal Credit (UC) or Working Tax Credit (WTC) will pay on average around an extra £100 per year in National Insurance contributions under the Government’s proposed changes.

Peter Matejic, Deputy Director of Evidence & Impact at JRF said: “With inflation rising, the cost of living going up and an energy price rise coming in October, many struggling families are wondering how on earth they will be expected to make ends meet from next month.  Any MP who is concerned about families on low incomes must urge the Prime Minister and Chancellor to reverse this damaging cut to Universal Credit, which will have an immediate and devastating impact on their constituents’ living standards in just a few weeks time.”

Only three weeks ago 100 organisations across the UK, including GMPA, joined together in an open letter to the Prime Minister urging the Government not to go ahead with the planned £20-a-week cut to UC and WTC Credit.

JRF’s latest analysis shows the number and proportion of families who will be impacted by the cut to UC and WTC in each UK parliamentary constituency. See below the figures for the GM constituencies:

JRF Constituency data for GM Poverty Action

 

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Addressing digital exclusion

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By Erica Roscoe, Senior Research Fellow, IPPR North

Digital access is essential to our everyday lives. But our recent research into digital exclusion highlighted the barriers that many face to accessing online resources, and the challenges they encounter as a result.

Our research, which focussed on the North East but had nationally relevant findings and recommendations, found that the reasons for digital exclusion are complex and varied, and that digital exclusion often exists on a sliding scale. In our work we characterised digital exclusion as a lack of connectivity, access to appropriate devices, lack of skills and confidence and a lack of online accessibility. This broad definition encompasses individuals who, for example, may be able to use their smartphone to check social media but not have the device or appropriate skills to complete routine tasks through a laptop or desktop computer.

Our work further found that groups often disproportionately affected by digital exclusion are those who are already marginalised, including groups such as disabled people, asylum seekers, people living in rural locations and people experiencing poverty and for many, digital exclusion exacerbates this broader marginalisation. For many living in poverty, digital exclusion is often a matter of affordability; both of devices and of connection. But things are compounded by the fact that being digitally excluded often reduces access to things like job opportunities and precludes you from accessing the full marketplace when needing to make purchases, meaning it’s not possible to find the cheapest deal.

While work has been done throughout the pandemic to combat digital exclusion, we argue that a more coordinated, long-term approach now needs to be adopted to support anyone at risk of digital exclusion. Given the broad range of reasons that someone might experience digital exclusion, we can’t rely on a one size fits all approach to resolving the issue, but need to support people in a range of scenarios. Key recommendations include the need for a minimum standard of access available to all, as well as coordinated signposting and a safety net for anyone identified as being at risk of digital exclusion through access to other public services. We suggest that support should be offered in a range of environments, from one-stop physical digital support hubs, to ongoing support from employers and outreach opportunities to communities most at risk. We also put forward that digital inclusion must be at the heart of other strategies focussed on poverty reduction. Without this, those living in poverty who are facing digital exclusion will continue to face restrictions in access to things like job opportunities, skills development and access to the marketplace.

Eradicating digital exclusion won’t happen overnight and it can’t be done without a joined-up approach. We call on government at the national, regional and local level, alongside VCSE organisations and the private sector to prioritise this agenda and affect change.

To read our report in full click here.

 

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Resolution Foundation report

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Number of young people receiving benefits increases

A new report by the Resolution Foundation

Resolution Foundation logo for GM Poverty ActionThe proportion of young adults claiming income-related benefits increased from 9% to 15% during the Covid crisis – a larger increase than any other age group. This was part of the overall increase in claimants, highlighting the vital role that Universal Credit – including the £20 ‘uplift’ – has played during the pandemic, according to new research published by the Resolution Foundation in late August.

Nuffield Foundation logo for GM Poverty ActionThe report – Age-old or new-age – funded by the Nuffield Foundation, examines the shifts in the number of people receiving benefits during the crisis, and how this varied for different age-groups. There was a staggering surge in UC claims, with 1.3 million more families receiving the benefit in the first three months of the pandemic and a further 600,000 since then.

As a result, the total number of families receiving a working-age income-related benefit rose by 1.4 million in the space of 12 months to 7.5 million in February 2021 and reversed a long decline in benefit receipt.

In 2005, 72% of people lived in households that received at least one benefit, a figure that had fallen to 62% by the eve of the crisis. This fall was driven by the removal of Child Benefit from higher earners, the increase in the State Pension Age, and rising employment and earnings causing some families to no longer be entitled to welfare support. The Resolution Foundation estimates this figure has been partly reversed, with 64% of people now receiving benefit income in their household.

Focusing on which groups have been the main recipients of the pandemic benefit surge, the report notes that young adults (16 – 24 year olds) – the age group least likely to receive benefits – have seen the sharpest increases in support. The proportion of 25-29 has also increased sharply – from 17% to 24% per cent – while the share of 30 – 59 year olds claiming benefits has increased more slowly, from 22% to 27% per cent.

The Foundation believes that young adults have been hit hardest by the Covid-19 crisis and that it would have been far worse if not for the furlough scheme and while the number of families receiving benefits had dropped by some 130,000 by May of this year, the Office for Budget Responsibility expects the number of families receiving benefits to remain higher for the next two years than it was before the pandemic.

There has also been a potentially worrying rise in the number of older UC claimants, with 34,000 more people aged over 50 on the benefit since February 2021.

With record numbers of people now receiving UC, future decisions such as the future of the £20 a week uplift*, will have a bigger impact on family living standards across the country than ever before.

Alex Beer, Welfare Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said: “This research highlights the relevance of the benefits system to people of all ages, as well as the vital role it has played in supporting people and families through the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. However, it also shows that the level of support varies significantly across different age groups, and those differences should be taken into account by government when considering any changes to benefit rates.”

 

For information about how many people in the city region are in receipt of out-of-work benefits or in receipt of in-work support please go to the GMPA Poverty Monitor Social Security data.

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