Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The True Cost of Austerity (Part 3) - Accountability

This post is part of a series :

The True Cost of Austerity - Part 1 (Advice Nottingham Report)
The True Cost of Austerity - Part 2 (Effect on Children)
The True Cost of Austerity - Part 3 (Accountability)

The posts above, which described cases where people in Nottingham had been placed in great hardship by delays in providing welfare and other safety net payments - a few examples :

Suzanne - a mother who was fleeing an abusive relationship and needed child benefit and welfare payments transferring to her name. The DWP said this would take 12 weeks.

Winston - a single father who told the DWP he could not attend an appointment because his daughter had been taken ill. He was given a 4 week sanction.

It seems to BFTF that the efforts of some Foodbanks and other charitable groups are focussed largely on providing immediate aid to people like Suzanne and Winston - while the responsible local authorities are not held accountable for their failure to provide timely services to those who rely on this help as their only safety net.

Which Foodbank is doing it right?

This, to BFTF, is not acceptable. One can imagine the architects of austerity thinking something like this :

"This is perfect, we cut services to the extent that people cannot afford food - and these soppy do-gooders pick up the pieces with their foodbanks! And best of all, they are so busy running around making sure they have enough tins of beans that they don't challenge any of the blatantly vindicitve and unfair decisions that are being made. G&T's all round!"

So, on 30th May, sent this email to one of Nottingham Councils Portfolio Holders:

"I've been very disturbed to read a report by Advice Nottingham which includes case studies of people how have been treated very badly by the DWP and had sanctions imposed unfairly or had benefit changes delayed excessively.I have two questions:

1) Who, in Nottingham, is responsible for ensuring that benefit sanctions are always fair and reasonable; and that delays in processing benefit claims are not excessive or handled incompetently.

2) How does the council collect data to ensure that benefit sanctions are always fair and reasonable; and that delays in processing benefit claims are not excessive or handled incompetently."


They said they would find out.

Dear Reader, if you think local officials should be held accountable for the welfare decisions made on their patch, you may wish to email your local councillors with questions like those above. You can get their contact details here:
http://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/about-the-council/councillors-and-leadership/find-a-councillor/

Update 14 May:No response so chased up by email again
Update 20 May:No response so chased up by email again
Update 30 May:Chased up again, cllr said they'd get back to me.
Update 14 June:Chased up again
Update 21 June:Chased up again, cllr said they'd get back to me.
Update 25 June:Chased up again, cllr said was working on it.
Update 7th July :Chased up again

And then, finally...

Update 15th July : Received the following response (edited slightly for clarity) from :

Question 1
Who, in Nottingham, is responsible for ensuring that benefit sanctions are always fair and reasonable; and that delays in processing benefit claims are not excessive or handled incompetently.

Answer 1
Sanctions Protocol
In 2014, in response to concerns regarding inappropriate sanction decisions by the DWP, affecting claimants in Nottingham, the City Council set up a Sanctions Protocol with the DWP locally. Employment and skills are responsible for the protocol and have worked hard to ensure that it is understood by colleagues and partners – Activity listed below:

Organisations have been encouraged to engage with this process through a variety of networks: Employment and Skills Officer (ESO) involvement in communities and with lead organisations, including foodbanks and faith groups.

Advice Nottingham promoting to their members and ESO attended Advice Nottingham Manager meetings to encourage referrals and answer questions.

ESO presented at a training event for the voluntary sector hosted by NCC Welfare Reform project leads.

ESO promoted protocol to organisations engaged with the Quality and Commissioning led Financial Vulnerability Assistance and Advice event.

ESO met with Welfare Rights colleagues to promote the protocol and will be attending a team meeting later this summer to talk to the wider team and answer questions.


Working with Policy Welfare Reform leads to identify full picture of impact of sanctions and qualify some of the information we are receiving from community sources.

Question 1b
What is the Council doing to support ALL vulnerable citizens (including those subject to a sanction).

Answer 1b
Lobbying Government
Nottingham City Council passed a motion calling on Government to reverse welfare cuts which affect the most vulnerable citizens in the city.

Responding to consultations in partnership with the advice sector.

Highlighting concerns on Universal Credit and asking for clarity on Universal Credit implementation, process and timescales.

Helping to prepare our citizens
Investing in advice services.

Plus our own Welfare Rights service to provide benefits advice and support with budgeting/money management and debt.

Organising job fairs and advertising local job opportunities through www.nottinghamjobs.com

Helping with energy bills
The Council has launched Robin Hood Energy, a not for profit energy company aiming to provide low cost energy.

Working with partners
Including Nottingham City Homes (NCH), registered social landlords, advice agencies.

Including Credit Union - To improve access to bank accounts & affordable loans.

Including Advice Nottingham - who also offer a support scheme to help local people in fuel debt. The scheme offers money to eligible city residents to help relieve fuel debt.

Question 2
How does the council collect data to ensure that benefit sanctions are always fair and reasonable; and that delays in processing benefit claims are not excessive or handled incompetently?

Answer 2
The Council only has access to the limited data made available by the DWP and has no opportunity to assess the decision making process. The data released by DWP is largely management data relating to the number of decisions and appeals made. There is no data whatsoever on the number of people in the City who currently have financial sanctions applied against them. We have raised this on numerous occasions with the DWP and been told that they do not have the time or capacity to produce this data.

Update 19th July : Council further advised that they could not give a named contact at the local DWP and the the portfolio holder ultimately accountable (so far as the council had accountability) was Cllr Graham Chapman

External Links
An Anthology of Modern Poverty
Austerity in Europe - A Cautionary Tale
ONS perspectives on home ownership in the UK
NTU Research into Nottingham's economy.
Foodbanks in Nottingham

Related Content
The Himmah Foodbank
Extracts from the Commons Fooodbank Debate
The Opportunity Costs of Bad Government

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