Charities have a fundamental role in the welfare debate

Luke Price

NCVO member, Community Links is an East London based charity. They recently published ‘Tipping the Balance’, a qualitative, in-depth research into the cumulative impact of welfare reform on Newham residents. Report co-author, Luke Price, explains the important role charities can play in the welfare debate.

A year since the current programme of welfare reform was introduced, Community Links has published a report on the cumulative impact of the changes on welfare claimants in the London Borough of Newham.

We found that, for most people, the sheer speed and scale of the reforms prevented them from adapting to changes to their benefits. Far from ‘making work pay’, the reforms have actually pushed many further away from the labour market.

Individuals and households have experienced multiple changes at once. Their income has been drastically reduced, often forcing people to cut back on essentials such as food and heating. Parents reported eating just one meal a day so that their children could have three. Those who had existing health conditions felt they were getting worse, and previously healthy people found themselves mired in feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear. These tumultuous circumstances were made worse by the lack of clear communication.

What can be done?

We make a number of key recommendations for government, local authorities and local service providers based on the evidence that we present in the report:

  • DWP should work with local authorities and local service providers to provide standardised and coherent communications that are accessible for all.
  • Additional support, for example through Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP), must be made available to those who need it.
  • The Local Support Services Framework (LSSF) must be properly resourced, brought forward, and combined with employment support.
  • There is dire need for a cumulative impact assessment – both of reforms that have already been implemented and those that are still to come (specifically, Universal Credit) ­­– to identify those most in need and ensure support is available.

Charities also have a role

It is vital that we look inward as well as outward. Charities have much to gain from working together and doing this well is key to providing effective and essential services. If we collaborate at a local, regional, and national level we can ensure that our limited resources are used as efficiently as possible, and that there are effective routes of referral to the best support.

We must continue to invest in vital frontline services (such as benefits advice and money management support) that help people when they reach crisis point. This should be combined with continued efforts to promote early action:

  • tailored support
  • financial education
  • proper communication.

This will reduce the damage being caused and empower people and communities.

Ultimately, the voluntary sector has a fundamental role to play in the welfare debate. Stories are powerful. Being at the heart of local communities, we are well positioned to share them. We must now work together to communicate our message and, perhaps more importantly, amplify the voices of those we work with in order to push for meaningful change.

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