Local Advice Centre funding for Universal Credit branded ‘pitiful’

Members of the Health and Community Committee Councillors Paul Gallagher (Independent) Shauna Cusack (SDLP), and Karina Carlin (Sinn Fein)
Members of the Health and Community Committee Councillors Paul Gallagher (Independent) Shauna Cusack (SDLP), and Karina Carlin (Sinn Fein)

Additional funding allocated to help local advice centres deal with the roll out of welfare reforms has been branded “pitiful” by a local councillor.

SDLP Colr. Shauna Cusack was commenting before the local council’s Health and Community Committee approved an allocation from the Voluntary and Community Unit for Advice Sector support for Universal Credit implementation, front line advice services and the Welfare Reform support.

Barry O’Hagan, council’s Head of Community Development and Leisure, said that Universal Credit in Strabane and Lisnagelvin went live several weeks ago and in Foyle last week.

The committee was told that £67,046 has been provided training 24 advisors at the Citizens Advice Bureau, eight advisors at the Resource Centre in Derry and three at Dove House, and digital support.

The committee was told an additional £20,410.50p has been secured for the Community Support Programme up to the end March.

The Department for Communities has also requested that the council administer £30,945 from its Community Support Programme to frontline advice services.

The committee was asked to approve a total of £118,401.77 additional support.

DUP Colr. Hilary McClintock proposed the committee accept the additional funding.

“This is a time when our advice centres, more than any other in the past, have needed additional support,” she said.

Sinn Fein Colr. Eric McGinley seconded the proposal,

SDLP Colr. Shauna Cusack said: “It’s pitiful the amount of money, it goes nowhere near helping people,” she said, adding: “£100,000 to give support to over 50,000 in this city and district is laughable.”

She also said that the uncertainty over what will happen beyond the end of March this year was also a major cause for concern and it was confirmed that the council was still awaiting clarity on this, with no letter of offer received and no written assurance to back up verbal assurances that Advice Services’ funding will be protected for the coming financial year.

SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney said the budget “needs increased not protected” given the welfare system changes.

“That message needs to be very, very clear coming across,” he said.

Advisors at the Resource Centre and other advice centres, he added, were struggling to cope with the huge demand for advice services.

Independent Colr. Paul Gallagher refused to support the funding allocation, stating that this funding was being allocated “in order for them to smooth the road for the roll out of this Tory policy.”

“We need to keep our eyes wide open here,” he maintained.

Sinn Fein Colr. Karina Carlin referred to Labour deputy leader, John McDonnell, saying councils were being used as human shields around Tory cuts.

“The difficulty is we have a choice: leave people unprotected or try to help them with whatever resources are available to us.

“We have to make the best choice we can,” she said.