Helping residents to become more financially resilient is a key part of Lambeth Labour's approach.
As a Labour administration, our commitment to ambition and fairness for all sets us apart from a Tory government that is waging an ideological attack on local government and the most vulnerable in our communities. Our residents deserve to know that the government is shifting the blame onto local councils, clearly wanting us to be blamed for their cuts to public services, even though our core funding has been cut by 56% from 2010 to 2018. We will continue to fight this whilst doing what we can to protect public services and vulnerable people locally as best we can. With over 50% of our budget already going on social care for adults and children, this is an extremely harsh reality, but it means tough choices and finding savings in our other services.
At the same time as slashing funding to councils, the Tory government is driving through a dramatic set of reforms to the welfare benefits system. While no one would argue getting people into work isn't a good thing for society, we in Lambeth fundamentally disagree with the Tories’ wholesale attack on people in receipt of benefits. There will always be residents that need additional help or support, such as disabled people or those that are furthest away from the job-market. As part of Lambeth Labour’s response to mitigate the worst effects of Welfare Reform, we’ve refreshed our Financial Resilience Strategy, setting out a series of measures to improve the financial security of our residents.
The Strategy is evidence based, drawing on worrying data that shows rising housing costs, a cost of living crisis and increasing in-work poverty in Lambeth, particularly for working families in the private rented sector. We fear this situation will only get worse as the Government continues with its welfare reforms, including the roll out of Universal Credit in Lambeth, which starts this month. Although funding cuts to the Council and our partners have restricted our ability to respond, the Strategy outlines a targeted approach for priority groups, helping residents to become financially resilient for the long-term, by increasing their income and financial capability.
We have already achieved a great deal so far: our benefit cap employment service for example has helped 129 households affected by that policy into work. One Lambeth Advice has supported over 10,000 residents with one-off benefits, debt and housing and provides on-going casework to over 4,000 people. And Every Pound Counts, the Council’s benefit take up service helped over 1,000 vulnerable residents get the benefits they’re entitled to, increasing their income by an average of £4,000 each last year. These are important services that we have prioritised to protect our residents from the impact of this Government’s policies.
However, while we have a strong track record, further changes to the welfare system, such as a lower benefit cap and the rollout of Universal Credit, and no guarantee from the government that councils will receive funding to continue providing a ‘local welfare safety net’, mean an uncertain time for the council and our communities. Giving evidence to the Works and Pensions Committee I warned MPs that reforms to how benefits will be paid will lead to families just collapsing, falling into unsustainable debt, and destitution, with family poverty and childhood poverty increasing. Without a guarantee that councils will continue to get funding for a ‘local welfare safety net’ there’s a risk that the success we’ve already achieved with our Financial Resilience work will fall away, with more and more families falling through the cracks.
We will continue to lobby for this funding to be protected but with the announcement that the Tories plan to reduce core funding to councils altogether by 2020, it’s an uphill battle. However Labour in Lambeth will not stand by and see vulnerable people harmed by this Tory Government’s attack on local government and the welfare system; our Financial Resilience Strategy is testament to that.
Paul McGlone, Deputy Leader of Lambeth Council