A list of recommended actions to improve benefit provision in Lancashire – drawn up by a high profile county council committee – is still waiting for a response from the Cabinet member for health and wellbeing, a year after it was sent to him. Meanwhile, new figures show how, applications for Universal Credit have shot up across Lancashire, the least deprived districts showing the biggest spikes.
The External Services Committee, which oversees agencies which relate to the county council but are not governed by it, drew up a list of five recommendations concerning welfare support in February 2020 and send it to Conservative Cabinet lead for health, Cllr Shaun Turner. He has not replied.
At the meeting of the committee on Tuesday 12th January, Councillor Gillian Oliver (Labour, Preston South West), asked if it was a typing mistake in the minutes that the committee’s report was still waiting for a reply twelve months after being sent.
The list was produced following a piece of work instigated by Councillor Oliver, including research and interviews with the Welfare Rights Service in the council, which has a hotline for residents who need help with benefits.
The five recommendations of February 2020 include:
- To commend the work of the Welfare Rights Service and its companion phone service in Citizens Advice in ‘supporting the most disadvantaged people in Lancashire’
- To note the burden put on these services through the roll out of Universal Credit
- That the cabinet review and monitor the impact of the social security system on council services
- In the light of that review, to ask for support from the Department of Work and Pensions better to support the most disadvantaged people in Lancashire
- To consider how the work of the Welfare Rights Service might be strengthened in districts in Lancashire, and also in relation to Department of Work and Pensions.
Meanwhile, at the same committee meeting, new figures by the Welfare Rights Services indicated that applications for Universal Credit between January and August 2020 had increased by 74% overall in Lancashire. Within that, the top three districts registering rises were Ribble Valley (124%), Fylde (120%) and Wyre (107%).
Councillor Gillian Oliver reflected:
“It is astounding to consider that even before this pandemic there were reasons to press for more back up for Lancashire’s Welfare Rights service. The brilliant staff there are powerful advocates for Lancashire’s most disadvantaged residents, and even before the current crisis they were under continued threat of cuts amid the roll out of Universal Credit. Why our recommendations appear to have been lost in the post on their way to the cabinet, is difficult to fathom.”