Research and Campaigns
One of the twin aims of the Citizens Advice service is to campaign to improve the policies and practices which affect people's everyday lives. Everyone who works for us contributes to this work, by identifying examples of unfairness and writing a report. These reports are dealt with by our team of dedicated volunteers who carry out further research and campaign to bring about improvements for the people of Lewes District. The top subjects we are working on right now are:
Research and Campaigns Report to Trustees November 2021
During the past couple of months, the focus for Research and Campaigns was to support the movement to maintain the Universal Credit uplift beyond its planned end date of October 6th, and thereby to highlight the issue of the decline in benefit levels since 2010. Despite the efforts of Citizens Advice and a raft of other national welfare organisations the campaign failed and the uplift ended as planned.
Research and Campaigns’ work in the branch continues to focus on benefit poverty, as the numbers of people seeking help with fuel vouchers and foodbank referrals continues to grow, and the caseloads of Citizens Advice money advisers show no sign of shrinking.
Evidence forms from the past couple of months show a narrower range of issues, but individual cases have tended to involve several issues, so the research and campaigns survey is not as linear as it sometimes is.
Benefit poverty, people whose benefit payments just do not cover the essentials, accounted for 60% of cases raised, and problems with the payment of benefits, for example review, recalculation, or error was a feature in 50%. Debt was responsible for 53% of cases, and 41% were impacted by poor mental health, for some a life-limiting condition. Unsurprisingly there was a particular correlation between debt and mental health, as stress and anxiety took their toll on clients.
Unfairness was the source of 40% of cases, 17% involved DWP errors, the remainder was accounted for by conflicting information and procedures by the DVLA, penalising disabled drivers, and GP surgeries making unreasonable demands for identity documents, or failing to accommodate applications from people with low levels of literacy.
Stepchange, a national debt charity, recently published a report highlighting links between debt and mental health problems, in particular priority debts to the DWP, when repayment measures were imposed without warning or taking any account of an individual’s ability to pay, debt collection protocols in place in other agencies.
As this issue is appearing regularly in our work, we plan to gather evidence to pass to our MP, (whose has recently acquired the role of under secretary of state for patient safety and primary health care) to see if she would engage with this area of concern.
Another vulnerable group emerging in our work is individuals placed in temporary accommodation in Lewes District by Brighton and Hove City Council who have accepted a housing duty for them. The accommodation provided has many drawbacks as the buildings were not originally for residential use. The individuals placed there are the least able to deal with the shortcomings of the accommodation, for example money to buy electricity for lighting and heating, furniture to make the accommodation habitable, or cooking equipment to be able to prepare food.
Several agencies are aware of the unsatisfactory nature of this provision and the adverse effect it has on the residents, but it is difficult to tease out where the responsibility for change lies.
Thus far we have brought our concerns to the attention of Brighton and Hove City Council, and it is a situation we continue to monitor, through the clients who come to us for help.
Lewes District Research and Campaigns
If you would like to support our campaigns or are interested in finding out more about this work you can contact us via 0080 278 7892. You can read more about National Policy Research here and Campaigns here.