"These measures will not end hardship in our borough. We all know the epic scale of the need that many are facing. But they amount to real, practical, deliverable action that I believe can and will change lives for the better." Cllr Joseph Ejiofor, Leader of Haringey Council
Haringey’s Labour Cabinet has made three incredibly important decisions that will be a vital part of our efforts to protect and support the most vulnerable people in our borough in these tough times:
– Tackling Debt Strategy
– Ethical Debt Reduction Policy
– The Reintroduction of a Local Welfare Assistance Scheme
Tackling Debt Strategy
The lives of too many people in our borough are blighted by problem debt. Contrary to popular belief, debt is not caused by bad choices or over-spending but when the rising cost of living outstrips people’s incomes.
The strategy we approved tonight will see the Council transforming the help we give our residents to avoid them falling into debt and make sure they have the information and support they need to manage the debts they have. We will be creating a new team of Benefits Advisers with an explicit remit to ensure that our poorest residents claim all the support they are eligible for including Healthy Start vouchers, Discretionary Housing Payments, Council Tax Reduction, and school uniform grants.
We believe this approach will put hundreds of thousands of pounds into the pockets of our poorest residents; improving their quality of life and intervening early to prevent more serious problems developing or escalating.
Ethical Debt Reduction Policy
We will also be taking a different approach as a Council to those residents who owe us money.
We recognise that there is no public benefit in spending public money pursuing residents for payment if these residents have no means to pay or where such a payment would serve to make a resident more vulnerable. Greater vulnerability ultimately leads to greater demand on council services, which are already under severe pressure due to more than a decade of Tory austerity.
Therefore, we will cease the use of bailiffs for Council Tax arrears for people on very low incomes, who are vulnerable, or facing mental health concerns. We will be implementing the Debt Respite Scheme which will allow us to give someone with problematic debt the right to time to get advice and an appropriate solution to their debt problems. We will also reform our communications with residents so it is clearer how they get help, including via a dedicated helpline.
Local Welfare Assistance
Finally, we are proud that your Labour Council righted a wrong.
In 2012 the Coalition Government abolished the Social Fund which provided local authorities with resources to support residents facing financial emergencies like a broken washing machine or a late Universal Credit payment. This left an unacceptable gap in our social safety net.
We don’t have all the levers to tackle poverty and destitution, much of that sits with Central Government. Since the Tories came into power in 2010 poverty has skyrocketed; and now more than 15million people – 23% of the UK’s population – live in poverty. This is why we will do everything possible at a local level to help those who need it most. So last night we agreed a plan to set up a Local Welfare Assistance Fund of £300,000 a year that will support up to 1,000 residents a year in their hour of need.
We will also be one of the only boroughs in the country to have a Local Welfare Assistance Fund for young people, ensuring that we provide support to young carers, care leavers, unaccompanied minors, teenage parents and other young people who face hardship.
These measures will not end hardship in our borough. We all know the epic scale of the need that many are facing. But they amount to real, practical, deliverable action that I believe can and will change lives for the better.
That’s why I get up in the morning to lead this Council.
Cllr Joseph Ejiofor
Leader of Haringey Council