Improvements to housing for disabled people, targeting emergency welfare to those most in need, and more flexible ways to pay council tax are among the ways Plymouth plans to support the city’s most vulnerable in the face of £60 million in welfare cuts.
Most benefits are administered at national level and Plymouth City Council does not have control, but last week its Cabinet approved the Welfare Support Framework to agree a consistent approach to how to administer the 3% of welfare it is responsible for, and target help to those most in need.
To enable the Council’s Welfare Support Framework to have as much impact as possible, a number of executive decisions have now been signed including:
- Independent Living Assistance Policy – this policy helps the Council to deliver Disabled Facilities Grants to support elderly and disabled people (including children) to live independently in their own homes and other specialist advice for those seeking to adapt their own homes. Subject to call-in, the Council’s Capital Investment Board (CCIB) has agreed the funding which means more than 300 homes in Plymouth can now have a number of adaptations including:
- Level access showers
- Improved wheelchair access
- Accessible kitchens
The policy is to support a decision at Council Capital Investment Board (CCIB), which is subject to call-in, to provide £1.9 million in Disabled Facilities Grants, from the Better Care Fund. This is an increase on £800,000 on what was made available for the grants the previous year. These can fund a range of adaptations including stairlifts, level access showers, ramps, improved wheelchair access, and accessible kitchens. Specialist advice is available for those wishing to fund their own adaptations or home improvements.
- Emergency and Welfare Fund scheme – there are limited funds following a reduction in Government funding, but the Council is changing the scope of the existing scheme so that it continues to support the most vulnerable customers for longer. Under the fund, crisis payments are made available to those who cannot meet short term needs in an emergency or as a consequence of disaster. This includes if the applicant is in crisis, where there has been a change in DWP benefit entitlement, where the applicant is waiting for a new claim from DWP to be assessed, and where the applicant has started a new job but will not be paid for a period of time.
- Council Tax Collection Framework – The Council will continue to be clear about how council tax that is due will be collected and support will be put in place to support customers who are vulnerable and cannot pay. A range of payment options will be available including weekly and monthly direct debits and dates that suit the customer.
Councillor Chris Penberthy, Cabinet Member for Cooperatives and Housing for Plymouth City Council, said: “These measures are necessary for us to try and safeguard the support that we can give to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Plymouth, in the face of savage Government cuts and welfare reforms. It is getting harder and harder for us to support people with such dwindling resources but it is so important that we target what resources there are at those who are most in need.
“Despite the difficult financial situation I am really pleased that our partnership with the health service has enabled us to increase funding for Disabled Facilities Grants by £800,000. This extra cash will enable disabled people to stay in their own homes and improve the quality of life for them and their careers.
“Unfortunately we are very limited in terms of what we can do to influence welfare policy and spend – the Council only directly administers around 3% of total welfare spend in Plymouth with the majority decided by DWP and HMRC – with around 43% of benefits spend being on pensions and 28% of spend on housing benefits.
“We particularly want to protect our most vulnerable residents such as the elderly, the disabled and children. We are extremely concerned that welfare reforms will lead to further homelessness, increased inequality and child poverty, and will have a detrimental effect on around one in five residents.
“That is why it is absolutely vital that we continue to do all we can to support people in their own homes and enable them to be as independent as possible.”
To see how Disabled Facilities Grants have helped local people, see our video here https://youtu.be/meyfYewqAXU