Advice centres dealt devastating blow

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Council funding cuts could lead to closures

31st August 2020 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Citizens Advice centres have been dealt a devastating blow with the announcement that five bureaux in Glasgow are due to close due to funding cuts.

The potential cuts from Glasgow City Council will close a number of bureaux across the city, including Glasgow Central CAB, Bridgeton CAB, Easterhouse CAB, Parkhead CAB and Castlemilk CAB.

The funding proposals may also see the other CABs in the city facing cuts including Glasgow North West, Drumchapel, and Pollok.

And Govan Law Centre is also facing swingeing cuts.

These cuts would take effect on 1 October, as the city faces a looming employment crisis with the furlough scheme set to finish by the end of October.

Last year the Citizens Advice network in Scotland unlocked £130 million in gains for people with top issues being social security, debt, employment and housing.

In Glasgow, every £1 of funding for core advice services enables £13.98 of gains for clients.

The network has existed for more than 80 years across the UK with the first CAB in Scotland opening in Glasgow Central in 1939.

During the Covid-19 pandemic bureaux have adapted to provide advice remotely, helping thousands of people struggling with the uncertainty and anxiety of lockdown.

Rory Mair CBE, Citizens Advice Scotland chair, said: “Citizens Advice Bureaux have always provided essential work and never more so than under the current circumstances. They are here for everyone but often help the most vulnerable people in our communities, helping them realise their rights and access money they are entitled to.

“Proposals to cut funding for bureaux in Glasgow which would lead to closures would be a devastating blow for the city. They are a vehicle for social justice in the city and the work they do helping people prevents larger problems down the line.

“These cuts are short-sighted and will seriously damage the prospects of people in the city just as we enter a period of huge economic uncertainty.

“Local bureaux have sought to engage with the council through this process and have been met with silence. The process here once again seems to have put an algorithm above the needs of real people.

“The reality is cutting our services will just increase the pressure on council services, and vulnerable people will fall through the net.

“We understand that these proposals have not yet been seen by councillors, so we are pleading with Glasgow City Councillors to see sense and not implement these proposed cuts. The long term damage they would do would be simply devastating for the poorest people in our communities.”

Mike Dailly, of the Govan Law Centre, said a potential 37% cut in funding for his organisation means more risk for people facing evictions and repossessions.

"At a time of a world pandemic, and with the prospect of UK Government employ support schemes coming to an end, Glasgow needs full capacity for free legal, debt and welfare rights services," he said.

Gavin Yates, the chief executive of Homeless Action Scotland, told TFN (below) that councillors would be called on to resign if the cuts went ahead. 

He added: "That Glasgow City Council is choosing to cut services which challenge this series of unlawful actions is shameful. Correlation does not denote causation however we find it problematic that organisations that have a rich history in defending the citizens of Glasgow from decisions made in the name of its leaders, are the very ones that are faced with the biggest cuts."

A council spokesman said: "Demand for grant support has been exceptional – with applications received for well over double the total value of the fund. Unfortunately, this was always going to mean disappointment for some organisations with applications that scored less highly during assessment.

"Decisions on city-wide grants will be made at committee next week – followed by a further round of local awards."

Defunding advice centres is utterly bizarre

The proposal to defund a series of advice agencies in Glasgow is not just wrongheaded - it’s utterly bizarre. 

Later this week councillors will have the opportunity to reject these cuts. If they continue with the proposed cuts and homelessness increases then they should be prepared to resign immediately.

At a time when issues like debt, poverty and housing stability are at the forefront of people’s minds to even propose to cut support makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

A study from Bath University found that for every £1 spent on CABx, and other advice agencies, over £50 was generated over a five-year period. Does the leadership of Glasgow City Council know that? Did they even look? Do they understand the value advice agencies add to the local economy and to individual citizens?

Homeless Action Scotland understands that local authorities across Scotland have choices to make in how to allocate funding to those who are in need. However we fail to understand in what way it can be deemed as appropriate that organisations that work to stop evictions, end rough sleeping, manage debts and all too frequently challenge Department of Work and Pensions’ erroneous decisions on vulnerable persons’ income can be a valid option.

The last financial year, to April 2020, Glasgow City Council failed to accommodate 3835 people. This was an increase of 445 from the 3390 people whose rights to accommodation were ignored the year before. This amounts to more than 10 people a day denied their basic legal right to accommodation. 

As has been widely reported in the media, Glasgow City Council are one of the worst in exercising their legal obligation to accommodate people who require homelessness support. Something which has been long recognised by the Scottish Government, almost all leading third sector organisations and the Scottish Housing Regulator. 

That Glasgow City Council is choosing to cut services which challenge this series of unlawful actions is shameful and vindictive. We find it problematic that organisations that have a rich history in defending the citizens of Glasgow from unlawful decisions made in the name of its leaders are the very ones that are faced with the biggest cuts.

Glasgow City Council along with many other public bodies rightfully condemned the horrendous practices of SERCO on behalf of the Home Office. While Glasgow City Council were talking about how terrible it was, organisations such as Govan Law Centre, Legal Services Agency, Shelter Scotland and many more were actually fighting these unlawful evictions. These services now face drastic cuts to their funding from Glasgow City Council. 

In good conscience, GCC cannot simultaneously condemn the practice of a public body which dehumanises the most vulnerable in our society while at the same time cutting the funding from the very organisations which protects our most vulnerable. 

During the SERCO scandal the Glasgow City Council leader, Susan Aitken, wrote to the Home Office condemning the evictions. The leader of GCC is now presiding over a series of cuts to services which used funding from the council to stop illegal evictions from SERCO. 

The advice sector in Glasgow hasn't only kept people in their homes, helped people to acquire a home and ensured that people received the benefits they were en​titled to, they have literally saved people’s lives. 

Law Centres and CABx don't just help with housing and homelessness, they help get justice for those who are erroneously stripped of their benefits. They support people who no one else will help. They break down barriers of injustice, irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, sexuality, disability, political affiliation or any other identity that a person or family feels is important to them. Law Centres and CABs are the lifeblood of our communities. If we do not think that our taxes should be paid to support, help and empower people who really need it, then what are our taxes for?

Glasgow has a rich history in ensuring that people facing homelessness or eviction have an organisation or legal representation to defend them. This is a tradition of which Glasgow should be rightly proud. Glasgow is perhaps the only city in Scotland which has a history of widespread, popular support for people facing eviction or exclusion from accessing homelessness services. Sticking up for the  “wee man” has always been an aspect of Glaswegian support for their fellow citizens.

It is something to be proud of. If you live in Glasgow and, like us, object strongly to these unfair cuts you need to get in contact with your local councillor to inform them of your opposition to their proposal. More widely, we believe that Glasgow’s example of cutting funding to services at the point that they most need support evidences that there is a now more than ever a need for a nationally funded law/advice centre movement across the whole country. We need this in order that each citizen in Scotland can defend their homes, ensure they acquire the correct benefits, and get the help and support they need. 

If we are serious about preventing homelessness and ensuring people’s basic rights are upheld, the first step needs to be for Scotland to join us in standing up and demanding that all the CABx and Law Centres in Glasgow are saved. 

Gavin Yates is CEO of Homeless Action Scotland