Campaigners fighting to save Manchester Advice – but council appears undeterred

Article published: Sunday, March 6th 2011

A campaign is underway to stop Manchester City Council from pulling the plug on free advice services that help tens of thousands of people each year. Last week a former head of the service gave a damning assessment of the Council’s proposal, while campaigners believe that lead officers and senior councillors are targeting Manchester Advice for creating “welfare dependency”.

Manchester Advice at No 1 First Street

Over 1,400 signatures have so far been collected to oppose the closure of the council-run Manchester Advice (MA) service which provides free advice and representation in a range of areas from housing and benefits to employment and training.

“We have been out at Harpurhey ASDA, Gorton Market and in Wythenshawe Shopping Centre this week trying to get people to sign postcards informing their local councillors of the impact that closure will have,” said Miriam, who has been helping run the campaign.

“Not everybody knows what advice is and many people get confused between with Citizen’s Advice Bureau or think it’s the same thing. When we explain that Manchester Advice is to be closed – and that the CAB will lose most of its funding from legal aid, meaning very few people will be able to access advice and representation – they are pretty shocked and outraged by what is going on.”

Devastating consequences

Through helping people claim entitlements to benefits, resolve debt and employment problems the service helped to maximise the income of Manchester residents by £27m last year. 804 families avoided repossessions with its help, saving the council £4.6m in temporary accommodation and rehousing costs. Despite its performance it has been targeted in order to save a mere £1.68m as part of a drive to slash the overall council budget by around a quarter – a move which will also mean a likely end to an additional £1.9m in funding it secures from external sources.

In face of the benefits it brings the council seems undeterred in its desire to pull the plug on MA. At a meeting in the Town Hall last Monday the Resources and Governance Overview and Scrutiny Committee heard from Barbara Guest, former head of Manchester Advice who spoke of the “devastating consequences for some of [the] city’s most vulnerable residents.” In a written submission she gave a damning assessment of Council’s proposal:

“[It does not] make sense financially. MA contributes substantially more to the economy than it costs…abolishing MA does not represent a cost-effective solution for the council and will actually end up costing the city significantly more than it saves.”

Guest went on to highlight that MA had already made efficiency savings of £345,000, exceeding in one year the target it was set to achieve over three, adding that “radical changes to its operating model could deliver further significant savings.”

Words on deaf ears

However her words such fell on deaf ears as the Labour-dominated committee rejected an amendment to the budget proposal by Lib Dem councillors which would have retained part of the service under a reduced budget of £600,000.

The council have responded by saying that the closure comes “in recognition of the availability of new city-wide legal advice provision,” referring to the Community Legal Advice Service (CLAS), provided across six centres run by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB). Yet campaigners argue that this is misleading at best and disingenuous at worst, as the council’s commitment to CLAS was prior and designed as complimentary to MA – not to replace it.

In an open letter to the Manchester city councillors, campaign group Access2Advice wrote: “The council’s budget proposal says that ‘new’ alternative advice provision provided by the voluntary sector can replace Manchester Advice. This is false. In fact, the complimentary advice provision…was recently truncated to form three district offices…with a local authority cash cut of £500,000 a year.”

Furthermore they argue that CLAS was not designed to absorb all of the casework of MA as it has far less capacity – a problem which will only be compounded by government proposals to slash legal aid funding.

Improving access?

Questions are now being raised about why the council should target such a successful service which costs relatively little but massively benefits the city’s residents and economy. Some in the service believe that it is partly from a lack of awareness at the top of the services that MA provides, and an understanding of the severity of the impact when cuts to services are joined-up. Nowhere is this better encapsulated than in a statement by the council’s Executive Member’s Group to Monday’s meeting which bizarrely declares that “the proposed changes will improve access to advice as well as reducing costs.”

This failure to understand the nature of the services seeps down to senior management level, acording to one Advice worker who wished to remain unnamed: “When our director of services came to tell that us that the service was being axed she didn’t seem to have realised the compounded effect.

“We told her that there would no longer be any representation at the Social Security tribunal which deals with appeals for income and disability benefits and she seemed surprised.”

Pressure from the top?

Yet voices within the sector also believe that the pressure is coming to scrap the service from the top of the Council hierarchy – where it is understood that MA is not viewed in such rosy light.

In their open letter Access2Advice state: “Some lead officer and senior councillors apparently believe that advice creates welfare dependency. This is simply wrong. In fact, advice empowers and a lack of advice disempowers. Manchester Advice helps thousands of people each year into work, self-employment, study, training, volunteering, caring or community roles…”

Welfare capitalist? Council Leader Sir Richard Leese

Echoes of this were heard last week when Sir Richard Leese, Leader of the Council, appeared on North Manchester Community Radio. When asked by MULE editor Richard Goulding whether it would be more sensible to spend money on services like Sure Start and social services rather than continue investment in large regeneration projects he replied:

“If you want to create Manchester as the welfare capital of the world that’s a good route to go down.”

While the signs for survival are not optimistic for Manchester Advice, campaigners are resilient in their battle to retain vital advice services in the city.

“The decision to close Levenshulme Baths was reversed this week so you never know what could happen,” said Miriam.

“We will be holding a lobby outside the full Council meeting next Wednesday [9 March] where we will paint our hands white and blue – the colours of Manchester Advice – to show how many people are opposed to its closure.”

Michael Pooler

On Monday at 4.45pm outside the Town Hall in Albert Square, there will be a ‘Hands up for Manchester Advice’ demonstration

On Wednesday 9 March Access2Advice and other campaigners will hold a lobby outside the Town Hall where the full Council meeting will decide on the budget for the next financial year is to be decided. People are meeting from 8am onwards.

For more information or to get involved in the Save Advice Services campaign call Miriam: 07919184245

 

More: Council, Cuts, Features, Welfare

Comments

  1. I personally benefited from Manchester Advice when I went for help filling in housing benefit forms for a renewal application. When the advice worker asked me what my income was, and I explained what benefits I was receiving, they said: “That’s not right.” And worked out that I wasn’t receiving an Income Support disability premium I should have been getting – I had explained all my circumstances to the Job Centre, in good faith, and expected to be told what I was entitled to receive. It turns out that was rather silly of me.

    I later found out that Job Centres are under no legal obligation to tell you about your full entitlements, only to process claims that you make. If you don’t apply for a benefit because you don’t know you’re entitled to it, the Job Centre won’t tell you.

    I had been underpaid for a year, and when I asked for it to be backdated the Job Centre refused, saying it was my fault for not applying for a benefit that they had failed to tell me I was entitled to.

    But luckily, after seeing Manchester Advice workers and being told about my legal entitlement and submitting a claim, I received it from that point onwards (even though it wasn’t backdated).

    It meant getting an extra £500 or so a year, but also, because I was receiving Income Support, that was the qualifying benefit for full council tax benefit, plus free prescriptions and so on, which I hadn’t been receiving. The total difference was well in excess of £1,000 per year, in terms of extra money received, plus extra help with council tax and free prescriptions, which is a lot when you’re living on benefits.

    If it wasn’t for Manchester Advice I would never have known I was entitled to a disability premium and wouldn’t have qualified for the other things.

    I now always recommend that people get independence advice from Manchester Advice or a CAB or law centre or other welfare rights advisor about their benefits entitlements, because you can’t expect the Job Centre staff to disclose information to you – even if you have been totally honest about your circumstances – about your legal entitlements, because it’s not their job to do that.

    Comment by Lulu on March 7, 2011 at 12:39 am
  2. I heard Barbara Guest speak at the Scrutiny Committee last Monday. She explained so clearly the essential work done by Manchester Advice.

    Her request for ‘member led review’ was reasonable but fell on deaf ears.

    We will need to speak a lot louder at the lobbies to come.

    Comment by Mark Krantz on March 7, 2011 at 12:46 am
  3. Richard Leese is still blind to the fact that millions of tax-payers money has been given to property developers for so-called regeneration schemes. For the promised employment opportunities to never materialise. Manchester still has some of the highest unemployment and deprivation in the UK. It is he who is totally out of touch with reality. This situation will only change if people go to the ballot boxes and vote this contemptuous Labour council out of office.

    Comment by Patrick Sudlow on March 7, 2011 at 9:31 am
  4. [...] Road to the Town Hall. It assembled people campaigning against the closure of Sure Start centres, free advice services as well as Council workers, trade unionists and community [...]

    Pingback by Photo report: Manchester anti-cuts demonstration  —   MULE on March 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm
  5. This is truly shocking. Manchester Advice is a national leader in its field and the training it offers to other organisations is highly esteemed. Once they scrap this then the floodgates are open. This is something people need to rally around – and they should make sure that something big happens on Wednesday so the councillors hear about it

    Comment by Withingtonian on March 7, 2011 at 12:27 pm
  6. “The welfare capital of the world”…. Pitiful.

    Comment by Graham Scott on March 7, 2011 at 12:32 pm
  7. The vulnerable and the weak get it in the neck the governemtn like to keep the weak and vulnberable that way in order to control but theywill stand and fight!

    Comment by c robinson on March 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm
  8. aaah our great leader speaks absolute tosh again and has those blinkers firmly welded to his face. These resources assist people to know their rights and assistant them in helping themselves so to get rid of them would be detrimental and to refer to Lees quote keeping these services would do the opposite.

    Comment by Nicki Garner on March 8, 2011 at 6:39 pm
  9. [...] and people with mental health problems. The council was unable to resist from insisting that the scrapping of Manchester Advice would “improve access”, though few arguments were offered to [...]

    Pingback by Council approves £109 million budget cuts  —   MULE on March 10, 2011 at 12:48 pm
  10. I would have lost my house but for the suopport of manchester advice. I was turned down by CAB as they didnt do this sort of representation.They sent me to solicitor which I couldnt afford. The effect of not having Manchester advice will be horrendous for individuals. I cant believe that the city council is attacking the poorest and most vulnerable and trying to justify it in a most dishonest way. They announced that they hadnt made compulsary redundancies and disguised the fact that hundreds were cforced to take voluntary redundancy or face certain compulsary redundancy which is far worse deal. redundancy

    Comment by anon on March 20, 2011 at 1:07 pm
  11. [...] logic has appeared elsewhere recently. The council leadership’s justification for closing Manchester Advice was based in large part on their claim that it somehow created dependency – a claim convincingly [...]

    Pingback by Lowest common denominator politics: the cuts and the myths of welfare dependency  —   MULE on April 8, 2011 at 12:58 pm
  12. Why is Manchester City Council spending about £1 million on employing art workers, graphic designers, account managers and PR staff etc? A large number of these staff do not live in Manchester yet enjoy receiving Manchester City Council’s Tax Payers Money .

    Why is Manchester City Council spending a lot of money on public notices in the Manchester Evening News? The Manchester Evening News is based in Oldham, so why are Manchester residents paying for this service which is based outside Manchester?

    The above two examples indicates that non Manchester residents and non Manchester businesses enjoy receiving Manchester City Council funds, whilst Manchester residents who pay council tax can’t enjoy local services.

    Why?

    Comment by J.Lucks on July 7, 2011 at 6:37 pm
  13. [...] imposed by the Tory Government on Manchester there now rows of empty desks in this building, as thousands of jobs have been cut. When Manchester people protested against these savage cuts Tory Eric Pickles told them to ‘get [...]

    Pingback by 2nd Oct ‘March and Rally for an Alternative’ » DPAC on September 26, 2011 at 4:03 pm
  14. [...] imposed by the Tory Government on Manchester there now rows of empty desks in this building, as thousands of jobs have been cut. When Manchester people protested against these savage cuts Tory Eric Pickles told them to ‘get [...]

    Pingback by Reminder Manchester March for the Alternative, 2nd Oct » DPAC on September 28, 2011 at 12:43 am
  15. [...] includes people like unemployed Steph Pike, 45, formerly of Manchester Information, Manchester Council’s in-house welfare information service [...]

    Pingback by Manchester protesters keep up pressure on 'workfare' : The Rss News on March 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm
  16. [...] is an umbrella organisation that also includes people like unemployed Steph Pike, 45, formerly of Manchester Advice, Manchester Council’s in-house welfare advice service which was scrapped in the local [...]

    Pingback by Manchester protesters keep up pressure on 'workfare' | TurneroundHR : on March 5, 2012 at 6:59 pm
  17. [...] is an umbrella organisation that also includes people like unemployed Steph Pike, 45, formerly of Manchester Advice, Manchester Council’s in-house welfare advice service which was scrapped in the local [...]

    Pingback by Manchester protesters keep up pressure on ‘workfare’ | PennyStockPayCheck.com on March 6, 2012 at 2:27 am
  18. [...] is an umbrella organisation that also includes people like unemployed Steph Pike, 45, formerly of Manchester Advice, Manchester Council’s in-house welfare advice service which was scrapped in the local [...]

    Pingback by Manchester protesters keep up pressure on ‘workfare’ | ForexWorldBlog on March 6, 2012 at 4:01 am
  19. [...] is an umbrella organisation that also includes people like unemployed Steph Pike, 45, formerly of Manchester Advice, Manchester Council’s in-house welfare advice service which was scrapped in the local [...]

    Pingback by Manchester protesters keep up pressure on ‘workfare’ | BIZ1.ORG means BUSINESS on March 6, 2012 at 4:01 am
  20. [...] Legal aid has undergone waves of cuts and market based reforms over the past decade under both Labour and Conservative-led governments. Two major national providers, Refugee and Migrant Justice and the Immigration Advisory Service, have both collapsed in the last two years and in 2011 Manchester City Council closed its own Manchester Advice service amid suspicions that lead officers and senior councillors targeted it in the belief it created “welfare dependency”. [...]

    Pingback by » Legal aid: the fightback begins - MULE on October 5, 2012 at 5:09 pm
  21. I am a paid employer for the CAB and we offer a similar service, ironically we are now facing redundancy and have been given notice, as the Legal aid cuts coming into force in March mean that we cannot get funding through legal aid to fight benefit appeals, particularly disability appeals, and other advice streams will suffer. I suspect that this next year will see the specialist free advice centres like ours close up and down the country. Leaving a big gap that wont be filled by this government. They want to take away with one hand, then stop those who fight for these peoples rights with the other!

    Comment by michelle on December 28, 2012 at 5:27 pm

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