Families given advice lifeline in county's children's centres

29 October 2013

Derbyshire families struggling in the current economic climate will be able to get free advice on everything from debt management to welfare rights, thanks to a new initiative.

We are investing almost £500,000 in creating free advice centres in the county's children's centres.

Centres will get the equivalent of a day's advice each week as part of our pledge to help hard-pressed families in Derbyshire.

The move comes just days after a report by former health secretary Alan Milburn revealed two thirds of poor children in this country are from families where an adult works.

We already offer free advice to families in some of our children's centres. But the rising cost of living combined with low incomes, high unemployment and changes to benefits has led to an increase in demand for advice, from those in work as well as those on benefit.

Councillor Kevin Gillott, our Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said he was pleased that at a time when we are facing massive cuts, we are able support those in need.

He said:

"Times are difficult for a lot of families in Derbyshire, and by providing advice in our children's centres, which are already at the heart of communities, we are helping those who need it most, where they need it.

"And while levels of child poverty are slightly below the national average, levels are increasing."

At a meeting on Tuesday (Oct 22), cabinet members agreed to:

  • Increase the amount of spending on advice in children's centres to £466,400 for next year;
  • Provide £146,000 of extra funding for the authority's in-house welfare benefits information and advice service to represent families at the growing number of benefits' appeals and help train up volunteers and staff in the third sector to help families with benefits' advice;
  • Award a further £75,000 over two years to the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers' Centre which represents families at benefit appeals.

Councillor Gillott said the investments were part of a raft of anti-poverty measures to tackle health inequalities and improve the life chances of children and families in the county.

He said:

"It is vital the authority helps Derbyshire families as they try to make ends meet.

"Research shows that poverty and debt have a very serious impact on health and we are doing what we can to reduce health inequalities in the county."

"By creating advice centres within our children's centres, we can help families who are struggling."

Other recent anti-poverty measures we have implemented include supporting the growing number of food banks in Derbyshire as well as spending £360,000 to support Derbyshire's Credit Unions which can offer safe and affordable loans to people on low incomes who may be tempted by payday loan companies.

Now it has been agreed by our cabinet, the advice service is expected to be up and running by April next year. Funding comes largely from the authority's new public health role.

Councillor Gillott added:

"For every pound the council spends on advice, families are helped to manage £32 of their debt. They also gain an extra £10 of income, such as free school meals or tax credits.

"There has been a cost of living crisis for many Derbyshire families. In the past year alone bills have risen by 4 per cent, but average earnings have only increased by 1.5 per cent which creates a growing gap between what people earn and what they have to spend.

"The council has to make difficult decisions due to cuts by the Coalition Government of £157million, but helping hard-pressed Derbyshire families is one of our priorities."

Our welfare benefits information and advice team offers a range of services including free benefits checks. Contact the team on 01629 531535 or email welfarebenefits@derbyshire.gov.uk

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