Last month, Oldham became a pilot area for a whole raft of sweeping reforms to welfare benefits introduced by the Government.
Welfare reform has led to several benefits being merged into one new Universal Credit claimed on-line, on the introduction of a new Local Council Tax Support Scheme, in a reduction in housing benefit for many in under-occupancy, and on the creation of Local Welfare Provision.
In Oldham, it is estimated that welfare reform will affect up to 17,000 citizens of ‘working age’ who depend wholly or in part on welfare benefits for their income; many of these residents will have a disability or a serious health condition.
Oldham Council will be a key player in the administration of welfare reform.
The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes has today published a paper to Cabinet member for Finance, Councillor Abdul Jabbar, and senior Council officers outlining 12 practical measures that the Liberal Democrat Group believes the Labour Administration should adopt to mitigate the impact of welfare reform on one particularly vulnerable group – the disabled.
In issuing this document, Councillor Howard Sykes said:
“Disabled people are a particularly vulnerable group and amongst those most likely to be worst hit by welfare reform.
Liberal Democrats in Oldham would like to see disabled people exempted from many of the provisions of welfare reform, as pensioners have, and we will lobby Government to make this so .
However, whatever the rights and wrongs of welfare reform, the reality is that it is here to stay in one form or other as any Government in power will need to address the ever spiralling benefits bill.
One of my concerns is that, in the rush to prepare for the introduction of welfare reform, agencies and officers may have paid insufficient attention to the needs of the disabled.
Oldham is a pilot authority for welfare reform – by establishing best practice here we can set a standard for other authorities introducing welfare reform from October.
The Liberal Democrat Group has issued a policy paper to Councillor Jabbar, Cabinet Member for Finance, and the Labour Administration outlining 12 practical measures that the authority should adopt to support disabled people in our borough faced with welfare reform.
I hope that, after a period of reflection, we will have the opportunity to meet with them to discuss the document and identify how we can take these measures forward.
This bi-partisan approach is identical to that which we have taken as a party in supporting the Administration on a number of issues, most recently the campaign to combat loan sharks”.
A Summary of the Liberal Democrat 12-Point Plan follows.
Oldham Council can support disabled people faced by welfare reform:
1. By ensuring that those disabled social tenants who ‘under-occupy’ and who require overnight care from non-resident carers are granted an additional bedroom under the size criteria.
2. By awarding housing benefit for an extra bedroom for a disabled child unable to share.
3. By adopting a new Discretionary Housing Payment policy that provides for indefinite payments to make up rent shortfalls where social tenants with disabilities occupy ‘significantly adapted properties’.
4. By ensuring the DHP also meets rent shortfalls for disabled people requiring an extra room for medical equipment.
5. By exploring the creation of a Hardship Fund to support disabled people with rent shortfalls who are not able to access additional bedroom entitlement or the DHP.
6. By developing a support package for disabled people moving home.
7. By offering the 12-month instalment scheme for Council Tax as a default scheme to new payers.
8. By promoting the Disabled Band Reduction Scheme to those occupying adapted properties.
9. By promoting the Disabled Band Reduction Scheme to those who are ‘severely mentally impaired’ or their careers, support workers and family members.
10. By exploring the creation of a Hardship Fund to support disabled people with Council Tax arrears.
11. By arranging direct payments of rent and Council Tax for disabled and ‘vulnerable’ clients eligible for this facility.
12. By ensuring that Local Welfare Provision meets the needs of the disabled and vulnerable.
If anybody would like a copy of the full report please email me directly.