Role of Citizens Advice in combating debt and poverty cannot be underestimated
Last Friday I attended the annual public meeting of the Caerphilly & Blaenau Gwent Citizens Advice Bureau (CBG CAB), and what an enlightening morning it was. I thought I knew a lot about CAB’s in general but I was amazed to hear the volume of work that this one has undertaken in the past year:
- In Caerphilly & Blaenau Gwent they have advised 11,000 clients in person and dealt with over 30,000 on the phone.
- Across all of their work, debts to the value of £1,187,127 have been written off
- And the income gained for clients was £3,748,216
- Debt enquiries have increased by 31% on the previous year
- 9 out of 10 clients said they are not ready for Universal Credit.
The CAB has been diversifying its income streams, so alongside the core service it is now delivering a whole range of services; Better Advice: Better Lives & Children’s Disability Benefit Take Up, outreach sessions for Communities First, a Families First & Supporting People project ‘Confident with Cash’, Money Advice Service (MAS) face to face debt advice, a specialist debt advisor with Tai Calon, Combating Fuel Poverty and MAS Financial Advice. All this along with purchasing new premises that will be able to co-host partner organisations, making services more accessible for local people.
Just from the tenants that our ‘Your Money, Your Home’ project has worked with, we know that 64% have struggled to pay household bills (rent, gas/electric, food), 43% have borrowed money from one or more source in the same period and 47% were in rent arears, and we are referring into these services.
During the meeting we heard the stories of three different households and it really was a stark reminder of how easily things can change; one day you are working, paying a mortgage, all the bills and keeping your head above water, then suddenly ill health leaves you unemployed or your job is made redundant. If you are lucky enough to have savings that will see you through for a while, but many of us will very soon find ourselves falling behind with payments.
Welfare Reforms are already affecting many people in both working and non-working households across Wales, and there is more to come. This is reflected in the 47% rise in enquiries received by CBG CAB on benefits and tax credits. The Autumn Statement and Comprehensive Spending Review will no doubt see more services being cut, as savings need to be made. In times of austerity tough choices have to be made, but what I really took from this meeting was how important CAB services are to the local community, and moving forward how vital they will be.
Fran Targett, Director of Citizens Advice Cymru, was a keynote speaker and quoted the following; for every £1 invested in CAB services the fiscal benefit is £1.51 and the wider economic & social benefit is £8.74. To me those figures speak for themselves, but I’ll leave you to make up your own minds!