Saturday, September 09, 2006

Cuts in voluntary organisations based in London

And now for a serious post….. Sorry!

I am sure readers of this blog have needed advice in their time whether it was over benefits, legal help, and other practical support. At least you knew that there are organisations out there usually connected to the voluntary sector that can help you in some way. I have been on the receiving end of advice and have also worked for voluntary organisations (paid and unpaid capacity).

I still work in the voluntary sector specifically welfare rights. So, it was appalling to read that the ALG (Association of London Government) has decided to cut 33% of the £28m annually distributed to voluntary groups across London. The reason this is happening is due to the swing to the Tories in the last local election. In July this year the ALG have said that this wouldn’t mean less money and that £9million would go directly to voluntary groups working on frontline services in individual boroughs. But what does that mean? How will the money be allocated?

These cuts will have a detrimental impact on advice and support around London. Instead of strengthening and supporting the voluntary sector the Tory dominated ALG want to cut taxes. This money is specifically allocated to the voluntary sector and to use it to cut council taxes breaches the compact (the 1998 agreement defining the relationship between the government and the voluntary sector).

As Tania Pouwhare from the Women’s Resource Centre argues: "The problem is that councillors are explaining the budget cut by saying voters on the election trail were unhappy about where borough money is being spent. In some cases, specifically that too much money is going on BME groups."

The fact that 33 locally elected councillors can preside over individual boroughs while under the jurisdiction of the Livingston the mayor causes a complex funding issue. Individual councillors will have their own political axes to grind. And that ALG money remains specifically ring-fenced for the voluntary sector and should remain so. It is a case of hands off!

With the impending Welfare Reform Bill becoming legislation it will be a time where advice organisations will be inundated with requests for help. What we have seen so far with the Bill is how ambiguous it is so we don’t know what the procedures will be and especially with Clause 17 (disqualification clause on "own conduct") will there be more people turned down for benefits? Whatever happens people will always need advice from seeking help with debt issues to help around asylum and so on.

Advice will start to shrink in size in London and now with a Tory dominated ALG organisations could possibly go under and I know of (having worked for) groups who rely on their ALG grant. I am hoping there will be a concerted response from the various voluntary sector forums and the 400 groups who could be hit by these measures with some kind of fight back against these cuts. It will have an impact on people who experience oppression and are powerless and who desperately need help and support. But hey, will New Labour care or the Tories on the ALG give a toss? They’re too busy cutting council taxes with voluntary sector cash.

People will need advice and support at some point in their lives. I know of organisations which have to turn people away as they haven't got enough resources. Instead of less money we need a more. Take the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre in Croydon (see below), they receive 6,500 phone calls from women but that's probably just the tip of the iceberg as many may not be able to get through. They receive £60,000 from the ALG and fundraise for £50,000. This will leave a big financial void in their resources if they are cut. So where will these women who need to speak to someone go? Oh well, as long as your council tax is cut these women can suffer in silence.

Yvonne Traynor from the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre in Croydon argues: “I’d like to get the councillors who thought of this was the right thing to do to come down and tell one of the women who’s been raped and beaten to a pulp that she can’t access counselling because she lives in the wrong postcode.”

And now the Legal Services Commission (LSC), which is the central government funding body who dishes out the cash for what used to be Legal Aid, has introduced a new strategy which will mean a bleak future for publicly funded suppliers of social welfare legal services. Those plans deserve a post in itself.

It is not a good time to be involved in welfare rights or the voluntary sector.......