Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Big plans, bright future

Housing & Community Safety Select Committee (ceased to operate 03/06/2015) Minutes

Date:
Thursday, 12th September, 2013
Time:
2.30pm
Place:
Jim Cooke Suite, Stockton Central Library, Church Road, Stockton-on-Tees, TS18 1AU
 
Please note: all Minutes are subject to approval at the next Meeting

Attendance Details

Present:
Cllr Julia Cherrett(Chairman),Cllr Derrick Brown(Vice-Chairman), Cllr Michael Clark, Cllr Robert Gibson, Cllr Mohammed Javed, Cllr David Wilburn, Cllr Norma Wilburn(Sub-Cllr Evaline Cunningham)
Officers:
Billy Park(CESC), Julie Higgins(DNS), Peter Mennear, Sarah Whaley(L&D)
In Attendance:
Mike Robinson(Citizens Advice Bureau), Liz Edwards, Jessie Jacobs(A Way Out)
Apologies for absence:
Cllr Evaline Cunningham
Item Description Decision
Public
HCS
32/13
COMMITTEE BRIEFING
 
HCS
33/13
EVACUATION PROCEDURE
 
HCS
34/13
DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
 
HCS
35/13
MINUTES FROM THE MEETING WHICH WAS HELD ON THE 6TH JUNE 2013
AGREED that the minutes be signed.
HCS
36/13
DRAFT MINUTES FROM THE MEETING WHICH WAS HELD ON THE 18TH JULY 2013.
AGREED that the minutes be approved.
HCS
37/13
SCRUTINY REVIEW OF WELFARE REFORM AND FINANCIAL INCLUSION
AGREED that:

1. the methods of supporting food banks be explored and further information on their operation locally be provided.

2. to gather further information on the use of the JCP Hardship Fund and the operation of the sanction regime;

3. to receive a briefing on universal credit at a future meeting

4. Five Lamps be invited to a future meeting to discuss the Back on Track scheme.
HCS
38/13
WORK PROGRAMME
AGREED that the work programme be noted.
HCS
39/13
CHAIRS UPDATE
AGREED that the Chair's Update be noted.
2.30pm

Preamble

ItemPreamble
HCS
32/13
Members prepared their approach to the meeting.
HCS
33/13
The evacuation procedure was noted.
HCS
34/13
There were no declarations of interest.
HCS
35/13
Consideration was given to the minutes from the meeting which was held on the 6th June 2013 for signature.
HCS
36/13
Consideration was given to the draft minutes from the meeting which was held on the 18th July 2013 for approval.
HCS
37/13
The Committee were requested to consider information in relation to Food banks, food poverty and the early impact of the reforms on local advice agencies.

Members were presented with information from representatives of the charity 'A Way Out'. The Chief Executive of 'A Way Out', gave the Committee a brief overview of how the charity came about and what the main vision and aims of the charity were.

The main issues discussed were as follows:

- A Way Out was working preventatively with families and young people, promoting healthy full lives and eliminating sexual exploitation.

- Members were informed that 'A Way Out' provided food banks to those in need via referral including from schools, registered providers, health professionals, social workers, and the job centre. Those who were in receipt of food parcels would receive 4 days of nutritious food in each parcel which mainly consisted of pasta, rice and tinned food. Food could be provided once a week for a maximum of 6 weeks, possibly longer if necessary depending on individual circumstances. There were a number of food banks in the Borough, many of which were linked to churches. A Way Out was funded by a number of routes including public health, and was seeking to co-ordinate food banks in the Borough.

- The Chief Executive of 'A Way Out' explained to members that many of the families who were turning to food banks were proud and felt stigmatised having to ask for food parcels. The committee heard that the food banks operated within in a community centre environment where food was distributed discreetly. In addition to A Way Out's four community based food banks, they provided a food bank which was available once a week for women only, providing a safe place for those women who were in vulnerable situations.

- Food was supplied via the national Fair Share scheme, donated from supermarkets, and also community collections. There was a continual demand for food, and 120 parcels were distributed per week. This equated to approximately 70-80 households; two thirds of demand was from families who may receive more than one parcel, and one third was from single people. A Way Out would welcome additional support in collection of food.

- The Committee heard that there were many different sections of the community suffering food poverty, this ranged from those on benefits to those working full time. The higher cost of living and the introduction of welfare reform was affecting families. In addition 'A Way Out', was seeing that families were more likely to pay bills due to fear of prosecution for none payment rather than buy food, particularly council tax. Some people attending the food bank were short of money due to JSA sanctions.

- Members discussed what efforts could be made in the future to help local people in terms of both financial inclusion and food provision, as food banks were not a long term solution. These included meeting with housing providers to offer improved energy supply such as solar panels, and provision of community orchards and allotments, and cookery training. Sign posting those in need to receive the right type of help such as cessation clinics for smokers, and ensuring that they are aware of the range of help that is available, and looking at new ideas such as those in receipt of winter fuel allowance who do not need it donating it to those who do. It was suggested that a food poverty summit would be useful.

The Committee considered an update on the early trends following welfare reform and efforts to tackle the consequences from Stockton District Advice and Information Services(SDAIS), and Stockton Council's Welfare Rights unit.

SDAIS provided a presentation that covered the following issues:

- The effect of JSA sanctions and Work Programme issues
- Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments (PIP)
- Operation of the ‘social fund' money locally by the Five Lamps scheme Back on Track
- Council Tax
- Housing Benefit
- General Financial Issues

It was highlighted that many people who struggled to read and write were unsure of what to do in situations where multiple benefit appointments were given on the same day, this resulted in missed appointments, impacting on their benefits. Members also heard that the spare room subsidy was also having an impact on families, even if residents were prepared to downsize there was a lack of suitable properties.

SDAIS had secured funding to undertake monitoring work with a view to influencing the national delivery of PIP.

It had been reported that some people were finding it difficult to access the Job Centre Plus Hardship Fund. JSA sanctions were being applied in a rigid manner for apparently relatively minor transgressions, which could mount up to several months without benefit.

An increase in Council Tax arrears had been delayed in the year to date, and this may be due to the good provision of information by the Council prior to the Council Tax benefit changes.

The numbers of people accessing advice and seeking support from the SDAIS, and DLA / PIP queries were concentrated in the centre of the Borough and Billingham East and South areas.

Advice agencies were experiencing large numbers of queries in relation to Employment Support Allowance.

A range of support measures were outlined in the presentation including assistance with form filling and financial capability.

It was noted that mitigating strategies and joint working had had some success in negating the consequences locally, and that this needed to be repeated during future phases of reform.
HCS
38/13
The work programme was discussed. The next meeting would concentrate on the effect of welfare reform on local housing services.
HCS
39/13
There were no additional issues to report.

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