I got an email today confirming that my question to full council about housing benefits WILL be answered at the next full council meeting.
So, if you're not doing anything on 11 June at 2pm pop down to the Council House and live tweet it...because I don't think I can make it myself and I'd like to know what they say! Oh, botheration...
Anyway, I am genuinely interested in the response and when the minutes come out I will do a post quoting it in full with any commentary that I deem necessary. Such commentary will include 'well said' etc if justified but will also include links to evidence-based rebuttals if that's what the answer requires. If it turns out to be mostly the latter the resultant blogpost will be sent round to all councillors.
In all seriousness, I am genuinely interested in the answers. The question was drafted from around three years of research and certainly was not intended to be a tripping up exercise; the points I raised really do need both answering and tackling. I really do hope that this raises awareness among councillors about the reality of benefits administration in Nottingham and that real improvement is triggered.
In a related issue, NCC is having to gear up to some big new responsibilities as a result of the government's 'welfare reform'. The Post has already written a very good article about one aspect of this, the replacement of the national Council Tax Benefit scheme with a local one, but another development sees the responsibility to administer the discretionary social fund (including crisis loans etc) transferring to councils like NCC.
Both developments are extremely worrying. As far as the Council Tax Benefit change is concerned, the big issue is that it masks a 10% cut in central funding for the scheme and councils look like they're being set up to be the fall-guys for that. Less attention has been focused on NCC taking over a local version of the social fund. I'm particularly worried because the last time NCC took charge of a discretionary benefit scheme it didn't go so well. And it still isn't. You've presumably guessed that I'm talking about our old mate the Discretionary Housing Payments scheme here?
At least NCC appears to have realised there is an issue as it has apparently set aside funding for a new policy officer to do the thinking on these two issues (not DHPs natch). So far Lisa Black and the policy officer responsible for failing to mention DHPs to One Nottingham have been in charge of NCC's welfare reform response. I'm sure it would be unfair to see this new resource as being evidence that they're not up to the job but hey...
However, it looks like the job will go internally and I'm not convinced the expertise is there. And before you ask, no of course I'm not suggesting I should be able to apply for it, I'm still not medically fit, I also have a major skills gap and there's no bloody way I'd go for any job which requires me to report to Lisa Black again cos she's not fit to lick my boots.
So. None of this is looking good. Even if we do get good answers to my big question, it's all changing soon with Universal Credit and these new local responsibilities. It really is not the time to be on benefits believe me.
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