17 April 2009
Child Poverty Action Group, one of the main campaigners for benefits claimants, is having to make staff redundant because of the credit crunch.

 In a move which will further dismay disabled claimants and their supporters, CPAG has announced that as well as making staff redundant it is to refocus its activities towards social policy work.  This may mean a reduction in the amount of legal casework taken on by the agency, which is virtually the only body that takes cases to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords on behalf of claimants.

Jennifer Bernard, chair of trustees of CPAG, said:

”The country is facing exceptionally difficult economic times, and CPAG is also feeling the effects of the downturn. In order to support our goal of an end to child poverty in the UK, we have decided to give priority to our social policy and lobbying work to concentrate on the prevention and eradication of poverty which lies at the heart of the economic challenge we face.

The scale of the redundancies is not yet clear, although CPAG hope to redeploy most of the affected staff within the organisation.

CPAG’s difficulties are just one sign that welfare rights providers are going to be particularly hard hit by the downturn.  

Another major agency, Harlow Welfare Rights and Advice, has just won a judicial review against Harlow District Council, which had cut the budget for welfare benefits advice from £500,000 a year to just £100,000 a year.  However, the victory is likely to be short-lived as the High Court found that there is no legal reason why the cuts should not be made, only that the council must follow the proper procedure before they can do so.

Throughout the country advice agencies are likely to find their budgets severely reduced as councils look for easy targets for cash savings and grant making trusts reduce outgoings as the value of their investments plummet.

In another sign that income is falling throughout the voluntary sector, Disability Alliance has increased the cover price of it Disability Rights Handbook by almost 20%, from £21 up to £25.  Claimants can still order a copy for just £10. But such a huge price increase at a time when the majority of its customers - advice providers and disability groups who usually purchase multiple copies - are facing budget cuts suggests that Disability Alliance may also be facing falling revenues from grants and donations.

Given the massive rise in the number of people on benefits and the recent introduction of the highly complex and controversial employment and support allowance, there has never been a greater need for claimants to have access to good quality, independent benefits advice.  Sadly, there has probably never been a time when so many advice providers are likely to shrink or disappear entirely.


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