Southwark Council is proposing a £160,000 cut to the yearly budget of two advice services which help some of the borough’s most vulnerable residents.
A yearly loss of £33,000 is proposed for the Southwark Law Centre, while the Citizens Advice Bureau stands to lose the remaining £130,000. The changes would come into force in April.
However, the council said it was not changing the total amount it was spending on advice services, but that it would be offering some of the advice in-house, and that it already spends a high amount compared to other boroughs.
The Southwark Law Centre, which takes on complex cases in areas like benefits, employment, and immigration said the funding cut would mean turning away an additional 40 to 50 cases a year.
“We target the people who’re most disadvantaged, lot of our clients are literally destitute,” said Sally Causer, the centre’s executive director.
“They might not have any recourse to public funds, they might be living on the streets, people who’re living below the poverty line.”
Ms Causer said that the service’s advice helps the local authority save money in the long run because it deals with the problem at the root.
“It’s short-term thinking. We understand the budget is under pressure, but this isn’t the way to go about it,” she said.
Christopher Green, the chief executive officer at Citizens Advice Southwark, said he was not aware of the council bringing advice in-house and that the funding loss would mean a loss of additional provision.
“We want to reassure people that we’re doing the best we can to mitigate the cut,” he said, estimating it as an eighteen per cent reduction. He stressed that core services would still continue as before.
Councillor Victoria Mills, cabinet member for finance, performance and Brexit, responded it was a case of targeting money to areas where it could be best spent.
“We currently fund voluntary sector organisations like Citizens Advice Bureau and SLC £936,000 each year to provide information and advice for local residents.
“These organisations do vital work and that’s why we continue to spend such a high amount compared with other boroughs.
“We have also not changed the total amount we spend on advice services, just where some of the money goes and who it supports.
“In direct response to the increased number of Universal Credit recipients requiring advice, help and assistance we decided we urgently needed to spend more in this area, and also for a number of programmes elsewhere within the council, such as older people’s hub and disability hub.
“We looked at all the options and decided that this support would be best offered in-house, by the council, rather than by the charity or voluntary sector and is now done by the council.”
Lib Dem councillor Hamish McCallum has called on the council to reconsider, saying his party would find the cash by scrapping Southwark Life magazine and making savings in its PR and communications team.
“Demand for legal advice, advocacy and support in Southwark is likely to increase, rather than decrease, following the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, in particularly in view of the changes to the rights and status of EU citizens,” his budget amendment explains.