Edinburgh’s ‘Making Advice Work’ (MAW) programme is now one year old, and delegates to a Scottish Parliament reception heard that the service has delivered quality advice and support to clients in desperate need of help across the city.
Last October the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) was asked by the Scottish Government and the Money Advice Service to run a new grant funding programme to focus on improving access to advice. A wide range of Edinburgh-based organisations joined together and successfully bid for MAW funding and an interim report on progress was presented at an event at Holyrood last night.
The statistics are impressive – over twelve months MAW-funded organisations gave advice to 1632 people who reported accumulated debts of over £1.2 million. Clients were represented at 119 tribunals or Sheriff Court cases and financial gains achieved for clients totalled over £1.8 million. It’s worth noting that in many cases these figures are in addition to organisations’ other client groups – organisations like Granton Information Centre have been able to see more people in need as a direct result of SLAB funding.
Statistics only tell part of the story, however, and behind ever figure there is a person or family in need of help and support. The recession and subsequent welfare reforms have hit communities hard and all advice agencies have struggled to cope with record numbers of clients. For some, it’s being unable to understand complicated forms, for others it’s an unexpected change of circumstances. Some are these are on the verge of losing their family home, some facing mounting debts with seemingly nowhere to turn – and all of them need help.
Housing and Welfare Minister Margaret Burgess MSP knows more than most the value and importance of good quality advice – she has front line experience as a former adviser with Citizens Advice. One grateful former client recently recognised and approached the Minister – not as a politician but as a person who was there to provide support when it was most needed – fully nine years ago!
After talking of the social challenges faced by families and communities, Ms Burgess told delegates: “There are undoubtedly challenges, but we can see through the case studies and your report that help is being provided to those most in need. Tonight is a night to celebrate what you have achieved”.
Projects involved in the partnership include CHAI, Citizen Advice Edinburgh, Dunedin Canmore, Deaf Action, Shelter Scotland, Hillcrest Housing Association, Granton Information Centre, The Action group, Cyrenians, Prospect Community Housing, Port of Leith Housing Association and the City of Edinburgh Council.
Making Advice Work has three programme streams – community-wide advice, helping tenants of social landlords and a thematic stream which aims to tackle barriers in accessing advice for people with disabilities and others experiencing domestic abuse.
The Making Advice Work projects operating across the city cover all three of these programme themes, and David Gardner (CHAI), Brendan Fowler (Prospect Community Housing) and Cheryl-Ann Cruickshank (Shelter Scotland) gave short presentations to give a flavour of the type of work taking place in Edinburgh.
Brendan Fowler explained: “It can be intense, but the best advice is face to face, one to one. This project is good value for money because it works. This funding has helped to change people’s lives”.
SLAB Chief Executive Lindsay Montgomery CBE (above) thanked the organisations for their efforts over the last twelve months. “When this funding was introduced we were very clear that it would be dependent on organisations being able to show that they could work in partnership with others to produce positive outcomes. The results so far have been very encouraging and it’s to be hoped that other parts of Scotland will follow Edinburgh’s lead”.
The event was co-sponsored by Labour MSPs Sarah Boyack and Kezia Dugdale.
For more information on Making Advice Work – and the organisations involved in the programme – go to http://goo.gl/HPnt9E