'Crucial to help Northumberland residents cope with welfare reform'

Northumberland County Council's HQ.
Northumberland County Council's HQ.

The efforts of welfare and benefits staff in Northumberland increased the incomes of older and disabled people by more than £2.9million last year.

The 2017-18 annual report of the Welfare Rights Advisory Unit says that this boosted the county’s economy by an estimated £4.9million.

The welfare rights team is a service funded by the local authority and based in Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust as part of the council’s wider partnership with the trust.

It offers staff in adult services, children’s services and the voluntary and community sector with training and access to a telephone advice line.

The team also provides targeted, direct support to people with social-care needs in cases involving complex issues, including appeals.

Above and beyond the benefits for individuals, the report explains that the numbers of disability benefit recipients has a bearing on the funding provided to councils by the Government.

What’s more, the report continues, increasing the take-up of Attendance Allowance, a benefit that helps with the extra costs of long-term illness or disability for the over 65s, means a greater number of older people are able to continue living independently in their own homes.

The work of the welfare rights team is going to prove even more crucial moving forward given the changes in the benefits system to come.

The report says: ‘It is crucial, for the well-being of vulnerable and disabled people in the county, and also for the county’s wider economy and the council’s own finances, to make sure that Northumberland residents receive the support they need to cope with changes to their income through ongoing implementation of welfare reform.

‘The welfare rights team will continue to provide expert support and training to frontline staff across agencies and work to promote a wider network of benefits advice services.

‘It will also contribute to the wider programme of work needed across the council and its partners to address the challenges arising from changes to benefits, including the roll-out of Universal Credit in Northumberland from November 2018, and the impact which these major changes will have on the county’s population and on council services.’

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service