Like every one who works or is a trustee in the voluntary sector I worry about funding. It struck me recently that it not just the scale and stability of the funding that is important but what it represents.
Funding for Citizens Advice Bureau ultimately comes from two main sources. Local Government and Central Government – compared to other local voluntary organisations there is relatively little funding support from charities.
It is striking that local authority funding support has generally held up – despite the terrible cuts to local government funding government.
In crude terms I think the difference is a bit like this:
- Central Government – funds local Citizens Advice Services to provide Consumer Advice and Money Advice Service
- Local Government – funds general welfare advice and also a range of infrastructure support this can include:
- core management costs
- Volunteer recruitment and training
- Services tailored to particularly stressed communities such as economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods, Gypsy and Travellers, Deaf People, Migrants, people with Mental Health Problems and so on.
All of these services are important but I think there is a real difference in the focus of these two funding streams. In general central government is interested in services that are relevant to the whole population and are focussed on the relationship between the citizen and non-governmental services.
Both the Money Advice Service and Consumer Advice are good examples of this. They are primarily concerned with empowering individual members of the public to take more control of their relationship with private sector organisations, whether those are financial institutions or providers of services and goods.
Much of local authorities funding is concerned with helping people who are on low incomes and often with some degree of vulnerability to navigate their relationship with the local and national state – in particular with departments and organisations that are meant to meant to be there to help but too often make it hard to access their services.
The most important aspect of this is how Citizens Advice Bureau help people access the Department of Work and Pensions or to challenge decisions about entitlement.
I now think that there is a fundamentally important distinction here. Local Authorities choose to champion and invest in local services which help people address deficits in national government policy. In this case services that are concerned with helping people to access a key national support service – the welfare benefits system which national government too often manages in a way that is designed to stop people getting the support they are entitled to.
By and large it is local authorities who are funding the services (often with a significant contribution from public health budgets) that help people access essential benefits such as:
Employment Support Allowance – 68% successful appeals
Personal Independence Payments – 65% successful appeals
Both of the above figures are for the last quarter of 2016 – source The Independent Newspaper
…and it will be local authorities that provide the funding to help the large number of people access help when they have to navigate Universal Credit.
This is why local authority funding support to Citizens Advice Bureau is so important and needs to be valued and appreciated for the beautiful thing that it is.
What do you think?
Declaration of interest – I am chair of Citizens Advice Sheffield