Cabinet, Consultation, Meetings and Reports

Monday – The week started with Croydon releasing its cabinet paper on its future plans for Croydon Council Tax Support. You can see from other blog posts that we have lots of concerns about the proposals so we were very keen to see how the consultation results influenced the proposals.

There was one change that Croydon Council were proud to report – the calculations for determining if someones income is eligible for Council Tax Support would no longer include housing costs. This is something that is very positive. Services had already been told during the consultation that the calculations used were not going to include housing costs so we are not sure how this can be considered a consultation outcome. The cabinet paper went into details about who cabinet had engaged with during the consultation and what the outcome is. You can read it here. You can request a copy of consultation responses as long as no personal details are given, I therefore made a request through the Freedom of Information Request platform – WhatDoTheyKnow. This allows people to follow your requests and you can follow other people. The authority that you are requesting the information from responds with your requested information – if it is obliged to do so. You can follow this request here as we would like to see how people responded and if the consultation outcome does infact reflect how people responded during the consultation.

On Tuesday I was the radio with Frisky DJ if you don’t listen to him on the radio – you should! South West London Law Centres has had a weekly slot with him for a few months and although I get terrified he is absolutely a professional and an ally. If you aren’t aware of the radio work between Frisky DJ and the law centre it is worth reading about here as legal issues are discussed and you can here some key information about legal rights relating to topics such as housing and employment.

Tuesday afternoon was my first Merton Covid response meeting of the year. These response units were set set up by most local authorities when the first lockdown was announced in desperation of getting support to the most vulnerable people in the community. Frontline service come together to ‘crisis talk’, although the crisis may have shifted since the first lockdown the cost of living hike is creating a new crisis for us to address collectively. This meeting was slightly different as we had some space to talk about staff wellbeing and the impact of Covid on services. I was shielding for 3 months from September 2021 and am still nervous of attending busy places as a community engagement manager and new employee I know that I must be out with the community. There is still a work from home order in place so for the minute we continue online and plan for the future.

On Wednesday I met with Jack from Citizens UK. Citizens UK are community organisers with affiliated members. Members include churches, mosques, schools. The approach is finding common ground between members and lobbying for change collectively. Citizens UK have a new ‘Croydon Chapter’ as part of their South London Chapter and Jack is the new, first and only Croydon officer. He is keen to connect with groups to understand what the main concerns are in Croydon.

After meeting Jack in the morning, Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) held a conference to launch their 2022 poverty report. We were able to ask questions in the chat but none of mine got asked/answered. The most important speaker by far was Melanie who told us her story of loosing a livable wage. She took us on a journey of how easily we can slip under and our finance that we depend on can disappear and the finance that we are forced to depend on through social security doesn’t keep us from slipping under.

Other speakers included the Shadow Minister for State for Work and Pensions – Jonathan Ashworth and Baroness Philippa Stroud, Chief Executive Officer, Legatum Institute. You can watch the launch event in the link below, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Deputy Director of Evidence and Impact does a good job explaining the findings. I think that any arena discussing poverty should include collective rage.

The recommendations from the JRF UK Poverty report 2022:

  • We need as many people as possible to be in good jobs. Unemployment is expected to rise in the coming months, and we need to see further bold action to retrain workers and create good quality new jobs.
  • We need to improve earnings for low-income working families and ensure more people are in secure, good quality work. Government must support people in the lowest-paid jobs, or people working part-time, to move into higher pay and access sufficient and secure working hours, including bringing forward the Employment Bill.
  • We need to strengthen the benefits system. At a minimum, we need the temporary £20 per week increase to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit to be made permanent, extending this same lifeline to people on legacy benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance.
  • We need to increase the amount of low-cost housing available for families on low incomes and increase support for households who have high housing costs.

On Friday the JRF are doing a ‘#askapanelist’ morning and I look forward to asking Malanie her thoughts on how the report should be used.

I spent the rest of Wednesday afternoon finalising the South West London Law Centres response to a consultation from the Ministry of Justice investigating the Housing Possession Duty Advice Scheme and proposals to include funded early intervention work. You can read our final draft below.

Thursday was Croydon Homelessness Forum – this session was online and it was good to meet frontline services supporting those who are rough sleeping and homeless in Croydon such as Night Stop Croydon. The forum is coordinated by Croydon Voluntary Action. It always shocks me when services aren’t aware of the work of a law centre – another reminder of how much work there is to do to become embedded in peoples minds, not just as a agency to refer to but as an ally and someone to organise with. I was able to tell attendees about our services and explained the Housing Possession Country Court Duty Scheme that South West London Law Centres deliver. This scheme provides free advice and representation on the day of a housing possession hearing for things like eviction due to rent arrears. It is really important that people seek the legal advice available to increase their chances of remaining in their homes and preventing homelessness.

These were some of the attendees that I got to speak with:

Change Grow Live  Marcia McGee, Recovery Worker, Rough sleepers project.  Supporting people with substance misuse issues and homelessness.  

Croydon Drop In, Jacqui Henry, Advice & Rights Advocate.  We work with young people and families. We work with young people and families by providing flexible, independent, safe, accessible, and confidential counselling. 

Thames Reach Croydon Housing First, Valérie Ferretti, Senior Practitioner. 

Evolve Housing + Support, Kate Smith – Somewhere Safe to Stay Hub. Providing a supportive and caring environment for homeless. SSTSH provides emergency accommodation for rough sleepers and seeks more permanent housing for them.  

The hub will be moving from Croydon University Hospital to a location in the south part of the borough next week. 

Croydon Nightwatch, Fiona Satiro, volunteer and a new Trustee. Nightwatch volunteers are out every night in the centre of Croydon giving food and other help to homeless and other vulnerable people. We can be found every night at 9.30 pm in the Queen’s Gardens, by Fell Road. 

Crisis – Skylight Croydon, Jana Ernest, Progression Manager. Crisis provides housing, education and employment, health and well being services to homeless people in Croydon 

The Link, at Purley Baptist Church, Pauline Miller, co-ordinator. Currently acting as a soup kitchen out of East Croydon URC on Thursday evenings. Meeting some of the needs of lonely, hungry and needy people, many of whom we have got to know over the years and signposting them on where we can. 

Money and Pensions Service, Vicky Copeland, Regional Partnership Manager for West London. We help people with information, guidance and support for all money topics with our free MoneyHelper assets

Free call centre MoneyHelper 0800 138 7777  

(thank you to Croydon Voluntary Action for preparing and sharing this list)

After lunch was an organising meeting between Wandsworth services who are concerned that there are issues getting the Household Support Fund to those who need it. Wandsworth Council were offering a phone line that people could apply through, however, this wasn’t up and running and meant that people unable to cover the cost of fuel – including phone lines and internet – were unable to apply for support.
Agencies are together to get this urgent issue addressed. Six charities are raising this with Wandsworth Council. These charities are Wandsworth Foodbank, Katherine Low Settlement, Wandsworth Carers Centre, Thinking Works, Citizens Advice Wandsworth, South West London Law Centres and Little Village.

Local authorities must spend the funding from central government by the 31st of March 2022, otherwise it must be given back. The English Fuel Poverty Index shared by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition and converted into this visual map shows us that 13% (18,288) of Wandsworth households are fuel poor.
By knowing that atleast 18,288 households in Wandsworth were fuel poor before this price hike many households would benefit from this fund. A press release is being prepared between the charities to help put pressure on Wandsworth Council to have this fund accessible.
You can explore the map below.

On Friday members of the law centre met with Saskia from Pubic Interest Law Centre (PILC) to put in place an action plan for work we are doing to support a south London estate challenging its regeneration scheme. We are in the investigation stage of this – it is great to observe how both law centres are working together to scrutinise public documents and to investigation legal routes to challenge decisions on behalf of residents. Attendees came away with a set of actions to complete before our next meeting. I am excited to see how this evolves.

Last week I shared a media request received from BBC Panorama who wanted to speak to people facing fuel poverty. I shared the request with members of our Social Justice Network and 13 people wanted to speak to the journalist. The narrative the BBC wanted to pursue was a family facing fuel poverty, although none of the 13 who stepped forward would fit into the narrative they still deserve their stories to be told.

I spent a few hours contacting those who stepped forward to discuss what our next steps should be and have agreed to engage with journalists where we can set the narrative. Members liked the idea of being able to share stories of social injustice to support eachother. This is something we will explore.

Next I asked my question on twitter for the JRF #askapanelist session relating to their poverty report launched on Wednesday. I thought Melanie was the main person who had the insight to give a valid answer so directed my question towards Melanie:

How do you think the findings of the #UKPoverty2022 report should be used?

Question asked on twitter to Melanie, who spoke of her experience during the JRF UK Poverty Report 2022 launch

Melanie told us:

I would like the Government to use this report to acknowledge and review the real difficulties faced by a growing number of everyday people.

Ending poverty can no longer lay solely on the shoulders of individuals or charities.

Government need to see the part they have played, for example, in cutting benefits, the lack of social housing and the rise in insecure work.

Government need to hear and understand that employment is only one piece in the poverty puzzle.”