450 people sign petition to stop cuts to advice centres

Oxford Mail: Rose Hill advice centre staff, from left, Sharon Bates, Sarah Meziu and Julie Woodley Rose Hill advice centre staff, from left, Sharon Bates, Sarah Meziu and Julie Woodley

MORE than 450 people have signed a petition against the slashing of funds to advice centres and cash for the poorest in the county.

Rose Hill and Donnington Advice Centre launched the petition to fight the cuts by Oxfordshire County Council, which is axing more than £64m in total over the next four years.

The advice centre in Ashhurst Way stands to lose the £14,000 from April 2015, which will result in reduced opening hours and the loss of one of the four staff members, despite the number of clients more than doubling over the last year, said director Carol Roberts.

In latest available figures, the centre helped 1,012 people from April 2012 to March 2013 and 1,973 from April to October 2013.

She told the Oxford Mail: “The loss of funding is at least a worker for us and a reduction in hours, which is a downward spiral.

“We won’t qualify for other funding if our hours are reduced as there are targets on different types of work and the amount of benefits you get for people.

“We are a very small group as it is. There are only four of us. To lose one would be an impossible situation. There will be no people to represent people to explain forms, to do appeals and tribunals.

“We just don’t know what will happen.

“The number of people coming in shows how vital the centre is.”

Rose Hill and Donnington Advice Centre is one of eight advice organisations that will have their county council funding scrapped in 2015.

Staff are also fighting plans to cut the support fund from April this year.

The fund helps people who are struggling to make ends meet.

The county council provides care and crisis awards through a fund called the Oxfordshire Support Fund to help vulnerable people meet their basic needs.

In the proposals, Berinsfield Information and Volunteer Centre will lose £4,000 annually, Blackbird Leys Neighbourhood Support Scheme will lose £15,000 and Oxford Citizens’ Advice Bureau £25,000.

The council will also withdraw its annual £50,000 funding for Oxfordshire Advocacy Development Group, £25,000 from the Oxfordshire Chinese Community and Advice Centre and £117,000 from the Oxfordshire Community Work Agency.

The £25,000 annual funding to West Oxfordshire Citizens’ Advice Bureau will also be lost.

Laura Wilson, of Agnes Smith Advice Centre in Blackbird Leys, said they had not started a petition adding: “We are involved in the advice centre forum who are a collective.

“I know that all the advice centres are pulling together and are writing to the council.”

Staff and clients from the advice centre in Rose Hill will go to the cabinet meeting on January 28 and the full council in February.

The petition was launched online and at the centre at the start of the month and so far they have received more than 450 signatures.

Julie Woodley, welfare rights and debt adviser at Rose Hill and Donnington Advice Centre, said: “We need to be on the estate for people to come see us locally.

“It is important – the number of people coming in has doubled.”

Oxfordshire County Council spokesman Marcus Mabberley said: “The council is proposing to retain a portion of the Support Fund spend to help meet our statutory duties towards vulnerable groups, such as care leavers.

“We are proposing to concentrate our overall adult social care spend on those who are eligible for support in an environment where demand for services form these people is on the rise and resources are limited.

“We would still provide funding to those organisations who offer advice and support to those adults who are eligible for social care funding support.

“Should the budget proposals be approved we would seek to increase the public’s awareness of other potential sources of support, such as from the voluntary sector and charities.”

To sign the petition visit the advice centre or visit change.org/en-GB/ petitions/oxfordshire-county-council-maintain-the-support-fund-for-the-poorest-people-in-oxfordshire

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