Agenda item

Reducing Poverty & Improving Financial Inclusion

To receive an update from the Chief Officer Customer Access & Welfare on the work undertaken by Leeds City Council and partners to reduce poverty and improve financial inclusion in the city, including reference to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of Universal Credit.



The report of the Chief Officer Community Hubs, Welfare and Business Support provided an update on the work undertaken by Leeds City Council and partners to reduce poverty and improve financial inclusion, with particular focus on the ongoing impact of COVID-19 pandemic. The report also provided an update on Universal Credit in the City.


Appended to the report included a full and detailed account of the activity undertaken over the past year, including a review of evidence and the consideration of the issues emerging.


The following were in attendance for this item:

o  Councillor Harland, Executive Member for Communities

o  Lee Hemsworth, Chief Officer Community Hubs, Welfare and Business Support

o  Rebecca Owen, DWP

o  Dianne Lyons, Citizens Advice


The Chief Officer Community Hubs, Welfare and Business Support, and partners in attendance, provided the Board with a PowerPoint presentation in relation to further pressures on low-income household as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and pressures intensifying in terms of the reduction in job losses, furlough ending & removal of the £20 uplift, alongside rising costs from energy prices and household bills. Key matters highlighted, included:

·  Key activities in the Financial Inclusion Team

·  Key activity – continued delivery of short-term national funding programmes

·  Welfare and Benefits Activity

·  Reducing poverty – food insecurity

Universal Credit

·  Youth Employability Work Coach teams

·  Re-start programme to support customers affected by COVID-19 pandemic

·  Conditionality re-introduced

·  Local provision to support individuals of domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health

·  Leeds Social Justice Team

·  Introduction of Specialist Prison Leaver Work Coaches

·  Co-location of working arrangements with staff from Housing Leeds

·  The service continues to pay more than 90% customers UC in full

Citizens Advice

·  Benefits issues dominate enquiries relating to PIP and the withdrawal of £20pw uplift

·  Fuel arrears are escalating and nationally Citizens Advice are calling for; ‘Energy Support Grant’ through the benefits system; uprating benefits by 6%; extend Warm Homes Discount; Reintroduce £20pw uplift

·  Citizens Advice Leeds are working with Northern Powergrid to offer a helpline to people experiencing or at risk of fuel poverty

·  MAPS debt advice – suspension of regional face to face services

·  Help to Claim – the service will move to a national telephone digital service


The Chief Officer Community Hubs, Welfare and Business Support concluded by highlighting that a strong partnership continues across the City to tackle poverty in Leeds, although it was acknowledged that an increasing number of households are falling into poverty hardship. Support organisations across the city continue to report longstanding concern with Universal Credit and the welfare system, alongside increasing demand, complexity of issues, and the increasing number of clients unable to cover basic living costs. An update on the work carried out by partners and Leeds City Council will be provided at a future Scrutiny Board meeting.


Members’ discussion included the following:

·  Tackling food insecurity. A member suggested that instead of using food banks as a model, more thought should be put into co-ordinating food pantries in local communities.

·  Help to Claim. It was recognised that the loss of a face-to-face service is a big concern, specifically for vulnerable people who require assistance. Clarity was sought on whether an inequality impact assessment has been undertaken. Board Members agreed to form a working group including the relevant Executive Member to consider the impact and loss of a face-to-face debt advice service.

·  The Impact of sanctions on claimants and clarity on the processes in place before issuing a sanction. It was noted that the number stands at 0.73% of claimants in Leeds who have been imposed with a sanction.

·  Local Welfare Support Scheme work outcomes and measuring success. It was confirmed that contracts are formed nationally and are renewed and reviewed regularly.

·  The impact on fuel increasing and the cost of living and concerns regarding companies unable to fund the Warm Home Discount scheme.

·  Members requested to receive refreshed Citizens Advice and DWP contacts.


The Executive Member for Communities concluded by recognising the positive impact of partnership working across the city and thanked partners and the work undertaken by Leeds City Council, as well as input from Scrutiny Board Members.



a)  To note the contents of the report, together with comments raised during discussion of this item

b)  To note the intention to form a working group with Board Members and the respective Executive Member on further considerations around Help to Claim and the loss of a face-to-face service.


Supporting documents: