Save Our Neighbourhood Offices
A NEIGHBOURHOOD ADVICE AND HOMELESS SERVICE
FIT FOR BIRMINGHAM
In December 2015 the Council is commencing consultation on the principles of a new Neighbourhood Advice and Homeless Service.
The current five main Neighbourhood Offices will be replaced by just two in Northfield and Erdington.
The Homeless Service that is based in four of these offices will be replaced by just one Homeless Service in Newtown.
UNISON does not think this service is adequate for a city the size of Birmingham, with a population of over a million people. The removal of a Neighbourhood Office service from Newtown, Saltley and Sparkbrook looks like the city is abandoning the most deprived and ethnically diverse areas of the city.
Whilst the city reels from Tory imposed budget cuts, the Council will be failing in its promise to defend the most vulnerable, if it gives these proposals the green light. The Neighbourhood Office budget was cut by 50% last year and now faces a further 50% cut. Out of a Council budget of billions, the proposed cut of just over a million may not sound significant, but it will have a devastating impact on a service that at its peak had 43 offices.
Slowly the Council has closed the doors to its services, so that if you have a problem with Housing, Council Tax, Benefits or other Council Services there is virtually no where you can go for a face to face service. With the emphasis on online and phone services the citizens that miss out are the most vulnerable, least articulate, or those with language issues.
Many people slip through the safety net; evicted when they have an entitlement to full Housing Benefit that numerous phone calls have failed to resolve. This largely results in homelessness and unrecoverable rent arrears. Is this the kind of service that we can be proud of?
Don’t be fooled into thinking the placing or one or two staff with a Letting Team, or reliance on the Voluntary Sector, will plug the gaps left by these closures. The Voluntary Sector itself is shedding staff and does not have the access to Council systems to assist in resolving problems quickly and efficiently.
There has to be a way to fund four or five offices that maintains some kind of service to the public, city wide.
The idea of just one homeless centre for the entire city, conjures up an image of bedlam. Homeless families, Domestic Violence victims, individuals with mental health problems or substance abuse, all crammed into one building in substantial numbers, poses a real risk to the safety of public and staff.
One of the reasons put forward for this proposal is to ensure a consistent service. However a consistent service flows from good staff training and a clear and consistent management approach, not from being under one roof.
Few other major cities have just one Homeless Centre. Liverpool has nine, Glasgow has five, Cardiff has one Home Options Centre plus five Community Hubs.
Leeds is championed as being a large city with one centre, but it also has 3 outreach surgeries. Manchester has one for a population less than half the size of Birmingham, but if you include the local authorities that make up Greater Manchester (Trafford and Salford), you have three for a population that is still less than Birmingham.
In a City the size of Birmingham travelling to just one location can be difficult if you have a disability, young children or have no money. The concentration of such an important service in one centre seems to go against the Council mantra of decentralisation and local services.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you are opposed to these proposals these are the things you can do: