Belper families given advice lifeline in children’s centres

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Belper families struggling in the current economic climate will be able to get free advice on everything from debt management to welfare rights, thanks to a new initiative from Derbyshire County Council.

The authority has agreed to invest almost £500,000 in creating free advice centres in the county’s children’s centres, including Duffield Children’s Centre in New Zealand Lane and Belper Children’s Centre in Alder Road.

Centres will get the equivalent of a day’s advice each week as part of the county council’s pledge to help hard-pressed families in Derbyshire.

The move comes just days after a report by former health secretary Alan Milburn revealed two thirds of poor children in this country are from families where an adult works.

Derbyshire County Council already offers free advice to families in some of its children’s centres. But the rising cost of living combined with low incomes, high unemployment and changes to benefits has led to an increase in demand for advice, from those in work as well as those on benefit.

The council’s cabinet member for children and young people Councillor Kevin Gillott said he was pleased that at a time when the authority was facing massive cuts, it was able support those in need.

He said: “Times are difficult for a lot of families in Derbyshire, and by providing advice in our children’s centres, which are already at the heart of communities, we are helping those who need it most, where they need it.

“And while levels of child poverty are slightly below the national average, levels are increasing.”

At a meeting of Derbyshire County Council’s cabinet on Tuesday (Oct 22), the authority agreed to:

* Increase the amount of spending on advice in children’s centres to £466,400 for next year;

* Provide £146,000 of extra funding for the authority’s in-house welfare benefits information and advice service to represent families at the growing number of benefits’ appeals and help train up volunteers and staff in the third sector to help families with benefits’ advice;

* Award a further £75,000 over two years to the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centre which represents families at benefit appeals.

Councillor Gillott said the investments were part of a raft of anti-poverty measures to tackle health inequalities and improve the life chances of children and families in the county.

He said: “It is vital the authority helps Derbyshire families as they try to make ends meet.

“Research shows that poverty and debt have a very serious impact on health and we are doing what we can to reduce health inequalities in the county.”

“By creating advice centres within our children’s centres, we can help families who are struggling.”

Other recent anti-poverty measures implemented by the county council include supporting the growing number of food banks in Derbyshire as well as spending £360,000 to support Derbyshire’s Credit Unions which can offer safe and affordable loans to people on low incomes who may be tempted by payday loan companies.

Now it has been agreed by the council’s cabinet, the advice service is expected to be up and running by April next year. Funding comes largely from the authority’s new public health role.

Councillor Gillott added: “For every pound the council spends on advice, families are helped to manage £32 of their debt. They also gain an extra £10 of income, such as free school meals or tax credits.

“There has been a cost of living crisis for many Derbyshire families. In the past year alone bills have risen by 4 per cent, but average earnings have only increased by 1.5 per cent which creates a growing gap between what people earn and what they have to spend.

“The council has to make difficult decisions due to cuts by the Coalition Government of £157million, but helping hard-pressed Derbyshire families is one of our priorities.”

Derbyshire County Council’s welfare benefits information and advice team offers a range of services including free benefits checks. Contact the team on 01629 531535 or email welfarebenefits@derbyshire.gov.uk