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We've got issues

22 Mar 2012

Lots of them. One for every minute of the day, in fact.

In 2010/11, the citizens advice bureaux located in the heart of local communities across Scotland saw more than 253,000 clients and dealt with 560,300 new issues - an increase of 3% on the previous year.

Research shows that around one in every five people in Scotland has visited a bureau for advice in the past three years.

A vital free independent advice service

With 61 member bureaux operating at hundreds of locations across the country we are the key provider of free independent advice services in Scotland. With around 2,500 volunteers and 700 paid staff we are also extremely cost-effective.

The Scottish CAB Service provides a free independent advice service. We can go over the work bureaux do but it’s fair to say that if the service didn’t exist, the current economic circumstances people find themselves in along with coming welfare changes would mean it would have to be invented!

But at the end of the day, even voluntary advice services need funding to survive and continue to provide their vital service in the communities of our country.

And it’s reduced funding along with rising need that’s now a problem for bureaux across Scotland. You could even say it’s our own issue that we need advice and help with.

CAB funding squeezed and cut

Local authority funding is being squeezed and this is having an impact on bureaux that rely heavily on council funding to provide advice to the citizens of Scotland.

In the financial year 2011/12 bureaux had to deal with total cuts in funding of 9%. We expect this to be worse in 2012/13. So far it looks like the majority of CAB are at best facing standstill budgets which is therefore a real terms cut; while others are facing cuts of varying degrees.

Citizens advice bureaux have, over time, seen their core funding reduced year on year in real terms and many are facing a financial situation which means they are having to cut or consolidate services or rely upon their reserves – if they have any left. This is an unsustainable position which would maybe be ok if bureaux' work was reducing. But it’s not. In fact we expect the need for advice to increase massively over the next few years.

People need advice in the current climate more than ever

We expect coming welfare changes, along with continuing economic problems such as unemployment, stagnant wages at a time of rising prices, and restricted access to affordable credit will mean people will be turning to their local CAB more than ever.

Benefit changes always drive demand for advice services - bureaux have already seen a huge rise in demand for advice in relation to the introduction of Employment and Support Allowance. This can only increase as people cope with a raft of welfare changes due to be introduced.

Citizens advice bureaux are playing a pivotal role in helping people in communities across Scotland, but they need support to continue this work.

CAS is concerned that cuts in funding for advice provision will lead to delays in accessing advice or to people not receiving the advice that they will desperately require as welfare changes are introduced.

Whilst citizens advice bureaux cannot put the pounds lost in reduced or changed benefits back into people’s pockets, bureaux can help with benefit entitlement and take-up; assessments, financial inclusion and capability; money management and budgeting. Problems with welfare will also lead to increased need for debt, housing, consumer, relationship and many other areas of advice. Bureaux can help with all the other issues that will occur as a result of welfare changes.

Investment in advice saves the economy money

Good advice ultimately saves money and can prevent outcomes that are expensive for the public purse and are disastrous for the person and families experiencing them, such as homelessness, poor mental health, bankruptcy, and unemployment.

Investment in advice saves public money and leads to positive outcomes for clients. For example, debt and welfare advice is significantly cheaper than homelessness and bankruptcy and the social outcomes for clients are far better.

Research by the New Economics Foundation shows that for every £1 gained through welfare rights advice, an additional £1.70 is gained for the local economy.

The Citizens Advice Service across Scotland is a well established, well known and highly trusted and valued service. But bureaux can no longer do more work for less money.

So please contact your local CAB to see how you can help.

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