Rachel Campbell discusses the negative impact that the proposed closure of Citizens Advice services could have on Glaswegians.
The Glasgow Times recently reported that five of the eight Citizens Advice Bureaux in Glasgow, face closure; Glasgow Central, Bridgeton, Easterhouse, Parkhead, and Castlemilk. The remaining three are said to be facing cuts. These closures and cuts, should they go ahead, would take place on 1 October, and considering the furlough scheme will come to an end in that same month, this seems a particularly bad time to leave thousands of people without access to the essential services which these bureaux provide.
As stated on their website, Citizens Advice Bureaux offer “free, confidential, impartial advice to help people exercise their rights as citizens”. Last year the Citizens Advice network in Scotland unlocked £130m in gains for people, with the top issues being social security, debt, employment, and housing. During lockdown, almost 9,000 Glaswegians were helped by the advice of the bureaux, with over £6m in financial gains. In fact, for every £1 invested into the Glasgow Citizens Advice Bureaux, they deliver £13 back.
Councils have a legal duty to house people facing homelessness in temporary accommodation which, while absolutely necessary, is expensive. The Glasgow Citizens Advice Bureaux deal with cases of people facing eviction, and regularly find additional income for the client or negotiate with the landlord or mortgage company for a payment plan which the client can realistically meet. Every time they can achieve this, the council saves thousands of pounds. Yet, counterintuitively, these bureaux face cuts and closures.
Of course, there is a more human element that makes closing these bureaux more than a bad financial decision; losing these services will be devastating to the thousands who rely on them. As the furlough scheme is due to end in October, many people will be seeking advice on how to cope with financial uncertainty; many will face redundancy, debt, and eviction. We are entering a period of extreme economic flux. Cutting these vital services shows a complete disregard for those who will suffer most from the effects that lockdown has had on our economy. Citizens Advice Scotland chair Rory Mair CBE stated: “Local bureaux have sought to engage with the council through this process and have been met with silence. The process here once again seems to have put an algorithm above the needs of real people. The reality is cutting our services will just increase the pressure on council services, and vulnerable people will fall through the net.” That is the point; the people who will suffer are the people who need support the most at this time.
The Glasgow services also offer volunteering and employment opportunities for local people, and campaign for social change. Around half of their volunteers go on to paid employment or further education after developing transferable skills through their programmes. One example of this includes “a former volunteer at a Glasgow Citizens Advice Bureau [who] launched a website aimed at helping people from low-income backgrounds like herself gain access to legal training. She says the Citizens Advice Bureau gave her great experience and confidence”. The impressive work these bureaux do for their communities should not be overlooked. They are necessary for more than financial advice; they inspire people to explore their potential.
There has yet to be a decision made on whether the proposed cuts will go ahead, and the services are imploring the council to see reason. Rory Mair CBE stated: “[They] are pleading with Glasgow City Councillors to see sense and not implement these proposed cuts. The long term damage they would do would be simply devastating for the poorest people in our communities.”
Support must be shown for the plea of Citizens Advice Scotland in order to protect and support citizens from all over Glasgow who will inevitably struggle throughout these unpredictable times. Cuts must be made somewhere, but taking away over half of Glasgow’s Citizens Advice Bureaux is not the answer. The pandemic has had a negative effect on all of us, and for that reason I would hope to see more empathy and consideration for those who are the most vulnerable in our society. It is a privilege to have never needed these services, but the events of the past few months have demonstrated that nobody is immune from falling into hardship; we must ensure that these supports remain for those who do.
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