EU grant safeguards work aid for jobless

thisisoxfordshire: Susan Brown Susan Brown

A SCHEME to help the unemployed back into work has been safeguarded by an EU grant of £292,000.

Oxford City Council’s welfare support team had its funding cut by the Department for Work and Pensions this year.

But now the team, which provides advice and training courses to people claiming benefits, will continue to operate for at least a year thanks to the cash boost from the European Union.

Executive board member for benefits and customer services Susan Brown said: “It is very good news, because it will allow us to expand the work we are doing. Being able to help more people in Oxford can only be a good thing.”

The £250,000-a-year support team was formed as part of one of 12 pilot schemes in the country funded by the Government to help people affected by recent reforms to the benefits system.

That includes the introduction of Universal Credit, as well as the under-occupancy rule – “the bedroom tax” – because it reduces housing benefit payments according to how many empty rooms a claimant has.

It comes as the council is due to end a public consultation on its Financial Inclusion Strategy, which has seen it ask residents for their views on advice and support services for the unemployed and also about rising property costs in the city.

Mrs Brown said funding, would continue to be spent on financial advice services, as we as skills-based training courses.

But she added: “The consultation is still open and we will still listen to other ideas.

“We cannot just throw money at these issue, so this is an attempt to see what can be done, looking at all the organisations we work with.”

Council leader Bob Price said the council wanted to stay “ahead of the curve” of national changes to the welfare system.

He said: “A lot has changed and clearly a lot more is likely to happen. Our benefits team have been working to help people affected by the changes. We want to provide a more comprehensive safety net for people.

“At the moment there is a budget for this scheme, but depending on the outcome of the consultation, we may be able to fund a minor increase using the expected surplus from next year’s overall council budget.

“We are in a strong financial position, so that gives us some confidence.”

The consultation closes on Friday. More information

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