Edinburgh residents could be helped reclaim around £80m of unclaimed benefits a year to tackle poverty
The depute leader of Edinburgh City Council, Cllr Cammy Day, who is also the vice chairman of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission, has called for the Maximise project to be expanded to help residents claw back millions of pounds they are entitled to.
Around 80,000 people in Edinburgh live in poverty – while the latest figures show that 43,200 of these people are in a household where someone is in work. Of the 21,900 children in poverty in the city, two thirds or 13,800, are living in families where an adult is in work.
The Maximise project, which has been piloted in around 20 schools in the Capital, has recouped around £256,000 for families – while every £1 spent on the service recovers around £23 for families.
Cllr Day said: “We need to act on that quickly. If we are saying the biggest issue is in-work poverty and there’s £80m sitting in the government’s bank waiting to be given to people, we need to find a route to get that into people’s pockets and try and get them out of poverty.
“There’s a route to it through the Maximise project. They go into schools, they meet parents and talk about how they can support them. It will cost the city money, where we need to create a team to either replicate what Maximise has or look to get a dedicated team of benefit advisers to go and find these families.”
Cllr Day admitted any project being rolled out would cost the city council or its partners on the Edinburgh Poverty Commission – but insisted that it should be a priority.
He added: “I think it will be an intensive resource initially from the city because this is a city commission. There will be some things the council can do but other partners can play their part as well.
“Unlocking that £80m for people who are in work poverty is one of the biggest steps we could take forward. While we and a number of other people pay the living wage, setting a higher minimum or living wage would be one of the biggest benefits to people who are working.
“A woman in Muirhouse we spoke to said she has to decide every week whether she will eat or feed her children. It’s nearly 2020 and somebody’s mother is deciding whether she eats or her kid eats and that’s just unacceptable. More and more people are having to decide now every week whether to turn their heating on, can I buy food or do I just have to make difficult decision.”
Officials estimate that around £80m of entitled benefits are left unclaimed by Edinburgh citizens. More than half of this is believed to be for pensioner households but “the bulk of what is left” is in-work support and only a small fraction of it is likely to be out of work support. The city council said around 14 per cent of housing benefit remains unclaimed and that only 60 per cent of pension credit is claimed every year.
The project’s strategy manager, Chris Adams, said: “The Maximise project that the council is part of in partnership with the NHS, what comes forward most often is that it’s the most effective way to tackle that. The commission is looking for support to expand that kind of provision.
“The main thing is support to help people access and to work through the complexity of the benefits system – that’s where services like Maximise and advice services the council offers are hugely valuable. There is a lot of support out there but navigating the support is complex – it’s not always joined up and it’s not always reaching the people that really need it the most.”
Mother of three has recouped vital cash through Maximise project
The Maximise project is now operating in around 20 schools in Edinburgh and has helped families recoup £256,000 of benefits they were entitled to.
A mother of three, Lynn, was referred to an advice worker from the Maximise project. She had recently fled domestic abuse and was staying in a one-bedroom hotel room with no cooking facilities.
Lynn was helped to move into more suitable temporary accommodation in the form of a flat and was assisted in having her housing benefit reinstated – with payments worth £1,626. Lynn was helped by a family support worker who registered her children at local schools, nursery and GP practice.
Maximise support workers also checked benefits that Lynn was entitled to – allowing her to recoup income support, child benefit and child tax credit payments. She was also able to apply for a bus pass and an application to EVOC to cover basic needs worth £250 and apply for free school meals. The service has also helped Lynn engage with an employability workers to explore future job prospects.