“Bizarre” decision to cut advice funding slammed by Labour at county council

The opposition has warned the move could leave more families in poverty (picture posed by model).

The opposition has warned the move could leave more families in poverty (picture posed by model). - Credit: Contributed

Suffolk’s decision to scrap a financial advice service for hard-pressed families has been attacked by the Labour opposition at the county council.

The Financial Inclusion and Advice Service (FIAS) provides help at children’s centres enabling families to claim benefits they are entitled to and helps to ensure problems are dealt with before they escalate.

However the service is being wound up as part of the council cuts approved earlier this month. The move will save £205,000 – and seven members of staff (a full-time equivalent of 5.5 jobs) will be redeployed to other departments.

The move has angered Labour group leader Sandy Martin. He said: “This is absolutely bizarre. It makes no sense at all. The service has brought well over £1 million in benefits to Suffolk that would otherwise have gone unclaimed.

“It has allowed 40 families to stay in their homes and not be facing eviction. And it has saved at least 40 children from being taken away from their homes and being placed in care – and the cost of that is many times the money saved by this cut.”

Mr Martin said the FIAS was available to anyone who went to children’s centres – it was not just available to those who were already being dealt with by the county council’s social workers.

He said: “The analogy is that if you were running a railway you wouldn’t close the ticket office and just go to the homes of people you think might want a rail ticket.

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“By being easily available to people the FIAS team does a very important job.”

Suffolk county council cabinet member for children Gordon Jones insisted the help would still be available for families who needed it through social work teams.

He said: “When looking at services being provided to families we carefully consider the impact that any potential savings could have on them or the service they receive.

“The savings in this instance allow for us to ensure front line practitioner posts can be protected; these roles bring direct benefit to the families who are being worked with.

“The staff working with these families will still be able to access the FIAS helpline and training to enable them to continue providing sound financial advice to those they are working with.

“These decisions are not taken lightly and the teams work closely to ensure the support provided delivers proficiency without loss of service.”