Thank you to the many residents who have been responding to my ‘week ahead’ podcasts which I have been publishing on my Facebook page at the beginning of each week since the New Year. In these I aim to give a brief rundown of what is going on in Parliament and what I will be up to both at Westminster and in the constituency, and inevitably at the moment an update of where we are (or aren’t) on Brexit. This is in addition to my monthly constituency e-newsletter which you can subscribe to on my website or simply by dropping me an email. The latest edition is out this week and again available on my website or Facebook page.
Last Sunday we commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day, marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and it was good to see such strong turnouts in Worthing’s Beach House Park and Buckingham Park in Shoreham. It came at the end of a week of sombre events highlighting why we must still be vigilant against the evil that caused not just the Holocaust but more recently genocide in places like Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia. I also attended a very sobering assembly at the Sir Robert Woodard Academy with 2 excellent presentations by student Holocaust ambassadors who had themselves visited the concentration camps as I did some years ago with local students.
On Friday I paid another visit to the Benefit’s Office on Worthing for an update on the roll out of Universal Credit which was introduced in Worthing and Adur last July. I was joined by representatives from a local foodbank and West Sussex Citizen’s Advice, who obviously see the impact at first hand too. Whilst there has been a lot of criticism about the roll-out of UC nationally the experience locally has been much less problematic and I am sure this is down to the considerable amount pf preparation work done by the Benefits’ Office staff and their partner agencies.
Council officers and housing staff are now co-located for part of the week and a phalanx of work coaches have been trained up not just to advise on benefits but offer a whole range of support to help people get back into work where feasible. A number of new hotlines are available for people needing immediate advice and I have put the details of these together with a podcast about my visit on my website. They are also bringing in a range of outreach services so advisers will be available at times and places more convenient to local people, and are working closely with landlords like Worthing Homes and Adur Homes. I have offered to help trial a number of events with local businesses to offer on hand advice about in work benefits too.
Given that the Benefit’s Office anticipated handling around 1000 clients in the initial stages and have in fact successfully handled more than double that, clearly they know what they are doing and I am very grateful for the effort and planning they have put into this. It has certainly helped to reduce my caseload on what was one of the most common issues raised at my surgeries.