How the Universal Benefit Calculator Helps To Change The Conversation Towards Action and Financial Independence in Buckinghamshire
People perceived that welfare reform wouldn’t hit “leafy Bucks” hard. They were wrong, deprivation affects some local areas and requires a partnership effort to overcome. Bucks CC could be the first local authority with zero unemployment and aims to maximise opportunity whilst mitigating against the risks that welfare reform brings. The role of frontline advisors is key and Policy in Practice’s software is the enabler, winning the O2 Local Government Digital Fund along the way.
Changes brought about by the Welfare Reform Act 2012 were always going to have an impact yet some commentators said that this would be minimal in “leafy Bucks” compared to other areas in the UK. Buckinghamshire County Council instinctively knew that the reality was going to be quite different.
The Chief Executive asked an internal team to define what the collective impact of all the changes would mean for the residents of Buckinghamshire. This led to the setting up of a partnership of key organisations each with a common interest in identifying the people most affected.
District councils, the voluntary sector and registered social landlords, as well as the county council itself, were all represented.
By Spring 2013 the partnership completed an Impact Assessment identifying the positive and negative local impacts anticipated from the welfare reforms.
The analysis revealed an impacted cohort of 35,000 to 40,000 people.
The partnership felt that the Welfare Reform Act highlighted a need to change the conversations that frontline advisors were having with customers. A cultural shift in support was needed.
Instead of focusing on the process and getting money to people frontline advisors now needed to support people towards financial independence and help them to take action for themselves.
As well as starting a different conversation with customers the partners also had challenges around getting people online. A county with rural areas, Buckinghamshire has pockets of poor broadband connectivity which has been a barrier to consistent outreach work.
The Impact Assessment and resulting analysis informed a partnership action plan, with the intent to maximise opportunities and mitigate the risks resulting from the reforms.