Peace of Mind

Peace of Mind

18th July 2023

Advisers offer people peace of mind. They deserve it themselves

by Derek Mitchell, CAS Chief Executive

This article was first published in The Herald on 14 July 2023

Earlier this year the Scottish Energy Insights and Coordination Group (SEIC) published a report stating that “many advice agencies and advisers themselves operate on short-term contracts, with associated short-term bidding, recruitment and reporting all taking time away from service delivery for clients….. Funding is typically offered within single financial years; even if funding is renewed, short-term contracts make it challenging to offer long-term contracts to advisers.”

I can testify to this. There isn’t a CAB manager in the country who isn’t familiar with it. It’s an unacceptable situation for CABs and a bad deal for communities.

Last year the Scottish CAB network helped more than 174,500 people. One in six who sought our advice saw a financial gain, the average value of which was over £4,200. Think of the difference that can make to someone having to choose between rent and food. That is money unlocked in communities across the country, not centralised in one area.

Likewise, at a time when our public services are under strain the preventative work of CABs saves the taxpayer millions of pounds each year. For example, if a CAB prevents a family from becoming homeless – which they very often do – then that’s a family that the Council doesn’t need to put in temporary homeless accommodation. Meanwhile the impact of our advice saves the NHS around £20 million a year in prevention.

And yet we have people in CABs advising the public on employment rights when they themselves don’t know if they’ll have a job in a few months because the funding isn’t certain. That is morally unacceptable.

Short-term funding arrangements make it difficult for CABs to plan ahead and make it hard to retain staff. While stop-and-start contracts create uncertainty at the end of each financial period.

Working in a CAB is already a tough job. Rewarding but tough. You’re faced every day with heart-breaking cases; real people who are living in crisis and they’re looking into your eyes asking for your help. You also have to understand legal and financial matters that can be extremely technical and know where to go to access help for each client you see.

CABs have faced hugely increased demand over the past couple of years. March 2023 saw CABs help more than 25,000 people across Scotland, the highest number in a single month for three and half years. In that month alone CABs gave out more than 100,000 pieces of advice, the highest on record ever. So there are more cases, they are more likely to be complex and they are often from people in crisis.

Even when an adviser can’t solve someone’s problem, they are offering people certainty and peace of mind. It shouldn’t be too much for ask that they are offered certainty and security themselves.

Scotland faces a series of complex challenges; they won’t be solved overnight but if we are serious about tackling and eradicating poverty, pro-active advice and advocacy services must be part of the solution. A first step is to move beyond short-term, insecure funding arrangements that we and many other charities are at the mercy of.

CABs are an essential community service, empowering people, unlocking wealth, protecting rights in communities across the country.

That’s a service worth paying for, and worth paying for properly.