I recently met the team at Horsham Citizens Advice to discuss a range of topics. Citizens Advice have campaigned on issues nationally such as restrictions on doorstep lending on which I too have campaigned in Westminster. It is also incredibly helpful to compare notes on the type of issues that are being raised with them locally - which usually accord closely with those constituents raise with me.
The main focus on this occasion was on Universal Credit and the advisors’ ideas as to how the system could be improved.
In my meetings with the Horsham Job Centre they have been positive about UC and see it as an improvement on the complex and confusing previous benefits systems and the multiple computer processes required to run them. When fully rolled out, UC is expected to help 200,000 more people into work. UC claimants are able to spend around 50 per cent more time looking for a job than they did under Jobseeker's Allowance and UC is designed to help them always benefit from taking work and then benefit as they progress within it.
The economic backdrop continues to be positive and since 2010, over 3.55 million people have moved into work: an average of 1,000 people every day.
However any welfare system will contain glitches and difficulties and there are some for whom an on-line system creates specific problems. I am enormously grateful to the Citizens Advice team, full time and volunteer, for the work they do in assisting those claimants that need extra support. The benefit of a deliberately protracted roll out for the new scheme is that the system can be continually improved. The Government has already made a range of positive changes and I am always keen to hear fresh ideas.
I also recently visited Horsham Nursery School which was originally set up in 1942, in Horsham Park, to allow Horsham mothers to undertake war work. In 2008 it moved to its impressive modern facility on Harwood Road. The School is “maintained” by West Sussex County Council, this does require premium funding but the many supporters of maintained nursery schools are keen to point out their advantages and the great results they achieve with their young charges. They were certainly enjoying their learning on the day I visited!
Photo credit: Jeremy Quin joined volunteers and full time support staff at Citizens Advice in Horsham.