LARIA Research Impact Award 2015: Best Use of Local Area Research (Commended Entry)
In June 2012 the Centre for Local Economic Strategies published a report on the impact of welfare reform in Manchester. This highlighted potential impacts on services, places and particular population groups. A programme of work encompassing monitoring and evaluation, governance, partnerships and supporting communities was recommended.
To ensure an effective and evidence-based response to the challenges faced, the council established a Welfare Reform Programme Board to oversee the monitoring of the impact of welfare reform. It provides leadership to co-ordinate working across council services and partners and enables effective support to be provided to residents where need is identified.
A quarterly Welfare Reform Monitoring Report is produced to provide the evidence base for the board to use. This report brings together a raft of intelligence measures using the large volume of data that the council holds, and presents it in a clear way so that decision-makers can respond quickly to emerging need and target funds effectively.
The monitoring report has proved an invaluable tool not only in targeting direct support to residents, but has also been used by external organisations such as the University of Manchester and Grant Thornton to support their reports and research.
The Welfare Reform Monitoring Report has a number of aims, functions and benefits. Its core aim is to be a flexible tool which helps the board to make decisions based on sound evidence and to ensure that support is targeted to the places and groups most in need.
The report is an efficient use of resources under the principle “produce once, use many times”. Bringing together data showing long term trends in housing, benefits, and welfare reform impacts in one place enables potential links to be identified. Reviewing the analysis at the board with the shared insight of colleagues from performance, policy, regeneration, benefits and housing means that areas of interest can be investigated in more detail and actions put in place as necessary. The report is then shared with a broad audience, such as Executive Members and place-based teams: this greatly reduces repetition in requests for analysis.
The following case studies demonstrate actions which have taken place and outcomes achieved locally as a result of insights from the report:
1) Spatial analysis of residents affected by the benefit cap identified a ‘hotspot’ of claimants in the Moss Side ward (see graphic below). This information was shared with the multi-agency local delivery group, who requested further analysis of these claimants and how they could be engaged and supported. Regeneration officers worked closely with the local housing provider and other partners to ensure that all those affected by the benefit cap were accessing advice and support where needed, and continue to monitor this.
2) Presenting data relating to under-occupancy volumes and claims for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) has allowed us to identify that the number of residents affected by under-occupancy rules has only seen a small reduction over time, against increasing claims for DHP. As a result, a piece of communications work with residents and housing providers is underway to ensure that tenants understand that DHP is only a temporary solution, and that tenants affected by under-occupation will need to find a longer term solution to their situation.
3) In March 2014, a budget of £500k for tackling food poverty in the city was approved. The Welfare Reform Monitoring Report was a vital tool in enabling officers to assess how welfare reforms were affecting residents in different areas of the city. The funding was allocated in late 2014 and was targeted at projects in the neighbourhoods most adversely affected by welfare reform.
4) The report has informed the commissioning of a new delivery model for advice services across the city, which includes support for residents affected by welfare reform.
The report continues to evolve with time as a greater understanding of reform impacts develops and new indicators are brought into the report to ensure it remains an effective tool for all its stakeholders.
What should LARIA members learn from this award entry?
Initial academic research into potential impacts was vital as a foundation on which to develop further evaluation and monitoring indicators, so that decisions taken could be based on sound evidence.
No expensive bespoke systems have been used. An efficient tool to support delivery, in the form of the Welfare Reform Monitoring Report, was produced with relatively small resource and using existing council systems such as Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping at no extra cost. A key factor making the programme of work effective has been bringing together experienced officers across departments and partners. This has meant that significant trends and impacts could be identified, investigated in detail, and brought to the attention of decision-makers in a timely way.
The end result has been a programme which is able to respond dynamically to a changing policy and financial landscape, ensuring that the available resources are targeted and delivered promptly to the areas and residents which have the highest levels of need.