My column in the Morley Observer & Advertiser

The Morley lights are on and shops are bursting with Christmas sparkle. Everyone wants to make sure the kids have a great Christmas. But for many, when money is already tight, it can put even more strain on the family budget.

Incomes have been under real pressure in recent years as a result of the cost of living crisis – the price of everything has gone up and wages just haven’t kept up. The number of local people contacting my Morley office for this kind of advice has also increased dramatically.

And it’s not just me. As my office deals with an increasing number of cases, Citizens Advice and the Leeds Welfare Rights have also seen a huge increase in demand for their services.
But funding budgets are tight too. Most of the funding for Citizen Advice services comes from Leeds City Council. And as many readers will know, budgets for Leeds City Council have been reduced by over £94 million since 2010. And with budgets set to be reduced still further and demand still rising, pressures is really growing.

So when I learned a couple of weeks ago that our Citizens Advice Service at Morley Town Hall might be threatened I was extremely concerned and immediately contacted their team to find out more.

The Morley Citizens Advice Bureau is currently open on Mondays and Wednesday 10am to 1pm for anyone to call in to access the services they offer. Staff and volunteers do an amazing job, providing free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to anyone on their rights and responsibilities.

On Friday, along with Cllr Neil Dawson and other local councillors, we met the local Chief Executive, Dianne Lyons to find out what might be happening to services in Morley.

We all agreed that with more and more people needed to access their advice and services, and with further reductions in funding expected next year, the local Citizens Advice Service are right to look at how they can work differently and more efficiently so they can better meet people’s needs. But we were also all clear that Morley needs to retain its own service so that local people can continue to get access to the advice and information they need from Morley Town Hall.

The good news is, that, although the service might be changing, Citizens Advice will work more closely with their partner agencies such as Leeds Welfare Rights to actually expand the service and increase the amount of time during which people can access the service locally.
And as well as our Citizens Advice Service, my office is also open Monday to Friday for local people who need advice or assistance. Anyone who needs to contact me should email ed@edballs.com or call the office on 0113 253 9466.

*******

Our very own Susan Hanley joined me on Friday for a Mencap “Hear my Voice” event to protect the rights of people with learning disabilities across our area. In a packed Morley Town Hall, she led the questions to me from Mencap service users about how politics could make itself more accessible.

“Use simple words” one person suggested. “Take on the issues that matter to us, like the Bedroom Tax” said another. “Why isn’t it a hate crime to attack a person with a learning disability?” was another question.

I did my best to answer all the questions – Although I really don’t know why hate crimes on disabled people aren’t currently treated as a hate crime – they should be!

So I want to see the law changed so that hate crime against disabled people is treated like other hate crimes. And as I’ve written in this paper many times, I want to see the Government’s ghastly bedroom tax scrapped as soon as is humanly possible.‎

Anyone who’s ever met Susan will know what a champion she is for the rights of people with learning disabilities. She’s not party political but believes passionately in giving people a voice. So much so that for the last three years I’ve written to the Mayors of Morley, urging the Town Council to use her expertise to ensure the rights of people with learning disabilities are properly represented locally.

It’s another opportunity for Morley to show the country how things can be done for the good of the whole community. I really hope Susan can play a bigger role on the Town Council. She is a real asset for the town.

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Posted December 3rd, 2014 by Ed's team