Plans in place to unite and modernise advice services in Oxfordshire

A refreshed advice service is being planned for Oxfordshire, offering greater support for those experiencing the highest levels of inequalities in the county.

The new service is due to start in November this year, bringing together two separate programmes from Oxfordshire County Council’s public health and health, education and social care (HESC) teams, increasing the overall funding and broadening the potential reach of the programme.

Councillor Tim Bearder, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, said: “The link between financial hardship and health and wellbeing can be a vicious cycle. Poor health can lead to financial difficulties through reduced access to education and limiting employment opportunities. Living with the stress and anxiety of financial hardship can have a damaging impact on long-term health and wellbeing.

“By combining our resources and bringing financial and health advice resources together, we can offer even greater support to people living in Oxfordshire, enabling them to live well and independently within their own communities. Something we call the Oxfordshire Way.”

The new advice service merges the Oxfordshire Specialist Advice Service and the Benefits in Place programme and will provide free, independent and impartial advice to assist people with benefits, debt, budgeting and other financial and welfare issues. It will help to support people to maximise their income, enabling them to look after themselves in their own homes and communities.

This, in turn, aims to bring sustainable health benefits to residents, enabling them to spend more money on activities which support their wellbeing. There will also be an offer of training for people around money management and this will help to build confidence in people and more resilient communities.

Councillor Nathan Ley, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Health, Inequalities and Community Safety, said: "While Oxfordshire could generally be considered a healthier part of the country than most others, we can’t ignore that some pronounced disparities remain, particularly with the gap in health outcomes between our wealthiest and most disadvantaged areas. It's clear that health and financial wellbeing are deeply interconnected: poor health can lead to financial strain, just as financial troubles can adversely affect health.

“This reality underscores the importance of our new and enhanced service. By offering this improved support, we're not just addressing a need, we're taking a significant step towards bridging these gaps at the root cause level. It represents a critical move in ensuring those most in need receive the comprehensive assistance necessary for both their financial and health wellbeing."

Data suggests that the amount of people who use the council's existing specialist advice services has increased by nine per cent on previous years and that more than half of those who have been in touch are aged 75 years or older.

Similarly, the complexity of the issues has increased, with 4,549 advice issues managed, an increase of ten percent in the last year.

The refreshed programme has been codesigned following engagement with people who have used the council’s advice services in the previous year. This involvement will continue prior to the launch of the new service, building in suggestions and possible improvements for residents.

As well as uniting the advice services, funds have been set aside to modernise the provision, including the possible use of artificial intelligence to help better signpost people to potential support available to them.

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