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LGA - Councils urge Government to reconsider scrapping local welfare assistance fund

Support for vulnerable people in crisis will either have to be scaled back or scrapped completely in almost three-quarters of council areas from next April when government stops funding for Local Welfare Assistance schemes.

A survey of local authorities published today suggests councils will hugely struggle to maintain current levels of help for vulnerable people when government scraps the £347 million Local Welfare Assistance fund next year. The ending of government funding for councils' emergency support schemes comes on top of a 40 per cent reduction in local government funding over the course of this Parliament.

Over the past two years local welfare assistance schemes have been set up by councils to give a helping hand to thousands going through a time of crisis or transition, including people facing the threat of homelessness, families struggling to put food on the table and care leavers setting up home for the first time.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, is calling on government to reverse its decision to withdraw funding. Otherwise, thousands are likely to miss out on some of the crucial support which councils are currently providing such as food vouchers, basic household essentials and short-term help paying the rent.

Following a legal challenge the Government has now committed to formally consult on its decision to cut funding. Councils are urging it to use this as an opportunity to reconsider.

A survey of local authorities in England carried out by the LGA found that three-in-four expect they will have to reduce support offered next year if government funding is pulled, with 15 per cent of local authorities expecting that they will have to scrap the scheme completely.

Cllr Claire Kober, Chair of the LGA's Resources Board, said:

"This fund has been used by councils to provide crucial support to people facing personal crises in their lives, from help paying the rent to putting food on the table. By helping people at an early stage and targeting support at where it is needed most, we have been able to assist people in their time of need and prevent short-term problems escalating.

"We think the Government has made the wrong decision to remove the funding for this safety net and it was misjudged to have done so, especially without councils having the opportunity to show what the consequences of such a move might be.

"Taking away this money could prove counterproductive and risks storing up much bigger, and more costly problems in the longer run.

"Thousands of people have been helped through local welfare schemes, which have been far more effective at getting support to those most in need than the Government crisis loans scheme which it replaced.

"If government pulls the plug on funding from April, many local authorities will be unable to afford to make up the difference at a time when we are tackling the biggest cuts to council funding in living memory.

"Councils will be doing everything in their power to support those who need it most, but with less money and fewer resources to work with this is going to become increasingly difficult. For some local authorities, where budgets are already on the brink, they will have no choice but to close their local welfare assistance schemes down altogether.

"With Government now agreeing to consult councils, it brings an important opportunity to reconsider, or we risk letting down people when they are most in need of help."

Notes to editors

1. The Local Welfare Assistance fund was introduced in 2013 to replace government-provided crisis loans, with each local authority area allocated money from the £347 million total. Government's local government finance settlement published last December revealed that funding would not be continued from 2015, despite no consultation being held on the scheme's future.

An addition to a survey, the LGA publishes a separate report today which explores in detail how ten local authorities have used the money from government to support people in need.

It shows that most have moved away from the previous government-run schemes' emphasis on cash awards, and are instead using payment cards, vouchers and directly purchasing essential items for those with community care requirements. This has helped better target support at those who most need it.

The money has been used to fund short-term help which has prevented people from falling into difficulties like homelessness and unemployment, which would ultimately be more expensive to tackle.

Types of support have included food parcels, payment cards, vouchers, cookers and fridges. Examples of how the scheme has been used to help people are included in the LGA report which can be found at:

LGA delivering local welfare – how councils are meeting local community care needs (PDF, 16 pages, 476KB)

LGA Survey

2. The LGA conducted an online survey of single and upper-tier councils in England between 11 and 25 September 2014. Councils were asked to what extent, if at all, the removal of separately identified funding for local welfare assistance from 2015 would impact on support provided by their local welfare assistance scheme. Eighty-eight councils responded – a response rate of 58 per cent.

Question: To what extent, if at all, will the removal of separately identified funding for local welfare assistance from 2015 impact on support provided by your local welfare assistance scheme?

Answer:

Respondents

Per cent

Not at all – the scheme will carry on as it is currently

7

7.95%

To a small extent – the scheme will continue but be subject to minor scaling back

6

6.82%

To a moderate extent – the scheme will continue but be subject to a fair amount of scaling back

11

12.50%

To a great extent – the scheme will be significantly scaled back

34

38.64%

The scheme is likely to be cancelled altogether

13

14.77%

Don't know

17

19.32%

Total

88

100.00%

 
Contact

Simon Ward, Deputy Head of News & Internal Communications
Local Government Association
Telephone: 020 7664 3147
Email: simon.ward@local.gov.uk
Media Office (out-of-hours contact): 020 7664 3333
Local Government House, Smith Square, London SW1P 3HZ

www.local.gov.uk

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