Government funding cuts to local authority welfare provision will leave struggling families starving and at risk of eviction, councils leaders will warn today.
Government funding for local welfare assistance schemes is to be scrapped by the Communities Minister Eric Pickles [pictured], removing £347 million in emergency aid for the very poorest in our society.
The funding is used by local authorities to help aid struggling families in their hour of need to purchase food, fuel, rent, clothing, or replacing crucial home appliances such as a freezer or cooker – among other uses. Some of those who will be affected by the change are benefit claimants, who may have been hit by draconian sanctions or delayed payments.
The Local Government Association (LGA) is calling on the government to rethink their position, warning that councils will not be in a financial position to fill the funding gap.
LGA research has found that three-quarters of local councils would be forced to cut local welfare support, or scale back the provision. 15% said they would have to end it completely.
Local welfare assistance schemes replaced crisis loans in 2013. But only a year into the new scheme the government now wishes to scrap central funding; piling unimaginable financial pressure upon local authorities, who have already seen general funding slashed as part of the government’s austerity drive.
Cllr Claire Kober, chair of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board, told the Daily Mirror:
“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.
“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.
“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.”
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:
“People in crisis would be left stranded by loss of Government support. Even with these important schemes, far too many people are unable to get basics like food, fuel or clothes. Citizens Advice has dealt with more than 25,000 enquiries about local financial assistance in the past year.
“Emergency financial help schemes are a vital part of our state safety net. Acting fast to prevent people in dire financial straits from facing homelessness or health problems is not only the right thing to do for the individuals themselves, but will save councils and Whitehall money further down the line.
“Many councils are good at quickly delivering help to people who have nowhere else to turn. Government should continue to back these lifelines by putting in place long-term programmes which are properly funded and based on the first-hand insight of councils and local charities.”
A government spokesperson said: “This Government has given councils more control because they understand their residents’ welfare needs best. We are now consulting on how funding should be provided for 2015/16.”