Cutting a lifeline
Yesterday the government published their local government finance settlement for 2015/16 – a dry sounding document, but one that included an announcement we’ve been waiting for on the future of local welfare assistance.
Local welfare assistance is a lifeline for homeless people. It provides vital, one off grants to help people in emergencies who have nowhere else to turn.
If you’re moving out of homelessness and into your own home but can’t afford to pay a month’s rent upfront or don’t have enough money for a bed, you can apply for this emergency assistance. And it doesn’t just support homeless people – it can help others living in poverty to buy food in a crisis, or to top up their gas or electricity, or to cover an unexpected expense like a broken cooker. It can offer assistance to young people leaving care, women and children fleeing domestic violence and people who’ve had long stays in hospital. A small amount of money when people need it can be a lifeline and ultimately stop much bigger costs in the longer term
Since 2012 local authorities have been responsible for delivering local welfare assistance, with funding from central government. Whilst these programmes don’t always work as well as they should and 2 councils have even decided to cut the fund altogether, most are doing their best to use the money to support some of the most vulnerable people in their community.
A few months ago, the government announced it was to stop funding councils to deliver these programmes next year. Crisis and others warned that without this money people in desperate situations would be left with nowhere to turn. The LGA found that three quarters of councils would no longer be able to provide local welfare assistance at all without the government funding.
A judicial review eventually persuaded the government to reconsider.
Since then, over 5000 people have responded to a government consultation. Crisis was a cosignatory to a letter to the Times warning of the consequences to homeless and vulnerable people if the funding was withdrawn and MPs and councillors from across the political spectrum called for it to be protected.
The government have listened to some of these concerns: yesterday they committed to publishing how much of each council’s main grant is intended to be spent on local welfare assistance. However, there will be no separate money – this is still a cut. And it is a cut which will hit some of the most vulnerable members of our society if councils can’t afford to keep their services going.
There is still some time to change the government’s mind before the decision is final. We really hope they can be convinced to maintain the extra funding for local welfare assistance. And we’ll keep campaigning to show them just how important this lifeline is.