Councils unable to help families in crisis because of cuts

The Children’s Society has warned that sustained cuts to local emergency support schemes are leaving families, especially those affected by the coronavirus, with nowhere to turn in a financial crisis.

Research by the charity has found that spending on schemes, designed to support to those facing financial crisis, has fallen by 86 per cent, roughly £250 million. In fact, in 2011 £291 million was spent on crisis provision through the nationally administered Discretionary Social Fund, compared to just £41 million in 2018/19 on the replacement Local Welfare Assistance schemes.  

Local Welfare Assistance offers emergency support to families in crisis, such as one-off finance grants, food or shopping vouchers or white goods if needed. The Children’s Society argues that the current pandemic has highlighted just how essential they are. This is because, approximately 63 per cent of councils reduced their spending on welfare assistance between 2015/16 and 2018/19. Of those, more than one in three decreased spending by more than 50 per cent.

The charity asked authorities what their budget for local welfare provision was for 2019/20, and, of those councils that provided data, 13 councils reported that they did not have a specific budget, which is an increase from seven councils in 2018/19.

The Children’s Society has also warned that even before the coronavirus pandemic, decreases in support available were extremely worrying, faced with the current crisis, it is absolutely vital that more is done to protect welfare schemes. It is now calling on the government to allocate an extra £275 million to local authorities so they can provide robust and well-resourced welfare assistant schemes. Detailed guidance should also be given to support the effective use of the money, so that local authorities can quickly provide crisis grants to vulnerable families.

Mark Russell, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “The coronavirus crisis is likely to have a devastating financial impact for many families for months or even years to come. Without savings to fall back on, this virus could leave them unable to feed and clothe their children, heat their home or pay rent.  Local welfare assistance must be there to help in these circumstances, but its erosion has meant too many people are left with nowhere to turn.

“While the recent hardship fund from the government is welcome, once used for council tax relief it is unlikely there will be enough to allow councils to rebuild the welfare support that is needed. Without more urgent investment vulnerable households will be left to fall through the cracks.”