Drop in funding for crisis support
Funding for crisis support for the poorest in our communities has fallen by more than three-quarters in Northumberland in recent years.
In 2013, the Government abolished the system of emergency grants and loans provided via the Social Fund, instead telling each top-tier local authority in England to set up its own Local Welfare Assistance Scheme (LWAS).
Central government funding for this support had already reduced from £330million in 2010–11 to £178million in 2013–14.
The Government stopped providing a ring-fenced grant to councils for the schemes in 2015.
Recent research by Church Action on Poverty revealed that the total amount of funding dropped from £172million in 2013 to £46million last year and has ended completely in more than 20 of 153 areas surveyed.
In Northumberland, the scheme is still open, but the council’s budget in 2018-19 was £261,110, a reduction of 75.2 per cent from the £1,053,622 the authority received in 2013-14.
Only two councils – one being neighbouring North Tyneside – have increased funding for the LWAS.
The figures also show that there were a total of 23,377 applications since 2013-14 in Northumberland and that, with the exception of 2015-16 (46%), the approval rates up to 2016-17 were all under 25 per cent.
The county council said that the vision for the scheme was that it would go beyond being a process for allocating money to an approach that supports those in need to address short-term needs, but also looks to tackle the underlying problems by connecting up with wider support networks and services to help individuals and families.
A spokesman added: “The scheme is now in its seventh year and the council has continued to provide funding from its own budget for it.
“The programme has eligibility criteria which sets out the circumstances for awards to be made.
“Due to the signposting arrangements that are in place, when someone is not successful, we believe the scheme works as it was intended.”
Church Action on Poverty described LWAS as ‘a very small proportion of the overall public budget but a vital emergency resource that any one of us could find ourselves needing without warning’.
“National and local governments must work together to ensure robust, well-funded support is in place, so that when people suddenly encounter crisis, a lifeline is available, wherever in England they happen to live,” it said.
“It cannot be right that local authorities are free to close Local Welfare support entirely and to leave people adrift in times of greatest hardship.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service