In April 2013, the Government changed how crisis support was delivered.
Instead of being distributed centrally through the Discretionary Social Fund, the responsibility was transferred to upper tier local authorities in England. Councils set up local welfare assistance schemes (LWASs) to help those facing short-term financial crises.
From 2015, dedicated funding was removed, meaning that councils already facing severely reduced budgets were forced to make difficult decisions about where to allocate funds. Sadly, many cut back LWAS schemes and some closed them altogether. It’s meant the amount of help available to those facing a one-off financial emergency has severely diminished.
We all know the COVID-19 crisis has had a further huge impact on council finances. The National Audit Office says councils have experienced cost pressures and income losses amounting to £9.7 billion.
Alongside this, levels of financial hardship in our communities have increased, with more people turning to local services for help.
Thankfully, the important role of local welfare was acknowledged by the Government during the pandemic through a combined £291.1 million of additional investment, delivered by the Emergency Assistance Grant, the COVID Winter Grant Scheme and the recent Easter grant.
But this money has now run out and in 2021/22 there is no further dedicated funding for local welfare provision.
With need unlikely to abate any time soon, we fear many councils will once again be unable to fund schemes or help those in crisis. This in turn will push more people into poverty, hardship and debt.
Things must change. Local welfare schemes must be recognised as a valuable part of the social security system, and we are glad that there is a broad consensus emerging across local government around this view.
As we emerge from the pandemic and look towards recovery, it is vital that we ensure there is an adequate safety net in place to support families facing financial crisis.
At The Children’s Society we want to work alongside local government in the coming months to ensure that is the case.