THE BLOG

Is the Extra £74 Million on Local Welfare Funds Too Little Too Late?

01/04/2015 15:28 BST | Updated 31/05/2015 10:59 BST

Last year the government indicated that they planned to cut funding for English local welfare assistance schemes, which provide financial support to people facing exceptional pressures.

Buttle UK has its own small grants programme to support families in crisis that has always been used to complement rather than replace statutory support, so we received this news with dismay.

However, thanks to the pressure of many individuals, and organisations working like us in the social services sector, together with the efforts of the Keep the Safety Net campaign, the government has agreed to provide local authorities with £74m through 2015-16 on top of their general grant to support local welfare.

While we are relieved that the government has recognised the important role that this life-changing fund can play for families and individuals going through a crisis, the funding available is now a fraction of what it used to be.

In 2011-12 the discretionary social fund - the predecessor to local welfare - supported vulnerable people with £193 million in Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans for living expenses. When the task was devolved to local authorities, they were given £178 million.

From April 2015, they are reduced to working with just £74 million - unless they dig into their general grant which is needed for other services.

It is vital that the government makes no further reductions to this fund and that we continue to urge them to increase their contribution.

Financial support for people in vulnerable situations is still a vital service. Those with the lowest incomes continue to face the greatest pressures on their cost of living. Homelessness among families with children is rising and increasingly people are turning to high cost credit to make ends meet. Our recent findings from surveying those who have received one of our grants reflect this. Sixty-nine per cent said that without our support they would have continued to go without, and a further 17 per cent told us they would have had to take on debt to pay for the things they needed.

As the state has pared back local welfare funding, our work has taken on renewed importance, but the wider environment of cuts to public services is making it hard for us to reach the families who need our support. As a UK-wide organisation, we rely on the dedication and local knowledge of social workers who carry out face-to-face support with families who are struggling. These professionals are our eyes and ears on the ground. When support services are cut we lose vital local connections. Right now in Liverpool ten children's centres are facing closure. Over half of those centres at risk refer families to us. If they close, how will we reach the families they work with?

It is our fear that the gaps in the net are getting larger and more families in crisis are falling through, unrecognised and receiving no help. This will have a detrimental effect on their wellbeing, leaving many problems to snowball rather than being resolved. Storing up problems cost us more as a society in the long term.

We see time and time again the value that a little financial support can bring to a family during a crisis. The concept of a safety net for the most vulnerable has been the cornerstone of our social security system since its inception, and while I am hugely relieved that it remains in some form, we must all continue fighting to ensure that it does not get so close to being dismantled again. If not, too many children will suffer as a result.

In the meantime, I want to remind social workers that, although Buttle UK's funds are a fraction of what is required to fully meet the remaining need, we are still open to receive applications for grants to support vulnerable children and their families, throughout this time of great change.