Government's £63m for local welfare assistance schemes 'not enough', charities warn


A £63m cash injection into Local Welfare Assistance (LWA) schemes pledged by the government falls “far short” of the £250m urgently needed as a result of the coronavirus crisis, charities have warned.

The funding falls short of £250m need to support disadvantaged families, charities have warned. Picture: Children's Society
The funding falls short of £250m need to support disadvantaged families, charities have warned. Picture: Children's Society

Boris Johnson announced the extra funding at Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday for local authorities to use “at their discretion” to help the most vulnerable families affected by the pandemic.

“We don’t normally continue with free school meals over the summer holidays but we’re also aware of the particular difficulties faced by vulnerable families,” he told MPs.

A spokesperson for the prime minister later said the funding would add to existing “support mechanisms” available to local authorities.

“It will allow them to step in to provide discretionary financial help to those families who are facing hardship to allow them to pay for food or other necessities,” the spokesperson said.

Examples of help the additional money could be used for include food vouchers or cash payments, they added.

“It’s an approach to build on existing infrastructure and can be specifically targeted at a local level, for those who are in need.

“We believe they’ll be best placed to know who to use this money,” the spokesperson said.

However, charities are warning the funding boost will not cover the multi-million gap needed to support families in financial crisis as a result of Covid-19.

The Children’s Society said LWA schemes, which replaced community care grants and crisis loans after they were abolished in 2013, had been “gradually eroded”, with one in seven local authorities offering no such scheme.

Sam Royston, director of policy at the charity, said its recent research found spending on emergency financial support had fallen by £250m compared to support provided through predecessor schemes in 2010.

Some 63 per cent of councils had cut spending between 2015 and 2019, he said.

“The £63m announced is very welcome, although it falls far short of the £250m urgently needed.

“It is therefore vital that this money is ring-fenced for local welfare schemes and that the government requires all areas to have a scheme in place.

“Without this guidance, there is a real risk that families facing financial crisis will continue to have nowhere to turn to prevent destitution,” he said.

Figures published by the charity show funding for LWAs has reduced significantly in the last decade.

Around £330m was available in 2010-11through national schemes dropping by £150m to £180m by 2013-4, the charity said.

While local authorities are still allocated financial support for LWA provision as part of their overall funding settlement, all ring-fenced funding has ended, it added.

 

 

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