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Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Crisis funds under threat

From April 2015, a £180m a year hardship fund will be abolished. Councils have simply not made a strong enough argument for it it would seem. This is a disgrace and deserves far greater attention as councils struggle to provide for their local residents. "Iain Duncan Smith's axe has struck again. This time its local authority welfare assistance schemes on the block. But we're not talking reform or even cuts. The scheme had already been significantly cut last year. From April 2015 a £180m a year hardship fund will be abolished completely. That's right. Scrapped. A vital safety net will no longer be there. Crisis loans are not really well known as they are applied for when people are really desperate and have few options left it is often recommended to them as the shame in applying for it is huge with a social stigma attached to it too sadly. But this fund is vital and will have dire consequences I fear. "Yet for all the welfare campaigns and demonstrations highlighting changes to the benefit system this has largely slipped under the radar. Crisis funds have not had the attention they deserve. From freedom of information requests to councils across the country, from a sample of 98 local authorities that the average spend in the first six months was around 20% – but in many cases the fund was just not working. The worst authority was Hertfordshire county council, which had spent less than 1% of the £1,765,277 they received for the scheme. In the first six months they had spent just £11,990. The fact that the council had been awarded £373,000 to administer this fund showed the bureaucrats were doing very well at the expense of people who really need help. Other councils were just as bad. Herefordshire had spent just 1% of their funding and their council leader, Tony Johnson, a former banker, went on national radio to say he was pleased with the results. Cumbria had also spent just 1% of their funding, Hillingdon had only spent 2%, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne had only spent 3% and Manchester 6%. In all of these places poverty exists. Even in leafy Hertfordshire there are food banks and 32,000 children in child poverty. Some council have a complete ignorance of poverty. There are examples where small grants to help a family feed their children were withheld until they'd been on a cooking course and one council offering a homeless man a voucher for a tent. The government has to accept a large part of the blame for this. Their version of localism seems to be directing funds towards councils and waiting for them to fail so they can justify scrapping schemes. There has to be better guidance. But I can't help thinking that had there been more evidence of municipal innovation in tackling poverty, with stronger partnerships with the voluntary sector, then the Local Government Association could have prevented this fund being abolished by making a strong argument to retain it. As it stands, both local and central government have failed the most vulnerable people in society. Poverty can never be tackled simply through central government schemes. There is a growing need for more innovative, local approaches. But where will the funding come from to develop these now?" With extracts from http://www.theguardian.com/local-government-network/2014/jan/07/council-crisis-funds-scrapped-poverty

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