Tagged: David Sparks

Cutting Local Welfare Schemes Would Make Tens Of Thousands Homeless

Thousand of people could be made homeless if government funding for local welfare schemes is removed, warns the Local Government Association (LGA).

New research from the LGA reveals that local welfare assistance schemes have helped a staggering 94,000 people at risk of becoming or remaining homeless.

Councils say the Government’s £172 million annual funding for these schemes provides ‘vital support’ to families at risk of losing their homes. Removal of the funding would mean crucial support may no longer be available to tens of thousands of people.

Over a quarter of local welfare spending was used to help people facing potential homelessness in 2013/14.

If councils are forced to reduce the amount they spend on local welfare schemes, due to Government funding cuts, an estimated 50,000 people would be at increased risk of life on the streets.

The Government’s decision to end funding for local welfare ‘safety net’ schemes in April would be an ‘expensive mistake’ and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds, warns the LGA.

LGA analysis shows that for every £1 spent on local welfare, more than £2 is saved by helping people avoid becoming homeless. According to the LGA, providing accommodation to those at increased risk of homelessness would cost taxpayers an additional £380 million per year.

Local welfare schemes were introduced in 2013 to replace crisis loans and community care grants. The LGA says the schemes have offered a helping hand to hundreds of thousands of people facing crisis or entering a time of transition. This includes people at risk of becoming homeless, providing food to struggling families and helping care leavers find accommodation for the very first time.

Crisis support and community grants have been funded by central Government since 1987. The final decision of whether or not to scrap funding in 2015/16 will be made by Government ministers next month.

Council leaders and charities are urging the Government to reconsider the decision to terminate funding for local welfare assistance schemes.

Local authorities have already seen their overall funding slashed by 40% since 2010 and argue they would unable subsidise local welfare support.

Cllr David Sparks, Chair of the LGA, said:

“Local welfare funding has been used by councils to provide crucial support to people facing personal crises in their lives and prevent problems from escalating.

“This money has helped keep a roof over the heads of thousands of people facing the threat of losing their homes. In doing so it has also saved the public purse many millions more which would have to have been spent finding new homes for people who lose their own.

“Government’s decision to withdraw this funding is an expensive mistake which will not only lead to a reduction in support for those who need it most, it will also cost taxpayers millions more in the long run.

“Local safety net schemes have been funded by government for almost 30 years. At a time when councils are tackling the biggest cuts in living memory, many local areas simply cannot afford to keep these schemes going if government withdraws the funding.

“Government should not renege from its responsibility to those in most need. It needs to review this decision and fully fund local welfare.”

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of the housing charity Crisis, said:

“For people facing or trying to escape homelessness, Local Welfare Assistance can be the final safety net – a small amount of money that makes a huge difference at a time of crisis.

“Today’s report clearly shows the damage that will be done if this funding is cut. On top of the human cost of homelessness, it makes absolutely no economic sense.

“Homelessness shatters lives and it is hugely expensive for the state to pick up the pieces. We stand alongside the LGA and others in urging the Government to rethink its decision to cut this vital lifeline.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly, 29 Jan 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/cutting-local-welfare-schemes-make-tens-thousands-homeless/

Unemployment: Local Government Association praises the work of North East councils

Councils are doing more to help unemployed people than the Government as data shows people are falling through the cracks.

The Local Government Association has made the claim as the North East shoulders the country’s highest unemployment rate (9.1%) and as its research shows there has been an alarming 28% increase in the number of unemployed not claiming benefits in the last 18 months.

> Is that because they’ve been sanctioned ? 

It means that while Government data does not reveal the full extent of the problem, the LGA says local authorities are being left to pick up the pieces.

The LGA has praised North East councils for working with employers, charities and voluntary groups, schools, colleges and housing associations, and says schemes are offering one-to-one mentoring, training, work placements and apprenticeships at a crucial time.

LGA chairman David Sparks said the capacity for councils to play this role, however, is under threat as all parties eye further cuts.

He said:

“Unemployment is falling, but the headlines hide the plight of our most vulnerable residents who are falling through the cracks. Too many are let down by national job schemes which are unable to identify or help them because they have not signed on at their local Jobcentre Plus.

“Councils across the country are desperate to ensure no-one is left behind and have sought to support those being forgotten by these national services by using their local knowledge, expertise and connections with local organisations and services to target their hardest to reach residents.”

Council leaders say national schemes aim to simply shift people from the benefits queue and that approach is damaging for some of the most vulnerable, such as young or disabled people.

Leader of Newcastle City Council, Councillor Nick Forbes, said the news was more evidence that the Government must devolve more powers to the North East.

He said:

“The Government are more interested in getting people off benefits than getting them into work. The reality is the jobs that are being created are in most cases, part-time, low wage and zero contract hours.

“Local authorities are having much more success in helping people into jobs and training than Government because they have a better understanding of what is happening in their area.”

Councillor Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council said:

“The national approach is to move people off the benefits register as quickly as possible, but sometimes this can be to the detriment of more vulnerable residents and can exacerbate their situation if they take the first job that comes along and they are not ready to work.

“Our approach has been to offer residents constructive and comprehensive advice and support to help them back into work at the right time for them and the employer. In partnership with employers, we have designed initiatives to support jobs and apprenticeship creation this has created over 400 new jobs apprenticeships over the past three years.

“Although there have been national schemes offering wage subsidies, feedback from our employers showed that the schemes were too difficult to access due to a vast amount of eligibility criteria.

“We have taken the time to understand the barriers that our residents face when looking to go back into employment and then commissioned community learning programmes that will address those issues, such as literacy and numeracy programmes and support to help residents gain IT and money management skills.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Jan 2015

Poor Face Higher Council Tax Bills, Warns LGA

Low-income working families and people in receipt of social security benefits may have to pay higher council tax bills, warns the Local Government Association (LGA).

A shortfall in Government funding for Council Tax support has left local authorities having to divert money away from local services. This means that some councils may be forced to ask those earning the least to pay more Council Tax, says the LGA.

The Tory-led coalition Government abolished Council Tax Benefit in 2013 as part of widespread changes to the welfare system, resulting in a large number of low-income families having to pay Council Tax for the very first time.

Council Tax support helps the poorest households with a discount on their bill, but the LGA says “uncertainties” over funding from central Government leaves councils “little choice but to reduce the discount”.

Councils would need to find an additional £1 billion to keep Council Tax discounts at the same level they were before Council Tax Benefit was axed, says the LGA.

At a time when local authorities are being asked to find £2.6 billion in savings due to an 8.8% cut in overall funding, councils are now asking the least well-off in society – who would have previously been exempt – to come up with ‘minimum’ Council Tax payments.

The LGA report ‘lays bare’ the impact of axing Council Tax Benefit and a lack of funding support on some of the poorest in society.

Some of the key findings of the report are:

  • A total of 45 councils out of 326 continue to provide the same level of discount available under the old council tax benefit regime – 13 fewer than in 2013/14.
  • In 244 council areas, all householders have to pay at least some council tax regardless of income – 15 more than in 2013/14.
  • For 2015/16, one in seven councils (14 per cent) said they definitely plan to change their discount scheme. 83 per cent said they would not change their existing discount scheme, despite funding reductions.
  • Beyond 2015/16, only 27 per cent of councils said they would maintain their current scheme. Most were unable to say. This is likely to be due to uncertainties over future funding for local government.
  • Last year’s decline in council tax collection rates – only the second since 1993 – was bigger in areas where newly introduced minimum payments were higher.

Councils are left with a choice on whether to charge the working age poor Council Tax, or find additional savings from local services on top of the 40% already demanded by the Government.

The LGA said that while some councils have been able to cover some of the shortfall in Council Tax support by scraping automatic Council Tax discounts on second homes, it isn’t enough to completely fill the funding gap.

Other councils have introduced ‘hardship funds’ to give the worst affected households longer to catch up with missed payments.

The LGA is urging whoever is in power after the next general election to fund Council Tax support to the same level as under Council Tax Benefit.

Cllr David Sparks, Chair of the LGA, said:

Government reduced funding for council tax support by hundreds of millions of pounds when it handed the responsibility for administering it to councils.

“As a result, councils would need to find £1 billion by 2016 to protect discounts for those on low incomes. At a time when local government is already tackling £20 billion worth of cuts, this is a stretch too far.

“Many councils have been put in an impossible position. This cut has taken millions of pounds out of funding for local services and increased the cost of living for some of society’s poorest.

“No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more. But faced with significant cuts to the money we receive to look after the elderly, protect children, repair the roads and collect the bins, many councils have had little choice but to reduce the discount.

“Councils know how tough things are, and are doing their best to protect those affected the most, whether through introducing hardships funds or changing the way we collect unpaid tax. But these measures can only go so far in alleviating the burden.

“To address this unfairness, government must give local areas the full amount of funding required to provide council tax support to those who need it. Otherwise, it is almost inevitable that further cuts to local government funding in the coming years will further force up bills for those who can least afford to pay.”

> Which is, of course, part of The Plan – make the poorest pay the most and at the same time they’ll get less because councils will continue to close libraries, etc.

And no doubt councils will still find the money to take non-payers to court, as they did with the Poll Tax (I know – I was one of them).

Source – Welfare Weekly, 06 Jan 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/poor-face-higher-council-tax-bills-warns-lga/