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.
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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.
“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.
“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
Government funding cuts to local authority welfare provision will leave struggling families starving and at risk of eviction, councils leaders will warn today.
Government funding for local welfare assistance schemes is to be scrapped by the Communities Minister Eric Pickles, removing £347 million in emergency aid for the very poorest in our society.
The funding is used by local authorities to help aid struggling families in their hour of need to purchase food, fuel, rent, clothing, or replacing crucial home appliances such as a freezer or cooker – among other uses. Some of those who will be affected by the change are benefit claimants, who may have been hit by draconian sanctions or delayed payments.
The Local Government Association (LGA) is calling on the government to rethink their position, warning that councils will not be in a financial position to fill the funding gap.
LGA research has found that three-quarters of local councils would be forced to cut local welfare support, or scale back the provision. 15% said they would have to end it completely.
Local welfare assistance schemes replaced crisis loans in 2013. But only a year into the new scheme the government now wishes to scrap central funding; piling unimaginable financial pressure upon local authorities, who have already seen general funding slashed as part of the government’s austerity drive.
Cllr Claire Kober, chair of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board, told the Daily Mirror:
“This fund has been used by councils to provide crucial support to people facing personal crises in their lives, from help paying the rent to putting food on the table.
“We think the Government has made the wrong decision to remove the funding for this safety net and it was misjudged to have done so.
“Thousands of people have been helped through local welfare schemes, which have been far more effective at getting support to those most in need than the Government crisis loans scheme which it replaced.
“If government pulls the plug on funding from April, many local authorities will be unable to afford to make up the difference at a time when we are tackling the biggest cuts to council funding in living memory.”
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:
“People in crisis would be left stranded by loss of Government support. Even with these important schemes, far too many people are unable to get basics like food, fuel or clothes. Citizens Advice has dealt with more than 25,000 enquiries about local financial assistance in the past year.
“Emergency financial help schemes are a vital part of our state safety net. Acting fast to prevent people in dire financial straits from facing homelessness or health problems is not only the right thing to do for the individuals themselves, but will save councils and Whitehall money further down the line.
“Many councils are good at quickly delivering help to people who have nowhere else to turn. Government should continue to back these lifelines by putting in place long-term programmes which are properly funded and based on the first-hand insight of councils and local charities.”
A government spokesperson said: “This Government has given councils more control because they understand their residents’ welfare needs best. We are now consulting on how funding should be provided for 2015/16.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 06 Oct 2014
Schools in Newcastle have been forced to put classroom improvement plans on the “back burner” as they look to cover the shortfall of the Government’s free school meals programme.
As of Tuesday, almost 6,000 children across the city in the first three years of school are entitled to a free lunch under a new £1bn scheme, spearheaded by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The move means that children in reception, years 1 and 2 at 74 schools will be able to eat a free meal at lunchtime, saving families up to £400 per year and helping children to do better in the classroom and improve their diet.
Although Newcastle City Council is behind the scheme in principle, its leader Nick Forbes said Government funding to bring school kitchens up to scratch has fallen short.
Coun Forbes, who is also vice chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:
“Nobody argues that this is a sensible policy, but it does mean that many essential repairs in classrooms across the city will have to be put on the back burner.
“It’s not appropriate that children are being taught in buildings more than 150-years-old that are simply not fit for purpose.
“Schools have had to make the impossible choice; do they repair their leaky roof or put in place this national policy?
“The council and schools have been working really hard to make this happen within this ambitious timescale.
“The government didn’t make enough money available to implement this policy in the timescale they set for it.”
The LGA estimates that councils without enough money have had to find an average of £488,000 each to ensure all pupils will get the meals to which they will be entitled.
Those that were short of money said the balance would be found either by them, by schools or from general school funding intended for repairs and maintenance.
In Gateshead, 5,221 primary school children will receive a free school meal while 5,698 in North Tyneside are eligible.
Elsewhere, in Northumberland 6,631 children will pick up a school dinner from this week and 3,935 children will do the same in South Tyneside.
In County Durham – where the scheme was piloted between 2009 and 2011 – 13,439 children in the first three years of primary school are now entitled to a free school meal.
Results from the pilot showed that where children were given free school meals they were found to be up to two months ahead of their peers elsewhere in maths and English.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:
“All the evidence, including the pilots in Durham and Newham, shows that free school meals will not only help ease the pressure on household budgets and encourage positive eating, but will also help improve concentration and raise educational performance so that, regardless of their background, every child can have the best possible start in life.
“This is one of most progressive changes to our school system for a long time so there will always be critics but that won’t cloud my goal to create a level playing field for all of our children so their success will be determined by their talents and efforts alone and not by their parents’ bank balance.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Sept 2014
Hartlepool Borough Council is facing huge budget cuts of around £14m over the next two financial years due to reduced Government funding.
The funding gap facing the local authority was laid bare at a meeting of the council’s finance and policy committee.
While exact details on where the axe will fall are still being worked on, finance chiefs at the authority know they will need to bridge a funding deficit of £5.626m in 2015-16 and £8.663m in 2016-17.
A finance report said the council’s senior corporate management team has identified initial options for achieving savings worth £5.536m for the next financial year but details are yet to be announced.
Councillors have been warned they are faced with making even tougher decisions than in previous years given the level of savings they need to achieve.
Chris Little, council’s chief finance officer, said: “The savings options have been identified against a background of delivering significant cuts over the last four years, which makes the achievement of further savings to balance the 2015-16 budget extremely challenging.
“It therefore needs to be recognised that the initial savings options will require members to make even more difficult decision than in previous years.
“It will be essential that members make these decisions as early as possible to ensure detailed savings can be implemented before the start of the new financial year.”
It is proposed 2015-16 budget decisions will be made before Christmas, with decisions around council tax being made early next year before full council agrees the budget.
Mr Little said whatever happens in next years General Election, he believed there would still be cuts to public spending in future years.
The latest budget forecasts follow on from severe budget cuts in recent years and in February this year, councillors unanimously agreed savage budget cuts of more than £4m resulting in the loss of 60 council jobs. It did though include a council tax freeze for hard-up residents for the fourth successive year.
A council report to the meeting added: “The continuation of significant grant cuts means that in 2015/16 the council’s grant will £30.578m lower than it was in 2010-11, which is a cumulative cut of 39 per cent.”
This comes as a new national report revealed local authorities in England will need to make huge savings before next April, equivalent to 12.5 per cent of their total budgets.
Councils face a funding gap of £5.8bn between now and the end of 2015-16, analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) found, adding the deficit will be caused by a combination of reduced government funding and rising demand on services, in particular from growing numbers of elderly people.
LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said: “In recent years, local government has worked tirelessly to save billions while protecting services for those who need them most.
“But the scale of the challenge facing local authorities next year is stark. Council finances are on a knife-edge and the old way of doing things – including the way we care for our elderly population – just won’t work any more.”
Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said: “The LGA’s doom-laden and alarmist claims lack credibility. Councils are balancing their books each year and, as the LGA’s own research shows, the public now thinks they are delivering better services than before.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 01 July 2014