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
This article was written by Patrick Butler, George Arnett, Sarah Marsh and Samir Jeraj, for The Guardian on Sunday 20th April 2014
A fledgling scheme to provide emergency help to the poorest in the country is in chaos, with £67m left unspent and record numbers of families being turned away.
Figures released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests indicate that by the end of January councils in England were sitting on £67m of the £136m that had been allocated to local welfare schemes. Half of local authorities had spent less than 40% of their funds.
An analysis by the Guardian shows that under the new local welfare assistance schemes, four in 10 applications for emergency funds are turned down, despite evidence that many applicants have been made penniless by benefits sanctions and delays in processing benefit claims. Under the previous system – the social fund – just two in 10 were. In some parts of the country, as few as one in 10 applicants obtain crisis help.
The schemes were designed to help low-income families in crisis, such as those in danger of becoming homeless or subjected to domestic violence. Charities and MPs have warned that those denied help are turning to food banks and loan sharks.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, which offers debt and legal advice, said the emergency financial support system was in chaos. “When the safety net fails, people are left with no way of putting food on the table, paying the rent or keeping the lights on. Confusion over what help is available and who to approach means that people who need support are left high and dry.
“People are in danger of being pushed into the arms of payday lenders and loan sharks by the chaotic emergency support system. Citizens Advice bureaux see people in desperate need of support who have nowhere else to turn when jobcentres and the local council don’t give out support.”
Under the new system, emergency funds are no longer ringfenced, meaning that councils can divert unspent cash to other budgets. Local welfare assistance schemes were created a year ago in 150 English authorities, alongside national schemes in Wales and Scotland, following the abolition of the social fund.
Most schemes do not offer cash or loans, but support in kind, such as food parcels and supermarket vouchers. The social fund provided loans repayable against future benefit payments – typically about £50 – and larger capital grants to destitute families who needed help to furnish flats or replace broken domestic appliances.
Despite charities reporting that demand for help has rocketed as a result of economic hardship and welfare cuts, some councils spent more money setting up and administering their welfare schemes than they gave to needy applicants.
Councils told the Guardian they had provided less in emergency funding than in the past because there was a lack of public awareness of the new system. Some had failed to advertise their schemes, while others set such tight eligibility criteria that many applicants – typically including low-paid working families, benefit claimants and those deemed to have not lived in their local area for long enough – were turned away.
Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, who has repeatedly raised the issue of local welfare in parliament, said his constituents frequently reported struggles to get crisis help. Constituents he has helped include:
• A low-wage family with three children, including an 11-month-old baby, who applied for £35 to pay for gas, electricity and baby food to help them until payday. The council scheme initially referred the family to a food bank. After lobbying by Danczuk, they were given £20 for energy costs, but were refused money for baby food.
• A pregnant mother and her partner, who after benefit changes were left with £7 a week for food after rent and council tax. They were told that they could not apply as the scheme was for “genuine emergencies” such as fires and flood.
In each case Danczuk believes the families would have qualified for emergency support under the social fund. “Central and local government are pushing people into the hands of payday loan companies and food banks. They have in effect privatised the lender of last resort,” he said.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions, which funds local welfare schemes run by 150 local authorities across England, said: “In contrast to a centralised grant system that was poorly targeted, councils can now choose how best to support those most in need. It is for local councils to decide how they spend their budgets.”
But a Conservative council leader has called on the government to reinstate local welfare assistance funding, calling it a “cut too far”. Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex county council, said the proposed cut would leave many low income families without vital support when they were going through a “tough patch in their lives”.
A briefing note prepared by the council found that 43% of 5,582 individuals and families helped by the local welfare fund to the end of February had applied because they had been left penniless by benefit sanctions and delays.
The Local Government Association has called upon the ministers to reverse the cut, and it is understood a number of councils and welfare charities are preparing to seek a judicial review of the government’s decision to cut local welfare assistance funding in April 2015.
Many councils are using part of their welfare assistance allocation to provide financial support for local food banks, which provide penniless applicants with charity food parcels.
Lady Stowell, a local government minister, told the House of Lords in January that local authorities were “doing a good job of supporting people in times of crisis and are doing it without using all the funding that has been provided so far from DWP”.
But Centrepoint, the homelessness charity said that local welfare assistance underspending meant many homeless youngsters could not get vital support when they moved from hostels into independent living. “Councils need to start using these funds to address urgent need now and ensure that young people have access to it,” said Seyi Obakin, Centrepoint’s chief executive.
Two local authorities – Labour-run Nottinghamshire county council and Tory-run Oxfordshire – have scrapped local welfare assistance altogether and plan to divert the money into social care services..
Conservative-run Herefordshire county council had spent less than £5,000 of its annual £377,000 allocation by the end of December last year, equivalent to 1% of its local welfare budget.It said its spending reflected low demand for crisis help, a claim disputed by Hereford Citizens Advice and Hereford food bank, which said they had been inundated with requests.
Labour-run Islington council had spent 80% of its emergency funds budget by the end of December last year and had spent all its emergency funds by April. It said it had encouraged its frontline staff to refer individuals to its local welfare scheme to ensure they got crisis help and assistance with any underlying problems, such as debt.
Local authorities are anticipating further problems over local welfare in 2015 when the DWP scraps funding for the schemes. Councils, charities and MPs have called on the government to restore and ringfence the crisis support allocation.
Councils say that in some cases they have refused emergency help because benefit claimants have been wrongly referred to local authority welfare schemes by jobcentres. Some councils have refused to accept applications from those who ought to have been offered a short-term benefit advance from their local jobcentre.
Scotland and Wales have their own welfare assistance schemes and these have higher applicant success rates than in England. In Northern Ireland, which still has the social fund, 70% of applicants received help.
Source – Welfare News Service 20 April 2014
This article was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 26th March 2014
Low income families hit by welfare reforms are running up personal debt at the rate of £52 a week to cope with the rising cost of living, with many saying they have no idea if they will be able to pay it back, according to the latest instalment of a poverty research project.
The project found that the average household debt stood at just under £3,000, up by 29% since October, equivalent to £670. Families were typically spending £34 a week repaying debts, from an average income among those surveyed of £176 a week.
Almost half of the participants in the survey, all of whom have been affected by welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax, report that they have no money left to live on each week once rent, food and bills are paid for.
The findings emerged in the third of six planned reports by a group of housing associations, which are tracking how families living in social housing in the north-west of England are coping with cuts to their income as a result of welfare changes and recession. The Real Life Reform project examines in detail the finances, views and behaviours of a group of up to 100 households.
Andy Williams, director of neighbourhood services at Liverpool Housing Trust and chair of the Real Life Reform steering group, said: “Householders are falling into more debt, including some taking money from loan sharks, and it’s a real concern that people are having to borrow to cope with the cost of everyday living.
“In our first report in September, people said they’d resist falling further into debt, yet just six months later this picture has emerged.
“Nearly eight out of 10 people in the study owe money. With an underlying average debt of £2,943, some may never pay this off given that they have, on average, as little as £3 left at the end of each day for food.”
The survey found that the number of households in debt was up four percentage points since the autumn. Over half of families said they did not know how long it would take them to repay the debt or that they would never be able to repay it. Nearly one in seven households had debts that would take more than four years to pay back.
One participant told the project: “I have just taken out a new loan from a loan shark for Christmas. It will never go down but it just about keeps my head above water.”
The report said that poorer families were increasingly reliant on debt to make ends meet. “The consequences of weekly repayments, which have more than doubled since the start of this study, alongside increasing costs in all areas, is really placing financial strain and hardship on our households.”
Household food spending by Real Life Reform participants, which had dipped to an average £2.10 a day in October rose to £3.08 in January, an increase attributed to bigger-than-usual grocery shopping bills over the Christmas holidays.
Fuel spending had gone up by 8% since the last survey was carried out in October while household fuel bills had risen by an additional £7 a week since the summer. Participants were spending an average of £141 a month on energy, compared with the UK average of £106, in part because many were on expensive payments meters charging 27p per kilowatt hour compared to 17p for those not on meters.
Source – Welfare News Service, 26 March 2014
It is easy to get caught up in headlines and forget that the Coalition’s benefit reforms mean people you know will lose their homes.
You know what happens then? PEOPLE YOU KNOW START LOSING THEIR HOMES.
Vox Political was warning the world about this back in 2012 – nearly two years ago – saying the bedroom tax would put people on the streets while homes go empty and warning about the ‘Poll Tax revival plan to take away your home’. It gives me no pleasure at all to report that I was right.
This week I heard about two cases in my Mid Wales town. You may think that isn’t many, but this is a town with a population of less than 5,000 – and I haven’t heard about every case.
The first involves a family that has been living in the same council house for more than 30 years…
View original post 1,057 more words
RENTS for 18,000 council tenants in South Tyneside are to rise by an average of £5.50 a week, it has been revealed.
However, there was better news for residents in the borough as South Tyneside Council boss, Coun Ed Malcolm, revealed that Council Tax bills are to be frozen for the fourth consecutive year.
The details emerged from the local authority’s budget plans for the coming 12 months in which it needs to find another £18m worth of savings.
That is made up of a £9m reduction in Government funding and another £9m in other areas – particularly services for the young and elderly.
Savings need to be identified out of a revenue budget – made up from government funding and Council Tax payments – of £148m for 2014/15.
Despite the pressures, the council is committed to spending almost £5m improving borough highways and footpaths.
It is pushing ahead with selling off council buildings which are regarded as being “surplus to requirement” – with profits re-invested in capital programmes.
As a result of a Council Tax freeze, the owner of an average Band C property in the borough will pay an estimated £1,290 for the year from April.
Meanwhile, council rents will increase by 6.8 per cent, which is in line with Government guidelines.
That would mean the average weekly borough rent, which currently stands at £78.34 over a 48-week period, rising by about £5.50 – which still represents the lowest level in Tyne and Wear.
It’s estimated the hike will add an additional £4.7m to the council’s coffers.
Coun Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, today pledged that “no one would suffer” as a result of the budget proposals he has overseen.
There was also a commitment that job losses at the council will be less than in previous years – with more than 1,000 posts shed since 2010.
He said: “Even though we have had £18m of budget cuts to find this year, I’m confident that this budget will mean we can still provide services to anyone who wants them, anyone who needs them.
“No one will suffer because of this budget. As a Labour council, we remain committed to social justice.
“The key message is that is that we are continuing to get funding reductions, we’ve got nine per cent less core funding and we still have the standstill financial pressures on top.
“We’re going to be freezing Council Tax for the fourth consecutive year and that means we will have the third lowest in the North East, and we remain committed to our ambitious regeneration of the borough.
“We face £18m worth of savings in the year ahead. The days of salami-slicing budgets are over.
“We’ve looked at integration, working with partners in the private sector, the public sector and the voluntary sector on Adult and Social Care.
“The council has a lot of buildings which have passed their sell-by-date and I think we can work more efficiently by redesigning the town hall and have the majority of staff transferred there.
“Then we have the community hubs which will provide a majority of services under one roof.”
Coun Malcolm added: “There will still be job implications but we will endeavour to keep away from compulsory redundancies.
“Because we are redesigning services there will be redundancies but we envisage there will be less than in previous years. We are also putting substantial investment in highways and pathways and increasing amount of money going to Community Area Forums by £50,000.”
Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, said: “Jobs-wise, next year we are hearing that there will be a little bit of respite in terms of a large number of job losses.
“But there are still going to be job losses in the area of business support and the merger of some other services together.”
Source – Shields Gazette 05 Feb 2014
People in the North East are twice as likely to fear having to sleep rough next year if they can’t pay their bills than people in the south east, a survey has shown.
The stark contrast was revealed in a poll by St Mungo’s, which said one in five people, 21 per cent, in the north east fear they will have to sleep rough if they are unable to pay their household bills in 2014, compared to one in ten in the south east, 9 per cent.
Overall in Britain, more than half expressed concern about being able to pay their household bills – including rent and mortgage – with 13 per cent saying they were worried about having to sleep rough.
More than a third, 32 per cent, of people said they were concerned that they would not have the money or opportunity to find alternative accommodation and 29 per cent said they would not know where to turn to for help.
Charles Fraser, the charity’s chief executive, said: ‘It is clear that people are trying very hard to keep their heads above water but are worried about going under. There are fewer life belts and less dry land than there was. We see no reason to believe that demand for our services will diminish in 2014.
‘While recognising that much good work is done for those in need, it is not a good time to be at the bottom of the pile. Those who are responsible for preventing homelessness need to discharge that responsibility better in order to prevent homelessness before it starts and help people before their health, their relationships and much more is lost.’
The ComRes survey, commissioned St Mungo’s, polled 2,028 people between 20- 21 of November.
Source – Inside Housing, 11 Dec 2013
Newcastle City Council is considering “re-designating” whole tower blocks of two-bedroom flats as one-bedroom properties – because tenants can’t afford to pay the bedroom tax.
Two thirds of council housing tenants are currently behind on their rent, double the number before the bedroom tax was introduced.
The impact of the bedroom tax on families across the city was revealed by Coun Joyce McCarty, deputy leader of Newcastle City Council, when she spoke to MPs. Coun McCarty was giving evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which is holding an inquiry into how changes to the welfare system have affected housing.
New rules introduced by the Government mean housing benefit is cut for claimants in social housing who are considered to have a spare room. The policy has been dubbed a ‘bedroom tax’ by critics, while ministers say they are ending a ‘spare-room subsidy’.
Coun McCarty said 5,500 households in the city were hit by the policy. And others who weren’t currently affected were desperate to avoid it, even if that meant turning down the offer of a two-bedroom property.
She told MPs: “Because previously people wanted space, we actually pulled down one bedroom flats not that long ago. We are thinking of re-designating complete tower blocks of two bedroom flats as one bedroom flats, because people can’t afford them.”
This would allow tenants to avoid having their housing benefit cut, but it would also mean the council lost money, she said.
“The impact of doing that is huge because that’s a loss of rental income as well.”
“We’ve got lots [of properties] that people don’t want to move in to . . . couples and individuals don’t want to move in to there because they know they’d have to pay additional costs.”
Newcastle had been particularly affected by the change to housing benefit because 23% of residents live in social housing, compared to a national average of just10%, she said.
Your Homes Newcastle, who manage council homes on behalf of the council, visited tenants to make sure they were claiming everything they were entitled to.
“At the moment 66% of our tenants are in arrears, which is double what it would have been before April, so that can be allocated to be the bedroom tax,” Coun McCarty added. “There are about 139 currently pending facing eviction since the bedroom tax was introduced.”
But the council was working with all the tenants involved to try to keep them in their homes, she said. In theory, tenants could move into smaller properties. However, those properties were not available.
“We have 3,500 people wanting to have one bedroom properties now, but each year we probably have 800 free so it will take us several years to reallocate those people.”
Your Homes Newcastle said it was considering re-designating a further 1,200 properties, but could not specify which blocks. Neil Scott, director of tenancy services said: “Newcastle has an unusually large proportion of accommodation in high rise properties. We currently manage 44 blocks over six storeys. The vast majority of properties in these blocks are two bedroom. We have 2,594 two bedroom flats in high rise properties, and 80 of those are available for let.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 06 Jan 2014
Whoopee ! I have now completed my two-year stint on the Work Programme (WP).
Looking back, my initial reaction is: “what the hell was the point of that ?”
It is pretty difficult to see much point to it, either personally or on a wider level. A 2012 report found that only 18,270 people out of 785,000 people enrolled on the WP had held down employment for six months or more – a success rate of 2.3%.
Given that 5% of the long-term unemployed would be expected to find employment if left to their own devices the WP can be considered less successful than doing nothing at all.
“Less successful than doing nothing at all.” That says it all, really.
Of course it was always doomed to failure, simply because it was based on unrealistic expectations – that the only reason people are unemployed is because they are lazy / stupid / feckless, and all they need is a kick up the arse.
There was a fatal flaw in their plans – simply that there is something like 2.5 million unemployed and only 500,000 vacancieas. You can kick arses until your foot drops off, you still can’t fit a quart into a pint pot.
Mind you, my expectations weren’t very high anyway.
Prior to WP was New Deal (ND), and in this city we had two companies providing it. I had the chance to sample both, and found both to be pretty useless.
When I turned up for my WP induction I amused myself by spotting familiar faces – just about all of the staff in this new organization were formerly with one or other of the two crap ND companies that preceeded it.
And that’s how it works. A new company wins a contract to provide WP or ND or whatever, but doesn’t actually have any staff or premises. So they rent some cheap office space and re-employ all the crap advisers from the failing companies they replaced, and so the vicious circle starts all over again. Its the same old people, same old ideas (or lack of), same old same old…
The new WP provider with all the old faces in our town was called Ingeus. I was never quite sure how it was pronounced (in-ghee-us ? in-jhee-us ?) but it’s a suitably ugly name for an ugly organization.
All these WP providers are for-profit companies, and you, the unemployed, are commodities. You might be the most wonderful, talented, compassionate person but your value to them is purely financial. Get you into a job, any job, get paid for doing so.
Getting paid being by far the most important part from their point of view.
It has been argued that payment-by-results whereby companies only get paid for finding people work has meant that they focus on the “easiest” cases among the long-term unemployed with the most “difficult” effectively sidelined.
The term “creaming and parking” has been used to describe this process. The Department for Work and Pensions have denied that “parking” is an issue, but then they would, wouldn’t they ?
A study by the Third Sector Research Centre at Birmingham University found widespread “gaming” of the Work Programme by private sector providers. They argue that because providers are not paid until an unemployed person has been in work for two years it makes little economic sense to concentrate on the most “difficult cases”. study also found that the largest private sector providers known as “primes” were guilty of passing more difficult cases onto sub-contractors.
Furthermore “parking” means that charities are not getting referrals under the Work Programme as such customers are not considered likely to result in a payment for the provider.
One interviewee told the study:
“It’s not being PC but I’ll just say it as it is … you tend to get left with the rubbish; people who aren’t going to get a job … If the [prime] thought they could get them a job, they wouldn’t [refer them to] someone else to get a job.”
I got parked. At least I assume that was the reason why I heard nothing from Ingeus for a period of 10 consectutive months in the middle of my 2 years. It goes without saying that that was probably my most productive time on the WP.
When I returned it was with a bang…
To be continued…
An increasing number of families in the North East are facing homelessness this winter, according to the latest statistics.
Calls to charity Shelter have increased by 12% since last year, and the number of people in the North East who called the Shelter helpline from 2012 to 2013 reached 2,490, the equivalent of more than 200 callers per month.
The charity say the figures reflect the growing number of people struggling to cope with the rising costs of living coupled with stagnating wages, and expect more families will find it increasingly difficult to keep a roof over their heads, especially as bills mount in the run-up to Christmas.
Shelter helpline adviser Liz Clare said the Christmas period is the most difficult time of year for her and colleagues. :
“The threat of homelessness is devastating at any time of year, but it seems to get worse around Christmas as the strains of the holidays close in and the weather gets cold.
“One Christmas Eve I answered a call from a mum with a disabled son. They were evicted from their home that night and had to sleep on the streets in the cold. We managed to find them a place to stay, but I’ll never forget the devastation in her voice. The sad fact is that eviction notices can come at any time of year. “
“I’ve never seen the helpline as busy as it has been this year.”
Jeremy Cripps, the chief executive of charity Children North East warned the figures could also increase following Christmas as people struggle to cope with the costs of the festive period and fall into arrears.
“What we have noticed is that a high proportion of families are there because of rent arrears or because their homes have been repossessed because of missed mortgage payments.”
“University bosses are becoming increasingly concerned about the number of private landlords applying to turn city buildings into student accommodation.” (Sunderland Echo, 04 October 2013).
They’re not the only ones ! You’d have had to be blind not to notice the number of ‘For Let – To Students’ signs appearing on houses around the city. Sunderland University (nee Polytechnic) is big business nowadays, and a whole host of specialist leech industries have grown up around it, and student-only letting agencies seem to be a boom area.
Indeed, it has been noted that one well-known city landlord seems to be moving wholeheartedly into this new area – whether they will be evicting existing tenants to make way for the new cash cows remains to be seen, but given their past record….
It makes sense, I suppose, if your only interest in society is extracting the maximum amount of money. Why rent a house for a single amount when you can squeeze many more students in and charge each of them ? Add to that short-term contracts, so you’re not stuck with them for long if they’re trouble. Who loses ?
Well, apart from the unfortunate non-students seeking accommodation, or those existing residents finding themselves increasingly in student ghettos. But who cares about them ?
Of course, the university’s main concern seems to be the fact that they’ll not have control of these planned student buildings. They dont appear to be in the least concerned about the effect on rentable houses for the rest of the population… you know, the people who actually live there full time ? Not suprisingly, most of the new student lets are also in the most affordable (ie: poorer) areas.
Perhaps the university should be investing in new halls of residence to go with the few places it already has (I understand it has around 17,000 students, but only has accommodation for 1,547 ). Even allowing for students who live locally anyway or within commuting distance anyway…