This articlewas written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Thursday 18th December 2014
Poverty charities and councils have warned that the government’s refusal to guarantee funding for local welfare schemes will force low income families in crisis to turn to food banks and loan sharks.
The government announced in January that it would no longer provide £180m central funding for local welfare assistance schemes operated by English local authorities after April 2015, triggering a cross-party revolt by Conservative MPs and council leaders, Labour councils and charities.
It is believed that the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, attempted to secure £70m for local welfare to announce in Thursday’s local government finance settlement, but was blocked by the chancellor, George Osborne.
The local government minister Kris Hopkins told the Commons on Thursday that there would be no additional funding for local welfare, although he encouraged councils to make further formal representations, raising faint hopes that the government may revisit the decision in February.
Local welfare provision offers emergency help for a range of vulnerable people who fall into unexpected crisis, including women fleeing domestic violence, homeless people, pregnant mothers, care leavers, pensioners and people suffering from chronic physical and mental health problems.
Some in Whitehall are understood to be concerned that cutting local welfare will provide additional fuel to critics who argue the government does not care about poverty. A cross-party report on food banks this month urged the government to protect local welfare assistance, saying food bank referrals would increase if it was not reinstated.
Hopkins said that although there would be no new funds for local welfare, ministers would outline a notional figure of £130m in the overall grant allocations to councils – a cut of £50m – although this would not be ring-fenced, meaning councils can spend it on other services.
Cllr Andy Hull, Labour-run Islington council’s executive member for finance, called the decision not to provide local welfare funding “an early Christmas present from the government for loan sharks and payday lenders.”
He added: “This safety net supports families to stay together, helps people sustain their tenancies and keeps kids out of care. It is a lifeline, not a luxury. Now, thanks to the government, it lies in shreds.”
The Local Government Association said almost three-quarters of local authorities will abandon or scale back local welfare schemes unless they receive government funding. Two county councils, Nottinghamshire and Oxfordshire, have already closed their schemes.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:
“In the long-run tax payers will foot a higher bill if low-income families can’t stop a one-off, unforeseen expense from becoming a full-blown crisis – and the human cost will be high. For mothers leaving violent partners or youngsters moving on from homelessness or care, the schemes can make the difference between managing or not.”
Helen Middleton of the Furniture Reuse Network, whose member charities work closely with councils on helping low-income families, said the decision showed the government had “no real understanding of the levels of poverty in this country”.
Homelessness charity Centrepoint said young homeless people used local welfare schemes as a vital safety net:
“It’s completely unacceptable that young people who have fought to turn their lives around after facing homelessness are once again left to sleep on floors for lack of something as basic as a bed.
“Ministers must look carefully at responses from councils to this announcement and consider whether their proposal really reflects the level of poverty in many of our communities.”
Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said:
“The government’s decision to reduce annual funding from £172m to £130m will make it harder for councils to support vulnerable families facing a crisis. The requirement that town halls fund their schemes from within existing budgets may create a postcode lottery for many families in poverty.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 18 Dec 2014
Families in crisis will have nowhere to turn when a £10m emergency fund for the region is axed within months, campaigners warn today.
The Children’s Society raises the alarm over Government plans to scrap ‘local welfare assistance schemes’ – seen as a last lifeline to stop vulnerable people falling into debt and destitution.
The cash – administered by local authorities – is helping an estimated 80,000 people across the North-East and North Yorkshire in this financial year, the organisation said.
Some are women fleeing domestic violence, who desperately need money quickly to buy an oven for their new home.
Other grants are given to parents so they can visit their sick child in hospital, or to struggling families when they face an emergency cost such as a broken boiler.
But the funding will be withdrawn from next April, under proposals put forward by the department for work and pensions (DWP) expected to be confirmed in the New Year.
Ministers say local councils can fund the schemes themselves – but those councils must themselves find billions of pounds of savings, amid huge cuts to their Whitehall grants.
Matthew Reed, The Children’s Society chief executive, said:
“This is a cut too far.
“Without these schemes, families will have to choose between going without basic essentials to keep their family safe and healthy – such as food or heating – and turning to high cost credit or payday loans, plunging them into a debt trap.”
Durham County Council – which will lose £407,270, if the plans go ahead – said it had not yet drawn up proposals to plug the gap.
Roger Goodes, head of policy, said:
“We are looking at how we might be able to continue to support people, should funding be withdrawn.
“Once the funding situation is confirmed, we would expect to develop detailed proposals which would be put to members of the council’s Cabinet for consideration.”
> Why didn’t he just say “no idea” ?
But a DWP spokeswoman insisted it was not planning to end support, but giving councils greater freedom how to spend funds from Whitehall.
“This Government is giving councils more control because they understand best their local area’s needs. This is in contrast to the old centralised grant system that was poorly targeted.”
The estimate that almost 80,000 people in the region are currently receiving help is based on the average grant of £124.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Nov 2014
This article was written by James Meikle, for theguardian.com on Friday 21st February 2014
The government’s welfare shakeup has survived two legal challenges at the court of appeal after five disabled tenants failed in their attempt to get the bedroom tax declared unlawful and judges ruled against claims the £500-a-week cap on benefits violated the human rights of vulnerable families.
The decisions mean that central planks of Iain Duncan Smith’s benefits changes remain intact, although there may yet be further challenges at the supreme court.
The bedroom challenge questioned the legality of new “size criteria” regulations that have led to reductions in housing benefit payments to tenants in social housing assessed to be underoccupying their home. It was backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Two lone parents and a child from each family challenged the benefit cap after being forced into temporary accommodation in London.
Campaigners say the welfare cuts are having a particularly harsh impact on women fleeing domestic violence, and on their children, threatening to trap them in abusive relationships.
Those challenging the bedroom tax vowed to continue their battle following the ruling. Ugo Hayter from law firm Leigh Day, representing two people with disabilities who argue that their second bedroom is essential, said lawyers were disappointed and baffled by the ruling.
“The court recognised that our clients and thousands of disabled people across the UK had a need for accommodation not provided for by the new housing benefit rules. However, the court decided that disabled tenants should not have their housing needs met on an equivalent basis to their able-bodied counterparts just because they are disabled.
“Instead disabled tenants are being forced to rely on short-term and discretionary payments. We are currently considering whether an appeal to the supreme court is possible. Our thoughts go out to the thousands of disabled tenants who continue to be faced with uncertainty, poverty and the risk of eviction.”
Anne McMurdie, of Public Law Solicitors, which is acting for three of the appellants, said: “The government has sought to make savings by targeting the most vulnerable in our society. On the government’s own figures at least 440,000 disabled households will lose out under the new regulations.
“There is compelling and growing evidence of the terrible adverse impact on disabled tenants, having to make the dreadful choice between paying the rent and buying food or heating their homes. Disabled tenants are not asking for extra funds, they are asking for housing benefit to be paid at a level which meets their needs – for the same right as others.”
Richard Kramer, deputy chief executive of Sense, the national deafblind charity, said the bedroom tax policy had been devastating for many disabled people. “Many have been found to have a so-called extra bedroom despite requiring it because of their disability, for example needing extra space to store disability-related equipment and for short-term carers.
“Many disabled people, including the deafblind people that Sense supports, have been pushed to breaking point. They are struggling with the transition from DLA [disability living allowance] to Pip [personal independence payment] and many are facing huge cuts to their social care, leaving them without the support they desperately need to live full and active lives,” said Kramer.
“Alongside other benefits being cut, housing benefit has been the final blow for many disabled people and can lead to serious financial hardship.”
A statement from the Department for Work and Pensions said:”Reform of housing benefit in the social sector is essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of the benefit. But we have ensured extra discretionary housing support is available for vulnerable people.”
On the issue of the cap, the statement said: “We are pleased that the courts have ruled again that the benefit cap complies with the European convention on human rights. The benefit cap sets a fair limit to what people can expect to get from the welfare system – so that claimants cannot receive more than £500 a week, the average household earnings.”
In the judgments, Lord Dyson said Duncan Smith was aware of the “serious impact” of the new criteria for housing benefit, which was why so much effort had been devoted to seeking a solution. He recognised the benefit cap would “cause hardship to some (possibly many) people who are on benefit” but the government recognised it might need modification.
> I suspect the only modification Duncan Smith has in mind is extending hardship from “some” people to the greatest number possible.
The cap in its present form reflected the political judgment of the government and had been endorsed by parliament after considerable debate. It was not up to the court to say whether it agreed with the judgment or not, he said.
Rebekah Carrier, of Hopkin Murray Beskine solicitors, representing two women who had fled violent marriages along with their children and were challenging the benefit cap, said the judges had not decided important issues of principle affecting the large numbers of women and children made homeless by domestic violence every year.
“The government promised to address this in April 2013, 10 months ago, but has failed to do so. The court recognised the problem and expressed concern about the government’s delay in addressing it, but they have abandoned many domestic violence victims to their fate until the government chooses to act,” said Carrier.
“That is not good enough for my clients, or for the many women who will face a stark choice about whether to stay with a violent partner, or flee and risk losing their home or being destitute.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 21 Feb 2014