Last month’s autumn statement, saw further deepening cuts to local authority budgets, as a result of previous cuts eight authorities around the country have already completely closed down their local welfare assistance schemes. These schemes provide vital support for people who face a short term emergency or cash crisis. You may be able to get vouchers to pay for food, fuel or clothing or bigger basic living items such as beds, cookers and fridges. You can’t usually get cash. They replaced the Government’s centrally-financed social fund in 2013 and were devolved to local authorities. The budget has since been repeatedly cut and the ring-fence protecting the funds has been removed.
It was a recommendation of last week’s Feeding Britain report that funding for local welfare assistance schemes was a key in reducing reliance on food banks and, as such, should be protected by the Government. Without a ring fence, some councils will feel they have little choice but to close their schemes and reallocate the funds elsewhere. Where there is no scheme, more people are pushed into acute financial crisis and are forced to fall back on charity and food bank provision.
Following on from the publication of Emma’s Feeding Britain report, she asked:
“Crippling cuts have led to some local authorities having to close their local welfare assistance schemes altogether. Food banks in these areas are reporting increased need. Given that the Government are continually presiding over 5 million people living in food poverty, will the Secretary of State commit to protecting future funding and reinstating the local welfare ring fence?”
The Secretary of State, Greg Clark MP, totally avoiding the question, saying that
“It is important that local authorities should take their local welfare responsibilities seriously. When we have the local government financial settlement, I am sure the honourable lady will be pleased to see that that continues to be recognised”
Emma later said:
“The Secretary of State completely misses the point, local authorities do take these responsibilities very seriously. The problem is the Government do not, first they cut the funding for these schemes then they removed the ring fence knowing that hard pressed local authorities in some areas would have no option but to make the difficult decision of closing their schemes altogether.”
You can read the whole debate here.