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Hastings Furniture Service's ability to deliver affordable household goods to those most in need will suffer due to the funding cut (photo: HFS).

ESCC joins funding cut protest

East Sussex County Council has voted unanimously to oppose the government’s decision to end Local Welfare Assistance funding, the ultimate safety net for the most deprived, adding its voice to those raised against the move by local charities and the Local Government Association. Nick Terdre reports.

On a motion moved by councillor Jeremy Birch at its meeting last week, ESCC unanimously declared itself “dismayed by the Government’s decision to remove funding from the Local Welfare Assistance Fund from next financial year. It agrees with the view of the chair of the LGA that this fund provides ‘crucial support to people facing personal crises in their lives’ and also highlights that the fund also provides a vital resource which enables vulnerable people to leave institutional care.”

ESCC leader Keith Glazier will now write to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, asking for the decision to be reconsidered. The Local Government Association, the umbrella group for local authorities, has already done the same.

Support for the worst-off used to be provided through the centrally administered Social Fund. In 2013, however, the government devolved the responsibility, and the money, to local authorities – in the case of East Sussex, the county council, Cllr Birch told HOT. “Now, from March 2015, the government is taking the money away – so the task is still there to be done, the people are still there to be supported, but the money is taken away,” he said.

In East Sussex, LWA funding is disbursed through the Discretionary East Sussex Support Scheme (DESSS). Recipients are those in desperate need with no other source of help. Support is provided in the form of goods or services, but no cash payments. ESCC received funding of £1.2 million from central government in 2013/14 and £1.18 million for 2014/15, the council told HOT. In 2013/14, when the scheme was run as a pilot, some £240,500 was unspent and has been carried forward.

Charities welcome ESCC decision

Hastings Furniture Service provides household goods to deprived families (photo: HFS).

The county council’s decision to oppose the withdrawal of funding was welcomed by local charities, says Hastings Furniture Service (HFS), which through DESSS provides essential household goods to residents who would not otherwise be able to afford them. “Every councillor voted in favour of the motion to say that this isn’t really on – to park the responsibility with us and take the money away,” HFS chief executive Naomi Ridley told HOT. “At the same time ESCC is facing a 25% cut in its core grant, so you can’t really say that they’re going to be able to find the money from elsewhere without cutting something really significant.”

Organisations including AmicusHorizon Housing Association, the Federation of Small Businesses, Refuge, Citizens Advice Bureau, Hastings Advice and Representation Centre, Seaview, Foodbanks, Furniture Now, NCDA and Credit Union have also endorsed a report prepared for HFS which details the effectiveness of the scheme and the devastating effects its withdrawal will cause.

To date Local Welfare Assistance funding has either prevented or resolved homelessness for nearly 400 households and 45 people have been helped to move out of residential care, Ms Ridley told HOT. Furniture has been provided to 699 people across the county, about half of them in Hastings.

Withdrawing the funding is actually a false economy, she said. “If you cut this support now, the problems will just get worse, families won’t be able to live independently, their kids won’t be able to go to school, and you’re just storing up problems for the future.”

Domestic violence victims at risk

Victims of domestic violence will be hard hit by the withdrawal of LWA funding (photo: Wikimedia Commons - see below).

Among those who will be hardest hit are women escaping domestic violence. “Women who are living in a refuge need this support if they are going to move on to setting up a new home,” said Ms Ridley. “They are starting from scratch with nearly nothing and often have children. The idea of having to do that without any furniture at all, possibly without a cooker or fridge, or even without beds to put the kids in at night, is one more thing that is likely to drive them back to their abusive partner.

The report suggests that the consequences of removing the fund could be increased levels of homelessness, families unable to provide a home for their children and having children taken into care, reduced participation in school, training and work, increased mental and physical health problems and increased offending. Dealing with these issues is likely to cost taxpayers more than continuing to provide help and support for residents through the LWA scheme.

But Cllr Birch is not optimistic about the chances of changing the government’s mind. “We’ve pressed them on lot of other things and not been very successful,” he said. “It’s a question of whether any government thinks that the most vulnerable, the people who are in the most difficult circumstances, are worthy of support, and you’d have to be pretty politically blinkered if you didn’t think that.”

Maybe people power can make a difference. A petition has been started to mobilise opposition to the government’s move which you can sign here.

The HFS report can be seen here.

Source  of Wikimedia Commons photo.

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Posted 09:40 Friday, May 23, 2014 In: Campaigns

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