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Support for those who need it most? Not if the local welfare provision grant is abolished

Nicola Steuer featured imageIn March 2013 New Start featured an article on Islington’s resident support scheme (RSS). The RSS was set up in response to changes in welfare provision and in particular to devolution of the discretionary elements of the Social Fund in the form a local welfare provision grant to local authorities.

In December 2013, less than nine months later, the local government finance settlement disclosed that the government will abolish the local welfare provision grant from 2015/16.

Nationally this takes £172m away from people living poverty who need support the most – families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, people leaving care, residents with a physical disability, and people with a limiting long-term physical or mental health condition.

The Department for Work and Pensions had indicated that it intended to carry out a full review of the operation of new local welfare schemes during 2014/15 in order to shape future provision. The decision to end funding has been made without this assessment and on the assumption that local authorities have been slow to set up local arrangements and spend the devolved funds.

In Islington, we disburse our local welfare provision fund allocation through the multi-agency resident support scheme. The RSS brings together the council, local funder Cripplegate Foundation and other local charities, pooling funds and expertise to maximise their impact. Through the RSS we put a particular premium on the provision of additional, non-financial support, such as training and advice, and we link our residents to local opportunities that can offer lasting change in their lives. This is over and above the monetary grants we give.

The scheme was launched on 1 April 2013 and by the end of its first year we will have spent our full allocation of £1.2m, supporting our residents when they are in most need. With half of our population living in social housing and child poverty rates being the fourth highest in the country, we know that welfare provision of this kind is needed and makes a difference to resident’s lives (for anyone unfamiliar with the impact of poverty and inequality in Islington see residents’ personal stories in Distant Neighbours, published by Cripplegate Foundation and the new economics foundation in October 2013).

Residents affected by the abolition of the local welfare provision grant are the same residents already reeling from a series of recent welfare reforms that reduce their social security.  It seems a big ask to expect local authorities to find resources from within their general fund to cover this latest reduction in funding given the level of cuts they are already facing, but this is the government’s current suggestion for any area that wants to offer support from April 2015.

The London borough of Islington, London Councils, the Local Government Association, London Funders, and the Association of Charitable Organisations are all challenging this latest change to welfare provision. We would be interested to hear how others are responding.

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