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Research finds 'collapse' in local welfare schemes

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About 7.75 million people are now living in council areas with no access to local welfare assistance schemes which provide vital support to those in crisis, research has found.

Of the 131 top tier councils who responded to a request for information from the Greater Manchester Poverty Action Group (GMPA), 22 said they do not have a scheme providing payments such as care grants and crisis loans in place, with provision said to be under threat in 29 other areas.

Councils have continued to receive some reduced, un-ringfenced funding for local welfare since localisation in 2013-14, but there is no requirement for councils facing financial pressure to provide schemes, leading to a “collapse” in support, according to GMPA.

The research, published today, revealed government funding for such payments totalled £178m in the first year of localisation in 2013-14, compared to an allocation of £330m in 2010-11.

The amount spent on crisis loans and care grants in 2017-18 was found to be 69% lower than in the final year before localisation. The total budgeted for assistance fell from over £64m in 2015-16 to less than £47m in 2017-18.

The GMPA also said budgets for local welfare assistance schemes fell by an average of 17% in the 25 most deprived local authority areas in the country.

The research identified significant variation in the amount councils allocate to schemes across the country.

The largest fall in expenditure on schemes between 2010-11 and 2017-18 was in the East Midlands, where the outlay fell by 94% from £16.2m to £0.9m. The second biggest decrease was in the West Midlands (88%) - from £24.4m to £3m over the same period.

The decrease was 75% or more in all but one region, East of England, where there was a 69% fall over the period - from £17.4m to £5.4m.

GMPA director Graham Whitham said the government’s “hands-off approach” to support had failed as it was unrealistic to expect councils to maintain expenditure in the current funding climate.

He said: “Having a well-funded and well-operated scheme in the place where you live could be the difference between living independently in your own home or ending up on the streets.

“In some instances, the support being provided by schemes is incredibly narrow and therefore cannot meet different needs. GMPA found one scheme that was limited to providing people with vouchers to buy nappies and several schemes that are restricted to supporting people with energy bills but not other household costs.”

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