The Government will soon make a decision which will impact the lives of thousands of people across the country: they will decide what the future funding of Local Welfare Assistance Schemes will look like.
Local welfare funding makes a real difference. By helping people on low incomes cope with unexpected costs and providing basic household goods, it can rebuild lives, support tenancies and get people back on their feet.
Quite simply, more people will be at risk of becoming, or staying, homeless without it. However, since localising the schemes in 2013, the Government has not monitored what’s been happening across local authorities and seems to be both unaware of what the localised schemes are achieving to date and the hugely negative impact removing the funding could have.
The consultation on how local welfare should be funded closed last week. I’ve written before on why it failed to be the open process the sector wanted. In brief, the consultation offered three options on how the schemes could be funded. Sadly, all represented a cut in funding. There was the opportunity to suggest anything you like, including full funding, but as long as you suggest cutting something else to fund it.
Disappointed with the consultation, we asked our supporters whether they wanted to take action to tell government why local welfare provision was important: they didn’t let us down. Over 4,000 Shelter supporters responded and many others did so in support of other charities as well. Of course, we responded too and you can read our full response here. All of this represents mounting pressure on ministers.
We know from our advisors – the people who tirelessly help those in housing need – that local welfare is a lifeline to many people. So in our response, we told the story of those people who have used local welfare to rebuild their lives, because when ministers make the decision on whether funding stays or goes, it is these people they should be thinking about.
One such person is a 74 year old woman who came to Shelter for help after suffering mental, verbal, emotional and physical abuse for over 50 years. After decades of cruelty at the hands of her husband, she took the enormously courageous decision to leave him. Shelter helped her secure a new, unfurnished home. Sadly, many items in her old house had been damaged or destroyed by her husband. Our advisor helped her access a local welfare scheme, which provided around £900 to secure a bed, carpets and a settee.
Local welfare provision helped this woman set up a new life and the impact of this on her wellbeing cannot be understated. The advisor who helped her even believed that without it, she would have probably returned to her husband, and faced years more of abuse.
And then there was the family of six that had been evicted from their home because of rent arrears of just £350. They were forced to live with another family in unsuitable and unstable accommodation for 9 months. They had lost all of their belongings and were shouldering the burden of paying for their children to travel across the city to get to their school. A Shelter advisor helped them access an unfurnished social house by helping them deal with their debt, as they had been barred from the registration list because of the rent arrears.
They were granted enough to help set up a new, stable home. This paid for a cooker, a fridge, chairs, dining table, a bed, wardrobes, crockery, and kitchen goods. Shelter also helped them access a charitable foundation for bunk beds for the children.
In this case, local welfare provision was incredibly important in securing a stable home for this family. Furnishing the house meant they could move in quicker preventing arrears and having a cooker and fridge reduced the cost of feeding the family. Now living within their budget, the family have been in their home for 11 months, they have no arrears and no further debt. Without it, they would have used pay-day loans or expensive hire-purchase agreements to furnish the house, putting them at risk of building up new debt and repeat homelessness.
It is these personal stories that matter the most when we think about future funding for local welfare.
Local welfare funding makes a real difference to homeless families and without continued grant funding an estimated 75% of councils will scale back the schemes, and some will have to remove them entirely.
Put simply, this means fewer homeless families will be given a helping hand to get back on their feet.
When ministers decide on whether these schemes merit funding in the coming weeks, it is the thousands of people they have helped we want them to remember. If they do, they will surely see it as something that should be protected, if not celebrated, for the good it does.