Last week the government released its final local government finance settlement for 2016/17. We are disappointed that this settlement confirms that the government has decided to cut separate funding for local welfare provision.
This cut, combined with pressure on local budgets, could result in local authorities having to reduce or stop providing local welfare provision entirely. The removal of this funding could lead to more repeat homelessness, which has a devastating impact on people’s lives and results in new costs to public services.
What is local welfare?
Local welfare provision is a vital safety net for people moving on from homelessness. It is used by our clients to buy essential furnishings and aids to make their new homes habitable.
Our client Katie’s life was changed by local welfare provision. Katie became homeless after suffering from bipolar disorder and alcohol dependence, and was enduring threats of violence where she was living. Welfare provision from the council meant she could acquire essentials such as a bed, cooker and fridge for her new home, where she feels safe. Without this support, Katie’s accommodation would have been uninhabitable.
The recent history of local welfare provision
In response to representations by local authorities and charities in 2015, the government decided to allocate separate funding of £74 million for local welfare. This was a reduction, but an important recognition of the need for this support.
But in the 2016-17 settlement for local government, separate funding has been cut completely. Instead national government has identified £129.6 million it thinks should be spent on local welfare provision, but the funding is not ring-fenced and councils will have to work out if they can afford to run local welfare schemes given all the pressures on their budget.
The need for appropriate, ring-fenced funding
The need for proper funding for local welfare support is just as acute now as it was 18 months ago. In fact, the argument to maintain separate funding has become more compelling.
According to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO), many councils say they cannot afford to continue offering this support without specific government funding.
The head of the NAO warns:
‘The consequences of creating this gap in provision are not understood, either in terms of impact on vulnerable people or of creating potentially costly additional care or medical needs in the longer term.’
The impact on our clients
We are already seeing the effect that a reduction in provision is having on our clients. Alix had no basic living essentials or necessary disability aids when she was re-housed into private rented accommodation.
She was told by the council she had to wait six weeks to apply for a grant, but after this time passed the funding had been cut and applications weren’t being accepted. This left Alix in abject poverty, without the household essentials and disability aids she needed.
The removal of the funding does not reflect a decrease in the demand for local welfare from clients like Alix; quite the opposite, as the table below shows.
Table 1: St Mungo’s recorded client applications for local welfare grants
|April 2013-March 2014||April 2014-March 2015|
|% of applications successful||66%||42%|
The government must keep their commitments
In a recent announcement the government said they’re committed to tackling homelessness. We welcomed some of their commitments, like protecting the Homelessness Prevention Grant.
But removing separate local welfare provision funding undermines these commitments. People will find it much harder to recover from homelessness if they cannot afford a bed to make their new home habitable.
At St Mungo’s we will be doing all we can to ensure cuts to local welfare do not prevent our clients from rebuilding their lives.
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