The Tory leader of West Sussex County Council is ‘dismayed’ by the Government’s decision to scrap a fund which acts as a ‘godsend’ to people in dire financial circumstances.
The national Local Welfare Assistance Fund (LWAF) has helped finance the county council’s Local Assistance Network, which will have handled more than 6,000 applications by the end of this financial year from people with long-term medical conditions, are on low incomes, or are waiting for their first pay check or a job to begin.
The network is made up of voluntary and community groups who are able to meet urgent need by providing assistance in kind, such as furniture, vouchers for food banks or other household essentials.
Louise Goldsmith, leader at WSCC, called the decision ‘a cut too far’, and said ‘unpalatable choices’ would have to be made to find the £1.24m in their budget.
She added: “I could cite many examples of where a relatively small amount of money has made a very large difference to people who are in pretty dire circumstances.
“Through this fund, which has funded our own Local Assistance Network, many are back on their feet and financially independent.
“By the end of this financial year the network will have handled 6,100 successful applications, two-thirds of which will have been made by individuals. It is a fine example of cost-effective preventative early intervention very much in line with the county council’s belief and policy to help people to help themselves.”
She continued: “So I have to admit to being dismayed by the news that the Government is withdrawing this fund, leaving councils, such as West Sussex County Council, facing a potentially difficult decision as to where to find the added costs of helping out families who find themselves in crisis situations.”
The Fund was introduced in 2013 to replace Government-provided crisis loans.
West Sussex was allocated £1.24m from the £347 million total, which it directed towards its Local Assistance Network. This small amount means families in trouble with no other means of help have some means of support.
Without it there is a risk that families in dire circumstances may be forced to seek help from loan sharks.
However, this year’s Local Government Finance Settlement revealed that Government funding would not be renewed in 2015.
This decision was taken without a promised review of the grant ever having taken place.
WSCC will be joining with other authorities across England and Wales to fight the decision and Mrs Goldsmith urged residents to write to their local MPs.
Reasons that people have helped out by the LAN include 17 per cent who have had their benefits suspended, 26 per cent who have had their benefits delayed, 21 per cent had spent their money, 16 per cent had suffered an unexpected crisis, and a further 19 per cent were for a variety of other reasons.
Mrs Goldsmith added: “While we all understand and accept the need to make savings and deliver efficiencies, and West Sussex County Council has certainly played its part, this is a cut too far, and I hope the Government will be prepared to revisit its decision.
“We had set up exactly what the Government wanted us to set up and we know it has helped people who needed help at the most vulnerable point in their lives and for whom there will be no other options other than loan sharks who will charge extortionate rates of interest.
“If the Government is concerned about public funds being poorly targeted, as it has claimed, then it should examine this scheme and encourage other authorities to adopt likewise.”
What do you think of the Government’s decision to cut funding? Have you been helped out by the Local Assistance Network? Comment below or email the newdesk