Compassion in Crisis

Our research into the local council schemes that should help people in poverty stay afloat in times of emergency.

Click here to download our Compassion in Crisis report.

Compassion in CrisisWe all want to live in a society in which everyone has access to good food and no one needs to go to bed hungry. We all need help in moments of crisis and our public services exist to ensure that everyone’s needs are met. Just as the NHS is there to help us through medical emergencies, so the welfare system should be there to help us in moments of financial crisis or hardship. Yet for increasing numbers of people across the country, this is no longer the case.

Thousands of people are being swept further into poverty or forced to turn to foodbanks and other charitable responses, as a result of cuts to crisis support in England. In 2013 the Government abolished the system of emergency grants and loans provided via the Social Fund and instead told each top-tier local authority in England to set up its own Local Welfare Assistance Scheme (LWAS). At the same time, central Government funding for this vital support fell from £330 million in 2010–11 to £178 million in 2013–14.

Our new research reveals the steep decline in Local Welfare Assistance Schemes across England. Over the past five years, at least 28 local authorities have closed their schemes completely and almost all the remaining schemes have been drastically cut back. In total, the amount spent on Local Welfare Assistance by councils who responded to our Freedom of Information requests has been cut by 72.5% since 2013–14.

The Local Welfare system has become so fragmented and threadbare that thousands of people are now left struggling to stay afloat in times of need and people’s ability to access emergency support during times of crisis depends on where they happen to live.

People who need crisis support and cannot access it are at increased risk of hunger, debt and destitution. As a compassionate society, we need to ensure the system can prevent people being swept further into difficulty.

In 2017, Church Action on Poverty spoke with ‘Emma’, a mum of two teenagers in North East England. She became trapped in poverty when her benefits were stopped without warning for eight months. Struggling to stay afloat, she turned to her local council for help but found the lifeline she thought was there was not. She said: “When I was only getting child benefit support for the girls, I was told that did not constitute a crisis. The crisis support that is there is not working properly.”

Local Welfare is a very small proportion of the overall public budget but a vital emergency resource that any one of us could find ourselves needing without warning. It is an emergency life-belt that must be retained.

National and local governments must work together to ensure robust, well-funded support is in place, so that when people suddenly encounter crisis, a lifeline is available, wherever in England they happen to live.

It cannot be right that local authorities are free to close Local Welfare support entirely and to leave people adrift in times of greatest hardship. Government must act – firstly, to make it a statutory duty for top-tier local authorities to run a LWAS that includes grants, loans and in-kind support; secondly, to provide sufficient ring-fenced funds in the forthcoming spending review to ensure they can meet the local need; and thirdly, to provide central guidance on LWASs, including minimum standards of provision.

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