Posted: 22 March 2019

In times of crisis, children and families increasingly have nowhere to turn

Our new Nowhere to Turn report shows how the vital safety net for children and families facing crisis has deteriorated over recent years following Government funding cuts. This has left parents struggling to afford the basics and risks more families falling into debt.

Cuts to crisis support

Successful applications have plummeted by 75%

Our report found that the number of successful applications for crisis support from national or local government has plummeted by 75 percent since the Government devolved responsibility to councils in 2013.

crisis stats

While central government has devolved responsibility to local authorities for crisis support provision, the funding provided to develop 'local welfare assistance' schemes has not been ring-fenced, so councils do not have to spend it on crisis provision and there is no statutory duty to provide this type of support.

Funding available for emergency financial support in England fell from around £267 million in 2010/11 to £129.6 million in 2017/18. Altogether, councils spent £41m on the schemes last year - less than a third of the £130m the Government suggests they should.  

23 councils have scrapped their local welfare assistance scheme

Our research found that 23 councils have scrapped their local welfare assistance schemes entirely, while others do little to promote them.

Lack of schemes plus strict eligibility criteria introduced by cash-strapped councils may explain the fall in applications,  Some schemes require families to have explored accessing a food bank, borrowing from relatives or a commercial lender, or claiming out of work benefits in order to have a chance of getting this support. This means that many more families are being denied help than the available data suggests.

Local authorities are increasingly looking to voluntary sector organisations to meet this need, without the necessary resources or structures to do so effectively.

More than a quarter of rejected applications were from families with children

A third of councils who provided information said they do not specifically take the presence of children into account in considering applications to local welfare assistance schemes. This is extremely worrying considering that local authorities have duties under children’s legislation to promote the welfare of children in their area including where children are facing destitution and hardship.

Parents told us how delays in processing benefits claims and complicated forms had added to the stress of their money worries and that it could be difficult to shield their children from the impact of their situation. Our research with children and families in poverty shows that far from being passive, children actively participate in obtaining, sharing, and negotiating the use of resources within households and are also significantly affected by their family’s financial struggles with devastating consequences for their well-being.

Dedicated funding for crisis support

It’s vital that the Government uses the next spending review to make sure that each council gets sufficient dedicated funding to be spent on crisis support. 

As the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions herself pointed out in 2014 it is “too hard” on councils to expect them to run effective Local Welfare Assistance Schemes without separate funding.

Through our campaign, we will be working with councils to make sure local schemes are child-friendly, accessible and better coordinated to help all families in crisis.

By Ilona Pinter - Policy team

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