5 Nov 2014

More than £170m of funding for emergency grants and essential support to help families in a crisis is under threat from Government cuts.

Ministers are seeking to withdraw all support from Local Welfare Assistance Schemes, the last line of defence for over one million vulnerable households across England each year.

The schemes, which are run by local councils, help get struggling families back on their feet and prevent a temporary financial crisis from spiralling into debt and outright destitution.

They have helped women fleeing domestic violence to buy an oven for their new home, parents visit their sick child in hospital, and low income families heat their home if they face an emergency cost such as a broken boiler. 

This year £172m was shared between local authorities in England – enough to help 1.2m families who might otherwise have had to cut back on food or heating or take out a loan to repair or replace an essential item.

However, the Government is now consulting on its plans to withdraw all funding from next April.

While local authorities would have the option of retaining their schemes by finding the money from elsewhere, a recent Local Government Association survey found that almost three quarters (73%) of cash-strapped councils would either end or scale back their local scheme if the funding was abolished.

The Children’s Society is calling on the Government to reverse its decision and retain funding for the schemes.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: 'This is a cut too far. At a time of increasing child poverty, high levels of problem debts, and cuts to support for families, it is more important than ever that local welfare assistance schemes are available to help families in crisis.

'Without these schemes, families will have to choose between going without basic essentials to keep their family safe and healthy – such as food or heating – and turning to high cost credit or payday loans, plunging them into a debt trap.

'The Government should think again and make sure all local authorities have dedicated funding to provide this vital safety net.'

Mother-of-one Lucy, whose family benefited from their local welfare assistance scheme after her one-year-old daughter became very ill, said: “The cost of visiting our baby in different hospitals and looking after her when she had heart surgery meant we had no money left to buy her the bed she needed. The Council scheme helped us when we needed help most. Without it we would have ended up back in debt.'

Media enquiries

For more information please contact The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 (office hours) or 07810 796 508 (out-of-hours) or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk.

Notes to editor

• Details of the Government’s consultation, which closes on 21 November, are available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/local-welfare-provision-in-2015-to-2016
• The funding currently provided for local welfare assistance schemes – £172m per year – is enough to help 1.2m households across England, based on the £124 average claim from the Social Fund, the national scheme which was replaced by local welfare assistance schemes in 2013.
• More information about the Local Government Association’s survey that found almost three quarters (73%) of councils would either end or scale back their local scheme if the funding was abolished
• Follow the debate on Twitter @childrenssociety
• Find out more about The Children’s Society’s campaign to save local welfare assistance here: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/cuttoofar 
• The Children’s Society has helped change children’s stories for over a century. We expose injustice and address hard truths, tackling child poverty and neglect head-on. We fight for change based on the experiences of every child we work with and the solid evidence we gather. Through our campaigning, commitment and care, we are determined to give every child in this country the greatest possible chance in life.