Fears for region’s poor as aid budget cut by £1.1m

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WELFARE reforms have stripped at least £1.1m of emergency support from Yorkshire’s poorest residents and left “holes in the safety net” protecting them, campaigners warn today.

The level of help available to people in financial crisis now varies more than ever before across the region following the shift of more powers to councils from Whitehall, according to charity Involve Yorkshire and Humber.

And communities face a “double postcode lottery” with the voluntary sector better equipped to fill the gap in some places than others, it added.

Around 200,000 people in Yorkshire received a total of £22.5m in community care grants and crisis loans during 2011-12 under the old national system of delivery, its research found.

Over three-quarters of this budget – equivalent to £17.5m – has now been devolved to councils, but analysis by Involve has shown budgets set by local authorities for new localised schemes totalled only £16.4m – a loss of £1.1m in grants and loans to those with few other places to turn.

Most authorities set budgets between two and 13 per cent below the equivalent 2011-12 expenditure, except East Riding, where it remained roughly equal, and York, which increased funding.

Only six councils are still providing loans under their new systems. All authorities offer grants but these vary – 13 give only grants in kind, such as vouchers or second-hand furniture, while eight offer non-repayable cash grants towards certain essentials.

Changes to council tax benefit eligibility also vary across the region. Around 240,000 people previously exempt are now expected to contribute, Involve found.

Those in York must now pay 30 per cent of the charge compared with 23 per cent in Sheffield and 8.5 per cent in Hull, for example. Only Harrogate, Doncaster and Calderdale councils have continued exemptions by making savings elsewhere.

Involve chief executive Judy Robinson said: “This research confirms welfare reform has created holes in the safety net that protects the most vulnerable members of our society, giving rise to a postcode lottery on welfare in Yorkshire.

“Voluntary organisations and charities report increased demand for services at a time when resources have been reduced.

“While the future for many looks uncertain, the sector continues to find innovative ways to provide solutions.”