Yorkshire councils have slashed this vital service by up to 92 per cent

“Vital” council schemes to help the most vulnerable people in society with basic necessities have been slashed by up to 92 per cent in the seven years since the government handed the role to local authorities.

Children are often disproportionately affected by cuts to services
Children are often disproportionately affected by cuts to services

Welfare assistance schemes - which provide emergency provisions to people who have fled domestic violence or are recovering from homelessness, for example - have been cut back an average of 69 per cent across the region since 2013, figures obtained by the Yorkshire Post under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 show.

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Since being passed from central government to local authorities, a decrease in funding and changes to who is eligible has created a wide variation and a “postcode lottery” of provision.

Bradford has seen the most severe cuts as funding has been slashed by 92 per cent - from nearly £2m to £150,000 - followed by Rotherham at 87 per cent and Barnsley at 81 per cent.

Bradford Council said after dedicated government funding was removed, it funded the scheme on reserves and then allocated its own budget of £150,000 in 2018, as well as providing other services for people in desperate need of support.

While some councils had cut the fund by much less, none had avoided cutting it altogether or increased the funding available.

Sheffield was the least affected by cuts, with just 21 per cent cut from its welfare assistance budget, followed by North Yorkshire and Doncaster, cutting only 25 and 46 per cent respectively.

Though the picture is bad in some parts of Yorkshire, across the UK, more than 25 assistance schemes have closed completely.

Sam Royston, director of policy and research at The Children’s Society told the Yorkshire Post: “Local welfare assistance schemes offer vital help for families facing an emergency, such as a flood in their home or family bereavement. Without them people have nowhere to turn in times of financial crisis and this can have a really harmful impact on theirs and their children’s lives and mental health.

“It is incredibly disappointing to see such a huge reduction in investment by local councils, especially at a time when the number of people and families living in poverty continues to rise.

“It is vital the government increases spending and ensures all local councils have sufficient funds to deliver a robust safety net so people are not left facing destitution.

“It is also vital councils look at working with the voluntary and community sector to improve the level of ongoing support it gives to those receiving financial support.”

Before 2013 these funds were managed by the Department for Work and Pensions and called the Discretionary Social Fund. However, the Welfare Reform Act in 2012 devolved the fund to local councils.

Since this time, many councils have also changed the eligibility criteria for being able to apply for funds or changed what support is available.

For example, Kirklees Council’s offer to provide free white goods and furniture to vulnerable people ended in 2017, and was replaced by “referrals for low cost loans via approved credit unions”.

In some cases, for example at Doncaster Council, local residents must now apply online for the fund as there is no paper form available, providing a barrier to elderly and disabled people who are statistically less likely to own a computer or use the internet.

Bradford Council said: “It is impossible to compare schemes with other Council as each one will choose to provide support that meets the needs of the local community. In Bradford, for instance, the local welfare scheme is run in conjunction with other partners, especially the voluntary sector, which also provides debt, welfare and money advice. By doing this we find that our limited resources are targeted at those who are most in need, and are a better use of those resources.

“As well as our Local Welfare Assistance Scheme there is also the Discretionary Housing Payment scheme, which offers extra help with housing costs for certain people who receive Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit.

“Finally, the Council has always believed that reducing the risk of families needing this extra support is preferable and has always prioritised spending in these areas. One example of this is the support we have given to the District’s Credit Union – one of the fastest growing Credit Unions in the Country. By funding a Financial Inclusion Officer, they have been able to really engage with those in difficulty and help them to develop good financial habits.”

This comes after research showed Yorkshire was one of the areas with the most “appliance poverty”.

While it is possible to live without many everyday household appliances, it can cost people considerably more to not have them, the research by charity Turn2Us found.

The average family weekly food shop is £60.60 according to the Office for National Statistics, however a family living without appropriate appliances can expect to spend approximately 43 per cent more because they cannot buy in bulk or buy frozen goods. This brings the average weekly shop to £86.86, an extra £1,365 every year.