£67m of the £136m allocated to local welfare schemes across England remain unspent, despite a record number of families in need failing to receive help. According to an analysis by The Guardian, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act paint a bleak view of the scheme designed to assist poorer families struggling in England.
With half of local authorities spending less than 40% of assigned emergency funds, welfare is failing to reach those in real need. Emergency welfare schemes were put into place to buffer low-income families in danger of losing their homes, struggling to buy food, or suffering domestic violence.
The Guardian’s analysis of these schemes showed that despite claimants providing evidence of dire financial problems, four in 10 applications for emergency funds are rejected. Councils state this is because some claimants have been wrongly referred by jobcentres, who should offer these individuals short-term benefit advances. Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Bureau, Gillian Guy said: “When the safety net fails, people are left with no way of putting food on the table, paying the rent or keeping the lights on.
Confusion over what help is available and who to approach means that people who need support are left high and dry.
“People are in danger of being pushed into the arms of payday lenders and loan sharks by the chaotic emergency support system. Citizens Advice Bureau see people in desperate need of support who have nowhere else to turn when job centres and the local council don’t give out support.”
The Guardian also highlighted that councils are now able to divert unspent cash from these emergency funds under the new system, which no longer states this money should be ringfenced for welfare spending. A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions—the government department which funds the local welfare schemes across England, said:
“In contrast to a centralised grant system that was poorly targeted, councils can now choose how best to support those most in need. It is for local councils to decide how they spend their budgets.”
Local authorities have raised further concerns over the state of local welfare next year, as the DWP will scrap the funding for these schemes.
County Councillor Bill Winlow said,
“This is a desperate state of affairs for some people. The schemes are not being handled well and need to be reorganised so that help can be given to those most in need”