When Anna sought help from a Solace Women’s Aid refuge she had no money and had experienced abuse at the hands of her husband and his family. With a young child in tow, she did not even have a home to go to.
A lease was arranged on an unfurnished flat for Anna (not her real name) and an application made to Islington’s resident support scheme for things like furniture, including a bed and sofa.
The Women’s Aid refuge offered support, working closely with the council, to make sure that Anna was helped to find a job and get money advice. It was because of this that Anna and her child could rebuild their lives.
The council was able to help because of funding, but now families already left reeling from successive cuts to social security are about to be hit again. This time, the government has decided to axe the local welfare provision grant.
The £172m national scheme, which Islington council uses its £1.2m share of to provide essential goods and small cash payments to residents in crisis like Anna, will be scrapped from 2015-16. It is the latest in a series of steps the government has taken; the impact being that local authorities feel ever more pressure to deliver vital welfare services with ever-diminishing budgets.
Last year council tax benefit was localised and at the same time cut by 10% -; a £2.9m loss in our borough alone.
Despite concern that some local authorities have failed to spend their funding for crisis grants in full (see Simon Danczuk MP’s article on the Guardian Local Leaders Network on 7 January), in Islington where 42% of children grow up below the poverty line we are on target to spend our full allocation of £1.2m in each of 2013-14 and 2014-15.
No money has been offered to compensate the council for this cut. Indeed, it comes at a time when the government is slashing more than £20m (11%) from the council’s core grant next year alone.
In 2012, concerned that aspects of the local welfare provision grant were to be devolved with a reduced budget, Islington council teamed up with local grant-giving charity Cripplegate Foundation to support Islington residents when they need it most. Islington’s resident support scheme (RSS) was born. Run in partnership with Cripplegate, who include their own grants in the scheme, the RSS also benefits from other charities pooling their resources and expertise.
We have been using our RSS to shield our poorest residents -; including homeless people, those with chronic illnesses, mental health issues and physical disabilities – from the worst excesses of the government’s welfare reforms.
All the money we have spent from the fund has supported those in genuine need -; keeping families together, sustaining tenancies and helping residents on the breadline to survive.
But the government’s latest short-sighted cut means more tough decisions lie ahead for councils, charities and residents like Anna. The support Anna got has helped her rebuild her life and provide a home for her son. I don’t believe that Hertfordshire council’s failure to spend its crisis fund in full should mean that people like Anna here in Islington have another lifeline cut.
Cllr. Andy Hull is executive member for finance at Islington council. He tweets @AndyHull79
This article was first published on the Guardian Local Leaders Network