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Coalition of MPs urge government to review local welfare provision

  • 05/02/2021

A cross-party group of MPs, led by Paul Maynard, is pressing the government into a review of Local Welfare Assistance Schemes (LWAS) after a number of the emergency funds had funding slashed and, in some cases, have closed completely.

Parliamentarians from across the spectrum, from Caroline Lucas to Iain Duncan Smith, will use the Ten Minute Rule Motion on 2 February to encourage a review of LWAS, which are designed to give people cash in a crisis.

These local schemes are for people with no spare money to pay for emergencies, such as a broken washing machine or flood damage, often through grants or loans. However, a decade of austerity has seen budgets cut to such a point that many councils now only run a threadbare scheme, while some do not run one at all.

What has gone wrong?

Funding – In 2013 the Government abolished The Social Fund and replaced it with LWAS, however the budget for the new policy is less than half of the previous scheme (£131.7 million compared to £330 million), and in reality, councils are spending as little as £41 million.

Implementation – There is no statutory obligation for councils to deliver LWAS, and they can use the funding they receive for it on anything they deem suitable. This has resulted in at least 23 out of 151 upper tier councils not providing any scheme at all.

Access – Poor publicity, unclear criteria and an onerous application process can limit people’s access to schemes. There should be flexible support available to local residents. For example, cash payments rather than just food vouchers.

Thomas Lawson, chief executive at Turn2us, said: “When the government abolished the Social Fund in 2013, it was thought that it would be more efficient for local councils to deliver crisis support instead. However, households have been left adrift as councils struggle to provide local grant schemes due to lack of funding and lack of statutory obligations.

“The coronavirus pandemic has pushed millions of families into financial troubles, and we know something like a broken washing machine can be the start of a spiral into debt and eventually poverty if schemes like LWAS don’t intervene effectively.

“Social security does not start and end with Universal Credit, councils should be an essential part of our welfare safety net. But they need the funding and guidance from central government to make it effective.”

Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said: “We have seen the difference local councils can make in a national crisis during the pandemic with emergency grant schemes. But crises occur in individual lives year in and year out, and we need to ensure we learn the lessons of the pandemic to embed a better provision of emergency support for some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

Turn2us, The Children’s Society and The Trussell Trust, are encouraging the government to review and reform LWAS by implementing a ‘wrap-around’ model of local welfare provision in local authorities. These schemes should include a crisis-benefit element as well as crisis prevention.