Paul Maynard MP blog on LWAS
There has always been a need to support people who find themselves in crisis at some point in their lives, often through no fault of their own. The unexpected happens, life happens, and there needs to be someone or something there who can give you that support. The coronavirus pandemic is testament to this.
Local Welfare Assistance Schemes (LWAS) have the potential to be the solution so many people desperately need. However, they are not working well enough. Since the introduction of LWAS in 2013, we have seen far too many councils providing a threadbare service, or simply none at all.
Why is this? Partially there is no statutory obligation on councils to provide a LWAS, so many use the funding they notionally receive for it on other services, but also partially because the funding may not be sufficient either.
One of the key issues is access. Some of the criteria people have to jump through is simply unfair; for example some councils require LWAS applicants to exhaust all other alternative options before they will consider an application. Additionally, some councils have very strict residency requirements. And many fail to really publicise their schemes; hiding them away in a little seen part of their website. All this leads to a postcode lottery for so many people on whether they can access support when they need it.
In my constituency of Blackpool North and Cleveleys, the need for effective local welfare is clear, and we have an excellent wrap-around service. For example, here we have a problem with transience and large numbers of people living in poor quality housing in the private rented sector. Far too often people on low incomes and people in vulnerable situations move into unfurnished properties; no carpets, no washing machine, no fridge. Research by national charity Turn2us shows that living without these items makes your everyday costs increase; need for higher heating, expensive trips to the laundrette, reliance on pre-prepared food. Not to mention simply harder.
LWAS should be there to help people through these moments, to stop a one-off life changing event from spiralling into debt and poverty.
I want to see an ambitious plan for Local Welfare Assistance. Schemes should provide emergency loans and grants as well as working with charities and other services to help provide more holistic best-practice support that also covers poverty-prevention.
This is why I and MPs from across the political spectrum are supporting a 10 Minute Rule Bill to ask the government to review LWAS and hopefully reform them. Now is the right time to do this. The pandemic has acted as accelerated learning for many councils because they have had to learn pretty quickly how to meet the needs of a much larger group of people, and work with many more third sector bodies locally. So when we eventually emerge from this crisis, councils will have a much larger toolkit to work from. But with support schemes – such as the Covid Winter Grant – in all likelihood coming to an end, we need to act quickly.
However, the 10 Minute Rule Bill is only the start of the process. It is simply a parliamentary device which gives us the opportunity to raise a particular issue, to start off a conversation , to place it on the government agenda. It might end up as a Private Members Bill if I get pulled out of the hat in a future session, or it may lead to a meeting with a Minister and we find that there is more common ground that we can build on what has been raised.
But what is most clear, is that as we transition into the post-Covid future, it is vital we take all of our learnings and strive to build effective, wrap-around, transparent local welfare assistance schemes, so no-one and no-regions are disadvantaged.