‘The Postcode Lottery of Crisis Support’ also reveals that one in five people now live in an area where there is no local authority crisis support at all as 25 English councils have closed their schemes entirely, depriving 11.4 million people of vital help.
End Furniture Poverty are holding a webinar on Friday, May 7th at 11am to explain the findings in the report. Email info@EndFurniturePoverty.org to register to attend.
In 2013/14, the government abolished crisis loans and community care grants replacing them with local welfare assistance schemes (LWASs). These new schemes support people in a time of crisis, offering help with food, fuel, and essential furniture and white goods. While the central government provides funding for LWASs, it is significantly lower than what was spent in 2010/11 and, crucially, it is not ring-fenced.
Subsequent austerity cuts have led many local authorities to divert LWAS funding to prop up other services with 95% of schemes spending less than their allocated LWAS funding, leading to an 87% real terms decline in spend on crisis support over the past decade, with the number of awards given also falling by 86%.
However, in the devolved nations there is much more funding available for crisis support – in England the per capita spend on LWAS is just 64p, compared to £6.88 in Scotland; £6.79 in Northern Ireland, and £4.19 in Wales.
Claire Donovan, Campaigns Manager for End Furniture Poverty, said: “For millions of people living in Furniture Poverty, local welfare assistance is a vital lifeline, helping them to access essential furniture items like cookers, beds and fridges.
“A decade of austerity, followed by the immense challenges during the pandemic, mean that millions more are now struggling, so we urge the Government to adequately fund and ring fence LWAS budgets, and provide clear guidance for local authorities to end this postcode lottery of support.”
End Furniture Poverty issued Freedom of Information requests to every local authority across the UK, asking for details on LWAS budgets, spend, the number of awards and applications for the past three years, and whether furniture and white goods are provided. Although there have been previous studies examining LWASs, this is the first to shine a spotlight on the provision of furniture and white goods.
As the FOI was issued partway through the last financial year, the final spend for 2020/21 was unavailable, and some additional Covid-relief funding was made available by central Government during this period. End Furniture Poverty plan to issue a further FOI request in the coming weeks to establish the exact 2020/21 spend and budgets for 2021/22 to understand whether the additional Covid funding and resulting pandemic pressures have led to a change in attitude, and therefore funding for LWAS or whether the downward budgetary trend is expected to continue.
The report shows that while the majority of remaining LWAS schemes do still help people obtain furniture and white goods, the average award is just £196 per applicant, a £25 fall on the previous year.
Claire said: “The impact of living without essential furniture and white goods can have a tremendous toll on people’s financial, social, mental and physical wellbeing. Funding adequate crisis support is not only the right thing to do, it is also a prudent investment as research by the National Audit Office showed that a £0.5m LWAS spend can save £9.7m across local and central government budgets.
“We urgently ask the both the government and local authorities to look again at LWAS funding – the amount of support you can receive should not depend on where you happen to live.”
End Furniture Poverty join other charities in asking the Government to increase LWAS funding by £250m per year. They also want the distribution of funding to take local authority deprivation levels into account, and for the funding to be ring-fenced with clear guidance setting out how it should be spent. Local authorities should also make it easier for people to find out about LWAS and work with local partners to provide a comprehensive package of crisis support.
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