It says parents are being left at risk of debt and struggling to afford basics like feeding and clothing their children and heating their homes.
- Staff facing 'high financial insecurity'
- Children's services in England face cash crisis, warn charities
The charity’s new report, ‘Nowhere To Run’, finds the number of people receiving crisis support from national or local government has fallen by 73 per cent since the Government devolved responsibility to councils in 2013 and stopped providing a separate cash grant for scheme in 2015.
According to the report, in 2012/13 there were 1.3m applications to the Government for crisis support of which 737,000 were successful.
It finds that the number of successful applications for council-run schemes has also fallen. Data obtained through Freedom of Information requests show in 2015/16, 320,000 applications were made, of which 208,000 were successful. In 2017/18, there were 284,000 applications, of which just 187,000 qualified for help.
The Children’s Society estimates that more than a quarter (27,000) of close to 100,000 applications which were turned down last year were from families with children. A third of councils do not specifically take the presence of children into account when considering applications to local welfare assistance schemes, as they are now commonly known.
The charity says that the fall in applications reflects the strict eligibility criteria introduced by cash-strapped councils, including requirements by some to have explored accessing a food bank or borrowing from relatives or a commercial lender, and to receive out-of-work benefits to have a chance of support.
With 23 councils scrapping schemes altogether, and little promotion of schemes by other local authorities, The Children’s Society warns that many more families are being denied help than figures in their report suggest.
The report, ‘Nowhere To Run’, is supported by financial services provider OneFamily through its Foundation to help improve the financial future of families, and forms part of The Children’s Society’s Strengthening the Safety Net campaign.
Single mum Marcelina got into financial difficulty last year without any local welfare assistance scheme to turn to in her area.
Marcelina, who now works as a cleaner for two hours a day, explained, ‘I could not find affordable childcare for my baby so could not work. I ended up falling behind with my rent.
‘Now all my wages and benefits go to paying back the rent arrears. I pay back so much each month and then after all bills are paid I have nothing left. I feel so sad because I struggle to feed and clothe my daughter.’
The Children’s Society says that councils have been offered little guidance on how crisis support schemes should work. The Government asks them to fund them from money they have available. While it recommends how much should go towards crisis help in each area, there is no legal obligation for councils to spend that amount.
Last year, councils spent £41m on schemes – less than a third of the £130m the Government suggests they should. Between 2015/16 and 2017/18, two-thirds of councils cut spending on the schemes and nearly one-fifth have slashed spending on them by more than half.
Nick Roseveare, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said, ‘At a time when families need support more than ever this vital source of help is drying up.
‘An unexpected event like a broken boiler or long-term sickness, can tip a family into crisis and this kind of support can be the difference between them keeping their heads above water or drowning in debt and ending up hungry or homeless.’
He added, ‘It’s vital that the Government uses the next spending review to make sure that from April 2020 each council gets a dedicated pot of cash which has to be spent on crisis support and rises with inflation. Ministers should also introduce new guidance on how schemes should operate in order to end the current postcode lottery.’
Local government minister Rishi Sunak MP said, 'Local authorities are democratically-elected, independent bodies that are responsible for setting their own budgets and managing their resources in line with local priorities, which could include Local Welfare Provision Schemes.'
- The Children's Society report is available here