21 August 2014

There is an update at the foot of the post and a link to a later post

As part of the Tory Libdem changes to welfare two discretionary aspects of the social fund previously administered by the Department for work and pensions (DWP), crisis loans and community care grants, have been abolished. From April 2013 funds have been given by central government to local authorities for a replacement local welfare scheme. In Cornwall this is called the Crisis and care awards scheme.

Very briefly, the scheme gives help to low-income people in an emergency with living expenses and helps vulnerable people with, for example, household equipment, to enable them to live in the community. Cornwall Council has excellent leaflets on its website here explaining the scheme.

In 2013/14 Cornwall was given £985 074 by central government for the scheme (and additional separate funds for administration).

It gave £647,724.25 of those funds to 2272 successful applications. That’s about 66 percent of the total funds the council received and about 55 percent of total applications.

The council did not distribute £337 000 of its allocated funds as crisis and care awards. It gave £150 000 of that to Citizens Advice Bureau for advice to people the council referred to it. That’s a wise use of the undistributed funds. And the rest of it? That money, meant for the vulnerable and poor in Cornwall, went into the council’s general funds.

Cornwall has been given the same amount for the scheme from central government for 2014/15 so that looks like another by-gift from the desperate to the council’s funds.

Cornwall Council should look carefully at its local criteria for these awards to make sure nobody in need is being excluded who could be included. Could the criteria reasonably be loosened? While protecting people’s privacy, is it possible for the council to give as examples details of some applications refused so that we can be reassured about the criteria in practice? A much smaller proportion of applications were successful in 2013/14 compared with the data for 2005/06 and 2009/10 in Appendix D here but some reduction was expected because of the changes in arrangements for distribution.

If the council indeed has the awarding spot on, and that may very well be so, central government has been too generous in its allocation to Cornwall. Perhaps in that case rather than absorb the undistributed surplus into general funds the council could, if permissible, give it or its equivalent to the foodbanks in the county: they are another working scheme for crisis and care scheme for people here.

More worrying is the Tory Libdem government’s intention to end the scheme at the end of the current financial year. Councils will be expected to meet the needs of the present scheme from the general funds given to them by central government, what we call their own resources. That is a severe challenge. I hope Cornwall Council is already planning how it will do this.

Update 13 November 2014
The Department for work and pensions has published Local welfare provision review (November 2014). You can access it from Deposited parliamentary papers (DEP 2014-1442 of 10 November 2014). Page 21 gives some possible reasons for underspending the funds by local authorities.

Later post
Government dumps the vulnerable 24 December 2014