Ensure Local Welfare Assistance is the lifeline it needs to be, during this crisis and in the future
By Gareth Duffield, Area Manager – Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire, Trussell Trust
During the pandemic we have seen a soaring rise in need. The number of food parcels provided by food banks in the Trussell Trust food network increased by 89% in April compared to last year, with a staggering 107% rise in parcels for families with dependent children.
Over the past few months, we’ve heard lots of suggestions that focus on getting food to people who can’t afford it. But food isn’t the answer to people needing food banks. We are working towards a society where everyone has enough to buy food for their family, cover their housing costs, heat and light their homes, and to be able to buy all the other essentials we all need to get by.
During this crisis, we have been working in coalition with other anti-poverty charities to call for lifelines to help us all weather this storm, such as through suspending the repayment of Universal Credit advance payments, and increasing benefits that go towards the cost of raising children.
One important safety net is local welfare assistance schemes (LWA) which can provide cash grants to keep households afloat in times of financial crisis. When properly run, they get money to people quickly and can reduce the likelihood that people will become homeless or need to turn to a food bank.
It was heartening that the Prime Minister has announced a £63 million fund for these schemes; and of this, councils in Greater Manchester have received an allocation of £3.9m. Now this money has been allocated, it is absolutely crucial that these funds are administered properly if these schemes are to be the lifeline we so desperately need at this time. We are asking local authorities to:
• Spend the money as intended: We recognise that local authorities are under huge amounts of pressure in many areas of their budgets, but we must ensure this money is not swallowed up by the growing holes in local authority budgets.
• Build awareness of Local Welfare Assistance and the new funding: We know awareness of LWA can be extremely low. Poor publicity, unclear application processes and onerous application forms can limit uptake and leave people turning to food banks instead. Local authorities should promote and publicise the existence and purpose of schemes and agree an approach to signposting and support pathways with food banks.
• Ensure people in need can access Local Welfare Assistance: Given the scale of present hardship, local schemes should consider relaxing their qualifying criteria to ensure those most in need get support. For example, considering applications from low income working families or those with no recourse to public funds.
• Ensure people get the right kind of support: There must be a flexible, tailored approach to the kinds of support people receive, including the option for cash payments, rather than just food vouchers or other in-kind benefits, so people can buy food and other essentials like gas and electricity like anyone else. We know that GMPA have also been advising councils to adopt this approach.
It will also be important for local authorities to monitor the impact of this new funding, so that we can build the case for long-term investment in local welfare assistance.
We are calling on the UK Government to allocate £250m a year in funding for local welfare assistance, which would bring spending in England in line with equivalent schemes in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. We need to ensure that the £63m fund is not a one-off, but instead local authorities can continue to provide this vital funding during the challenging times ahead.
Thank you to all our campaigners, food banks, and partners such as The Children’s Society, who helped make the changes we’ve seen so far happen. Please continue to join our calls for long-term investment into this crucial local lifeline.
No one should be forced to use a food bank. When we stand together, we can make a real impact – we hope this new money is an important first step in doing just that.