By Cllr Amanda Peers, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Neighbourhoods , Stockport MBC
As many of you will be aware, and has been covered in depth by GMPA, responsibility for crisis loans and financial assistance for those experiencing difficulties was transferred from DWP to local authorities in April 2013 in the form of local welfare assistance schemes. You are also probably aware that since 2010 the government has continued to reduce budgets for essential services to local authorities year on year. In Stockport this reduction has amounted to around £110 million in total (i.e. over 60% of the overall budget).
Over the last 4 years in Stockport we have been working hard to deliver a balanced budget without making excessive cuts and reductions in services. As you can imagine this is virtually impossible with increasing costs and reducing funds. We have tried where possible to do things differently, to do more with less and to work efficiently and effectively with partners to maximise resources and avoid duplication.
The Stockport Local Assistance Scheme was reviewed over 2019/20, and from this review, which included 2 pieces of consultation, a proposal to change to Stockport Integrated Support was agreed for the 20/21 budget.
Under the new proposals a number of funding streams that are used to support people in financial crisis are to be administered under one system, a ‘one door entry system’. On initial contact residents will be advised what funding is available to them, plus additional support through a variety of partners including CAB, Age UK, Signpost for Carers etc, who will all offer specialist advice and services. This could include money management, debt advice, employment support and housing support.
As a large proportion of the applications to the Stockport Local Assistance Scheme were for white goods and furnishing for new tenancies we have worked with our Social Housing partners to look at how we can support people with these needs. Our housing partners are able to offer furnished tenancies, providing a good start for those with little or no means, enabling and supporting sustainable tenancies, the costs of which can be met through housing benefit, which then comes back into the system to support others.
We have also worked with our local Credit Union who have developed flexible loan packages in response to residents’ needs.
The administration team behind the new process will be trained to seek and secure additional external funding streams from specialist charities and organisations to meet the needs of the individuals, this in effect will bring more funding into the borough for the benefit of local residents.
This holistic person-centred approach will ultimately offer our most vulnerable residents a hand up rather than a handout, with advice and support empowering people and enabling them to move onto a pathway out of poverty. As an experienced community worker by profession, I know this is preferable to so many people who like to maintain their independence and are often finding it difficult to accept help.
With Brexit and other political and funding uncertainties facing Stockport Council, it was felt that there were many unknowns that may adversely affect our residents so we have set aside some reserves to meet the needs of our residents over time.
The new scheme was due to be implemented at the start of the new financial year. However, with the impact of Covid-19 we have deferred the implementation until a later date and in parallel provided a small grant pot through our Stockport Local Fund to support the voluntary and community sector, charities and mutual aid groups in our neighbourhoods who have been providing direct support to those vulnerable residents adversely affected by Covid.