“Money for vital social fund lifeline woefully inadequate,” say anti-poverty campaigners

September 17, 2012

Anti-poverty campaigners reacted angrily to reports yesterday (Sunday 16th September see note 1 below) that a woefully inadequate amount of money is set to be transferred to the Scottish Government by the UK DWP to replace a vital lifeline for some of Scotland's worst off families. The campaigners called on Scottish Ministers to use the Scottish Budget to invest in replacement Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants to mitigate the worst of the UK cuts.

In the latest full year for which figures are available (2010/11) over £29m was provided in DWP crisis loans and community care grants to Scotland's poorest and most vulnerable citizens, a figure rising to £38million if spending on items which have largely been abolished since 2011 is included. Yet, only £23.8million is set to be transferred to the Scottish Government to replace the schemes following their abolition as a UK benefit under the 2012 Welfare Reform Act.

Campaigners and claimants describe the funds as a "vital lifeline" when families face crisis, exceptional pressures or are at risk of being unable to sustain their own homes. They say that whilst the funds are far from perfect they are a recognition that that it is near impossible to budget for emergency expenses, such as paying to get fuel reconnected or to replace a broken cooker, if you are living on a very low income.

John Dickie head of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said;

"It is now vital that Scottish Ministers act on their promises to mitigate the damage caused by UK welfare reform and invest in the social fund so at the very least it is resourced at the same level as in previous years. This is a real opportunity to demonstrate that Scottish Government is willing to take a different approach to welfare and invest in the support people need to prevent crisis and sustain their homes.

The Scottish Government's commitment to ring fence social fund resources and to establish a national framework underpinning replacement schemes is extremely welcome, but it is crucial that the scheme is adequately funded. The failure of the UK government to maintain levels of social fund support in the face of increasing pressures on family budgets is yet another attack on our poorest citizens"

David McLeod (name changed to protect privacy), whose experience of poverty and the social fund has helped shape the Poverty Alliances policy work on the issue, said;

“The Community Care Grant is absolutely critical. Without it I’d be left with nothing and I would struggle to keep my tenancy and there is a strong risk I would end up homeless again. The grants that people get are investments in keeping people independent and free from other services and therefore less of a strain on public funds.”

Maggie Kelly, Policy and Campaigns Officer at the Poverty Alliance, said:

“The amount that looks like being provided to the Scottish Government by the UK Government to meet this vital need is totally inadequate and we are calling on the UK Government to increase funding. The Scottish Government has already taken important steps to support individuals and families in poverty by ring fencing the budget and setting up national criteria. But they can do more - by topping up the budget. They have committed to help mitigate the impact of cuts in welfare, especially for the most vulnerable. The social fund provides help to some of the most vulnerable members of our society including those who are facing destitution. Investing in it will target help at the right people and help to mitigate the impacts of the cuts.”

ENDS

For further comment contact:

John Dickie, Head of CPAG in Scotland, on 07795 340 618

Notes to Editors

1. http://news.stv.tv/politics/190348-uk-governments-welfare-reform-extreme...

2. Data on 2010/11 spending from the DWP website here: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/local-authority-staff/social-fund-reform/localisat...

3. for details of the proposed funding settlement see http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/social-fund-settlement-funding-allocation.pdf

4. Recent case studies of the kind of situation where families have benefited from community care grants include:

Case study 1

A kinship carer (grandmother) looking after three grandchildren in a voluntary arrangement with no financial support from the local authority as a result of their parents’ alcohol addiction. She has health problems and one of the children has behavioural difficulties. The family’s cooker was beyond repair and all the children required new bedding. She is managing to provide adequate care for her three grandchildren, but experiencing many difficulties in terms of meeting the children’s practical and emotional needs and the lack of basic household items was placing an additional strain on the family and making it very difficult for her to provide a healthy and affordable diet for the children. She was reliant on take-away food, which was neither affordable nor healthy, or on other family members. A community care grant, awarded on the basis of easing exceptional pressure on the family, enabled her to buy a new cooker and new bedding for the children. There is little doubt that living with their grandmother is the best place for these three children to be, and yet this arrangement could easily be undermined by inadequate living conditions without the vital support provided by the discretionary social fund.

Case study 2

A couple with one daughter, aged 12. Both parents have chronic health problems and their daughter has struggled at school (in terms of attendance and performance). There are significant concerns about the parents’ ability to care adequately for their daughter. There is a supervision requirement in place which means that the daughter is ‘looked after’ by the local authority, albeit while living at home with her parents. Both the mother and daughter have urinary incontinence and as a result they have additional laundry. The family’s washing machine was broken and beyond repair. There is no local laundrette. The family were finding it increasingly difficult to cope without a washing machine, particularly in light of the additional washing created by incontinence problems. The parents find it very challenging to get their daughter to school, and the frequent lack of clean clothes and proper uniform was exacerbating this problem. Meanwhile the daughter’s school was constantly complaining about her not having the correct uniform on or PE kit with her. The problem of how to wash bedding and maintain hygienic conditions within the home, was threatening to overwhelm the parents. A community care grant, awarded on the basis of easing exceptional pressure of the family, enabled them to buy a new washing machine.

These cases illustrate how needs arise through living in persistent poverty – benefit levels are insufficient to cover the costs of replacing household items. Such needs are often foreseeable and common, not arising from any identifiable crisis. Families without money upfront to pay for necessary items like a cooker, washing machine or furniture often pay inflated weekly rates for hire purchase or credit.

Case Study 3 David McLeod (name changed to protect privacy),

"I’ve been offered a house after spending 2 years in a homeless hostel but the house I will be moving into is completely empty. There are no carpets, no cooker, no fridge. I’m waiting on a community care grant to help out with the costs so that I can become fully independent of other services. The Community Care Grant is absolutely critical. Without it I’d be left with nothing and I would struggle to keep my tenancy and there is a strong risk I would end up homeless again. The grants that people get are investments in keeping people independent and free from other services and therefore less of a strain on public funds.

If we skimp on the cement, the foundation becomes weak and the risk of the whole thing falling in is really high. At the end of the day it will cost the Government a lot more to rebuild all of this all over again so it makes sense for them to invest in good foundations in the first place."