PEOPLE in crisis are increasingly turning to foodbanks and voluntary agencies for help instead of support schemes run by local authorities, a new report suggests.
The study, Not Making Ends Meet, was published by the Children’s Society and the Church of England on Friday. It warns that Local Welfare Assistance (LWA) schemes are helping fewer people than the Social Fund, its predecessor. This has left people in desperate need looking for charitable help instead.
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that “all too often, the support is fragmented, and the experience is bewildering to those seeking help, who frequently find themselves in a cycle of repeated crisis”.
LWA schemes are in place to help people’s immediate financial needs when they are ineligible for national crisis payments.
The report says that Local Welfare Assistance grants were made between three per cent and 29 per cent in 2016/17 of the level of equivalent grants under the Social Fund in 2009/10.
People in need are instead relying on foodbanks, which “fill the gap” in the crisis support network, the report says. These voluntary agencies are often localised, it says, and “lack of co-ordination and gaps in provision mean that some groups and certain needs are not being adequately catered for”.
The study also says that, while benefits issues are the main cause people’s crises, other issues are normally present: for example, mental-health problems.
The authors of the report interviewed people with experience of Local Welfare Assistance schemes. One woman who had escaped domestic violence and suffered from depression struggled to buy school uniforms and food for her children once support from child social care was stopped, as her children were no longer at immediate risk.
The report says: “We believe the state has an important role to play in crisis provision and cannot delegate this responsibility to the voluntary sector wholesale.”
Speaking after publication, the chief executive of the Children’s Society, Matthew Reed, said: “Families in need of financial-crisis support are often experiencing one of the hardest times of their life, such as fleeing domestic violence or experiencing a serious mental or physical health problem.
“It’s vital that when they need help to buy food or nappies, put money on the electricity meter, or replace a broken fridge, that they can access this help quickly and easily. Instead, families who are in desperate need may find there is nowhere to turn. . .
“Sadly, with more and more people facing crisis, particularly as Universal Credit rollout continues apace, it’s becoming increasingly urgent for local crisis support to be co-ordinated and more consistent so that vulnerable people don’t fall through the gaps.”
Bishop Butler said: “A financial crisis can affect anyone, at any time in their lives, and as a country, both state and civil society, we have a moral duty to care for people at the hardest times of their lives.
“Voluntary and community organisations show compassion as they support individuals and families in crisis, and attempt to make up for current shortcomings in state support. But, all too often, the support is fragmented, and the experience is bewildering to those seeking help, who frequently find themselves in a cycle of repeated crisis.
“That is why strong leadership from local authorities is desperately needed, as well as a proper debate on how to fulfil the original vision for local welfare reform. We need holistic, joined-up support that meets people’s underlying needs, as well as responding to an immediate financial crisis.”
Bishop Butler has previously opposed the Government’s introduction of the Universal Credit policy (News, 29 March).
A 2013 Freedom of Information investigation by the Church Times revealed that one fifth of local authorities were channelling money earmarked for people in crisis to churches, to fund services such as foodbanks, health care, and counselling (News, 7 June 2013).
Last year, six diocesan bishops, including Bishop Butler, expressed alarm at the “considerable” cuts to welfare assistance schemes such as foodbanks (News, 14 September 2017).