The Furniture Re-use Network (FRN) has this week, written to every local authority CEO in the UK, calling on them to ensure new welfare support programmes and changes in responsibilities, do not ignore the valuable social inclusion work of local furniture re-use charities that have been supporting low income families for over three decades.
Social Fund policy changes take effect from 1 April 2013, meaning Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans – currently the responsibility of the Department of Work & Pensions – will be abolished, and the responsibility for supporting people in crisis passed to local authorities, all operating with a much reduced budget.
Members of the FRN exist to alleviate material poverty, as well as provide valuable workplace experience and support services to marginalised members of society. They pass on, or sell at very low cost, essential household goods to people in need. Between 10% and 40% of a furniture reuse charity’s work is via a direct referral system partnership with social service departments and others. These referral agents refer local people who are in crisis to the re-use charities to help make their house a stable and secure home; and to date they have come with grant support from the Discretionary Social Fund. How this fund is managed from April this year is fundamental to ensuring these households are given the support and services they need.
The FRN is witnessing great confusion in how each Local Authority in the UK is transposing the changes in the current Discretionary Social Fund.
Craig Anderson, FRN’s CEO said their members are reporting that “Progress on how Local Authorities are managing the changes in social fund varies considerably; from no action whatsoever to date, to systems and services sorted months ago. We believe that no-one should be without a bed to sleep on, a cooker to cook on, or a sofa to sit on, wherever they live in the UK, and these basic necessities are now at risk if both local and central government do not ensure that the new delegated responsibilities are directed and managed effectively.”
Craig went on to explain “Whereas the current system is maintained centrally and is perhaps devoid of the local personal touch, the local transposition of the funds in future could be a case of hit or miss; with some authorities taking everything in-house and assessing and addressing need correctly, while others are splitting the work between as many as 5 sub-contractors. We suggest that as control is lost, so is direction; therefore our worry is that an inefficient system will be deployed in many areas of the UK and value for money, let alone addressing need, will not be achieved.”
Government cuts in the 1980’s resulted in FRN members setting up furniture reuse charities to supply essential household items to those that could not afford to purchase new items. Furniture Reuse Charities are today supplying much needed furniture and electricals to over 750,000 households each year, and this demand is escalating, while donations of the same items have dropped.
As a sector, FRN is concerned about its members’ ability to continue to offer this essential service across the UK from April 2013 onwards. At a time when greater demands are being made upon their services, from local authority waste and welfare departments and social housing providers, furniture re-use charities cannot afford to give away or drastically reduce their prices, as is being suggested by certain local authorities. FRN is helping a number of its members with their service proposals to local authorities across the UK. Many more have expressed severe concerns that their local authority isn’t engaging with them. They need to prepare for changes that are now only two months away and they wish to support local authorities with this new and demanding responsibility; one that can only worsen with the introduction of other welfare reform changes.
The charitable mission and business model of all furniture re-use charities will ensure that limited local authority discretionary fund budgets will stretch further. They are obvious local partners.