The results of a recent national survey of furniture re-use charities strongly challenge the Government’s decision to scrap the Local Welfare Assistance Fund – a decision that will hit the poorest the hardest. And we’ve written to Eric Pickles MP expressing our grave concerns.
The Furniture Re-use Network (FRN) has identified, via its membership base of 250 furniture re-use charities in England, at least 50 examples of excellent partnership working between local authorities and voluntary sector organisations but regrettably, it also highlights a growing level of need.
76% of respondents have provided essential furniture such as beds, clothing, food, debt advice and emotional support to over 58,000 in-crisis households during the first year of the Fund.
Applying this level of support across all 250 members in England, approximately 348,000 in-crisis households have been helped in this same period; in addition to the usual level of support given by these organisations.
The need for crisis support still exists and it’s growing, in spite of the Government’s assertion that the need just isn’t that great; possibly prompted by some local authorities either closing schemes after one year, or sitting on underspent budgets.
“This isn’t a fund that creates a dependency culture which welfare reforms are trying to remedy; it’s a small fund that exists to help the most vulnerable people in one-off, crisis situations, and it’s hitting those already on their knees”, says FRN spokeswoman, Helen Middleton; “our members are increasingly dealing with low-income working families, and desperate people left in crisis situations caused by a range of economic and emotional problems”.
One year on and some of the more innovative schemes are now implementing debt prevention initiatives whilst still providing immediate crisis relief to those facing hardship.
FRN believes that pay-day lenders and loan sharks will be the only beneficiaries once the Fund is scrapped.
As such, FRN has recently set up an e-petition to persuade Parliament to debate this issue, and has today written to Ministers asking for an urgent review of this hardest cut of all.
Contact: Craig Anderson, CEO, Furniture Re-use Network
Tel: 07968 729208
Contact: Helen Middleton, Market Development Manager, Furniture Re-use Network
Local Welfare Assistance Fund (LWA)
Local authorities currently use the LWA fund to give emergency help to people facing crisis situations, including families under the threat of homelessness or domestic abuse. It has also paid for vouchers for people struggling to afford food and basic household essentials.
It was introduced in 2013 to replace government-provided crisis loans, with each local authority area allocated money from the £347m total. This year's local government finance settlement revealed, however, that funding would not be renewed in 2015.
Spread across 152 local authorities in England, £174 million per annum is not a huge amount of money, but the impact on people's lives is considerable and in some cases helps people move away from the dependency culture; it is often the first step towards self-reliance and financial independence.
FRN’s chief concern is that low income households will turn to pay-day lenders and loan sharks, thereby creating a greater spiral of debt.
FRN supports the Government’s plan to ask local authorities to assess local needs and provide the appropriate support, but the problem lies in how they fund this support; a tough challenge as local authority budgets reduce and resources are stretched further.
FRN’s demands to Government:
FRN has today (9th May 2014) written to the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP; Rt Hon Ian Duncan Smith MP; Steve Webb MP and members of the Opposition, demanding the Government:
Reconsiders the decision to end this specific funding;
Reconsiders the expectation that local authorities should find the money for crisis support from general funding;
Implements a review of local authorities to fully understand the variance in crisis support delivery; the performance impact and outcomes of spend; and the reasons for underspend by some. A consultation was promised by Government to understand the consequences of funding withdrawal;
Acknowledges the excellent work and value derived from local authority/voluntary sector partnerships; and promote exemplar cases for other authorities to emulate;
Continues the funding of this vital support to local authorities.
There is a genuine and real fear that as the State retreats on this issue, the voluntary sector will be expected to step in. The Sector will do as much as it can but the demand is currently too great.
Headline Survey Findings
Over 343,000 households were supported by the network of furniture re-use charities in 2013-14.
50+ innovative Local Welfare Assistance schemes exist in England that are assisting thousands of in-crisis individuals and families. Local authorities and local taxpayers are achieving excellent financial, social and environmental cost savings particularly when delivered in partnership with local voluntary sector organisations.
On the whole, these successful Local Welfare Assistance schemes have been delivered because:
The local authority/voluntary sector relationship pre-dated the April 2013 start-date of the new responsibility for local authorities; and the authority had a good understanding of the capacity and capability of local organisations.
The voluntary sector took the lead and put a ready-made solution on the table at a time when local authorities were unsure how to manage their new responsibility.
Two thirds of the furniture, clothing and small household goods are second-hand and would otherwise have been destined for landfill. By re-using `waste’ rather than buying new, limited local authority budgets have been fully maximised. It just makes sense.
FRN members have experienced 40-100% increase in demand for goods and services in the last financial year. Unfortunately, they’re not always able to help.
All members are concerned about the future once the Fund ends. The inevitability is that people in crisis will turn to sources of cash that could lead to a greater spiral of debt.
Some of the reasons for underspend or early scheme closure include:
Insufficient data supplied to local authorities from the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) prior to scheme commencement resulting in the setting of strict eligibility criteria for potential claimants;
Panic and uncertainty about the scale and method of service implementation by local authorities;
Strong partnerships exist between voluntary sector organisations and the District Councils; because of the uncertainty surrounding the scale and demand upon the Fund, some District Councils passed the responsibility to County Councils who invariably didn’t have the relationship with the voluntary sector, nor with the typical client base requiring crisis support.
Benefits of Local Partnership Working
Furniture re-use charities are on the front-line of crisis support. They understand and support the often complex needs that low income individuals and families have to endure every day. These organisations are able to provide essential goods, services and often unquantifiable levels of support, such as counselling and other forms of emotional help and guidance.
While acknowledging that the provision of support for people in crisis across England is a postcode lottery and will worsen if the fund is scrapped, the survey confirms FRN’s view that strong voluntary sector/local authority partnerships are the most effective vehicle for meeting the needs of people in crisis, whilst delivering excellent financial, social and environmental cost savings.
Waste is a Poverty Issue
Two-thirds of the goods supplied by FRN members during 2013-14 to in-crisis recipients are second-hand and would have been sent to landfill or incineration.
FRN has long advocated that waste is a poverty issue.
FRN members are reusing over 110,000 tonnes of product per year which saves low income families over £350million per year.
Poverty and austerity mean that the urgent need for these goods is not going away and we need to stop wasting when others have nothing. The crazy reality is that today, to meet that need, our sector is having to source NEW products to help low income households. Yet, there are approximately 3 million more items in the UK waste stream that we could re-use.
Bristol City Council presents a sensible and innovative example of service commissioning when it issued a contract tender for its Local Welfare Assistance Fund early 2013, which specifically stated that a high % of supplied goods must be second-hand.
Local Authority Waste Departments are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds per year on collecting and disposing of bulky waste – on average 30% is reusable – and some Local Authority Revenue & Benefits Departments are spending crisis funds on purchasing new essential goods to help people in crisis.
This is far too much waste on a number of unacceptable levels.
For more information on this subject: http://www.frn.org.uk/frn-news/301-frn-says-waste-increases-poverty-for-millions-of-uk-households.html
About – Furniture Re-use Network
The FRN leads and represents over 300 furniture and electrical re-use charities across the UK – 250 are based in England. Our aim and that of our members is to alleviate material poverty, through the provision of low-cost or free household goods. On average each year, our sector helps over 950,000 households across the whole of the UK. In 2012/13 the FRN network reused 2.7millions items of furniture and electrical equipment.