“We simply won’t be able to cope” is the response from many members of the Furniture Re-use Network (FRN) to today’s news from the Local Government Association that almost three-quarters of local authorities will abandon or scale back welfare schemes designed to provide emergency help for England’s most vulnerable citizens from next April because of government funding cuts.
As one furniture re-use charity based in Lincolnshire put it, “The Lincolnshire Community Assistance Scheme is very effective and is operated by a group of charities – we’re not one of them; however, through fundraising and a small grant from a local housing association we’re able to help people in crisis who fall outside of the Council’s eligibility criteria. The Council has a budget in the £100,000s; we’ve less than £20,000. We will be swamped and we simply won’t be able to help everyone who will turn up at our warehouse if the council ends its funding”.
Others echo this fact but are also concerned about where people in crisis are going.
“We’ve spoken with a number of members and they’ve experienced a significant drop in people and families being referred by the traditional referral agencies for essential goods”, says FRN spokesperson, Helen Middleton, “If they’re not getting help from the Council, are they turning to payday lenders and loan sharks instead”?
The picture differs across the country. Increasing numbers of people in crisis are turning up having been referred by the local authority but no money to back it up. Helen continues: “The need is still there but the money isn’t. Our members are helping as much as they can but they can’t give away the stuff for free. One furniture re-use charity in Devon provides 5 items of furniture for £55 and for extra £15 will provide an essential large electrical appliance such as washing machine. This is a phenomenal piece of support but they would soon disappear too if they didn’t charge something”.
In the final 6 months of the local welfare assistance schemes, many local authorities are tightening their eligibility criteria. Increasingly, it feels like FRN members and the `Big Society’ in general are by stealth, becoming the last financial safety net for those in crisis.
Notes to Editor
Feedback from FRN Members:
“We’ve had a great relationship with Mid Devon, East Devon and Exeter City Councils but we’re now getting people turning up who have been referred by the councils but without funding. We think this is because the councils have tightened up their eligibility criteria because funding is running out. We’re sure of this because we always ask people who turn up if they are aware that the funded scheme exists because the local job centres never seem to tell people of this option. They are aware, but they’ve been referred without supported funds.
Typically, we help people who have been living in temporary accommodation (e.g. B&Bs) for months and have found accommodation and need to buy basic furniture. If they can gather together £55 we will give 5 items of furniture. For an extra £15 we will give them an essential electrical appliance such as a washing machine or a cooker. We give away things like bedding, curtains, cooking implements, crockery etc., but this can only continue if the general public continue to donate their unwanted but reusable furniture and household goods and we can obtain funding from grant-giving bodies. Our major worry is people with mental health issues who have to go through this process completely unsupported and have no money to buy these basic essential items”.
Pam Rice, Turntable Furniture Scheme, Devon
We receive less than £5,000 from a local housing association to help their tenants with the provision of essential household goods when they first move into new properties; and we have been successful with fundraising and have £7,000 for the year to help people and families who turn up at Renew needing help. We would not cope if the local authority’s funded scheme ended (£1million per year provision). People currently helped by this scheme would turn instead to charities like Renew. The number of people coming to Renew has not changed dramatically since the local authority scheme began but we are dealing with the families who do not meet the council’s eligibility criteria such as:
People who have lived in the area less than 3 months;
People who have received 3 pieces of help from the council already (a 3 strikes and you’re out rule) which is really unfortunate if a family has used the food bank 3 times.
People who appear to have a large income but don’t. We work with the local women’s refuge and a woman/family fleeing domestic violence may appear to have a large income but it is her husband’s and she can’t access it.
We apply a very loose eligibility criteria. It’s better to give people the benefit of the doubt. We know who is genuinely struggling”.
Mark Egan, Renew Louth, Lincolnshire
“Helping people in crisis is our core reason for being. Historically, referral agents (e.g. The Council (Homeless Families Dept); Housing Associations; Funded organisations etc.,) send people and families to us, accompanied with a small bit of funding, so we can provide them with basic essential items. These items include single bed(s); a sofa; possibly a wardrobe/chest of drawers. We provide items that would cost hundreds of pounds if purchased new, for as little as £40. This funding has disappeared.
We’ve had no contact from Manchester City Council for many months and referrals have dropped by over 60%. This does not mean the need has dropped. The issue is `who pays’?
The Council isn’t paying; Housing Associations aren’t. If families are able to rustle up £40 we’ll help them as much as possible but we simply can’t give away this stuff for free. We think local church groups are helping too, but where else are people going?”
Richard Lockwood, The Wesley Community Furniture Scheme, Manchester
The Furniture re-use Network (FRN) is the national body which supports, assists and develops charitable re‐use organisations (the social economy re-use sector).
We do this to reduce poverty by helping households in need access furniture, appliances and other household items at affordable prices.
The FRN is primarily concerned with welfare and material poverty alleviation.
The FRN is a leading member of the coalition of 20 charities and other organisations, which includes The Children’s Society and Child Poverty Action Group. We are campaigning to persuade Government to reconsider its decision to abolish this essential funding effective 1st April 2015.
We have recently commented on the Government’s decision to review their initial decision.
Context to this press release: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/06/councils-slash-emergency-welfare-schemes-government-cuts?CMP=twt_gu
Local welfare assistance schemes were set up in 152 local authorities in England in April, after the old, nationally administered social fund was "localised" as part of the Welfare Reform Act.
In April 2013, the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) created a two-year financial settlement of £347 million for local authorities to administer a local `hardship’ fund. DWP funding will end April next year, with all future decisions on funding resting with the Department of Communities and Local Government.
For further Information:
Market Development Manager
Furniture Re-use Network
Tel: 07726 358243