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Nowhere to Turn

JANUARY 21, 2020

Research from the Children's Society reveals that thousands of families in financial crisis are missing out on vital emergency support with parents being left at risk of debt and struggling to afford basics like feeding and clothing their children and heating the home following government funding cuts which have seen crisis support scaled back.

The Nowhere to Turn report found that:

  • In 2012/13 there were 1.3m applications to the Government for crisis support, of which 737,000 were successful.  Using data obtained through Freedom of Information requests, the charity found that under council-run schemes, applications for the same kind of support fell to 320,000 in 2015/16, of which 208,000 were successful, and to 284,000 in 2017/18, of which just 187,000 qualified for help.
  • Councils spent £41m on crisis support  schemes last year - less than a third of the £130m the Government suggests they should, and a fraction of the £267m that was spent under the equivalent parts of the old scheme in 2010/11.  Between 2015/16 and 2017/18 two thirds of councils cut spending on the schemes and nearly one fifth have slashed spending on them by more than half.

The Children’s Society says the fall in applications for local welfare assistance schemes reflects strict eligibility criteria introduced by cash-strapped councils, including requirements by some to have explored accessing a food bank or borrowing from relatives or a commercial lender, and to receive out of work benefits in order to have a chance of support. 

It says this - along with the fact that 23 councils have scrapped their schemes entirely, and others do little to promote them - means many more families are being denied help than its figures suggest.

The Children’s Society wants new guidance to ensure councils consider the presence of children when assessing applications, make decisions within 24-hours in emergencies, open schemes to people in work, and ensure awards available from all councils include cash and support with child-related costs like school uniform.

Particular concern was raised to the plight of 16 and 17 year olds who do not have a supportive family to rely on financially. Many of these are not in the care of local councils and live independently in hostels and supported accommodation. We estimate that every year around 12,000 young people seek help from their local councils because of the risk of homelessness but only around 1,000 of them get accommodated by local authorities as looked after children. Almost twice as many are put in hostels or semi supported accommodation as ‘children in need’ or under the Housing Act provisions. Many more children will not even get an appropriate assessment of need and will continue in unstable living conditions, for example, sofa
surfing with friends and family.

Even though they are still children, the research showed that Government support is woefully inadequate. 60,61 Sixteen and 17 year olds are entitled to a national minimum wage of only around half the rate for those aged 25. If out of work, and if they have not been taken into local authority care, then they can only rely on benefits in particular circumstances, such as if they are a young parent, orphaned or 'estranged' from their parents. Even
where they can access support, they will receive less than adults.

Broader action is also required from central government to tackle the key underlying drivers that are pushing families into financial crisis:

  • The assessment and appeals processes for disability-related benefits should be reviewed and the loss of entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance during ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ abolished.
  • Benefit sanctions should be reviewed to ensure that safeguards are in place to prevent any rise in unemployment rates being accompanied by an increase in the proportion of claimants sanctioned.
  • No one should wait more than two weeks for their first payment of Universal Credit.
  • The freeze on Local Housing Allowance rates should be ended and the link between support for housing costs and local rents re-established.
  • The eligibility criteria for Budgeting Loans should be extended to cover all families in receipt of Universal Credit. This would to help families to manage temporary cash flow problems without relying on high-cost credit.
  • Currently LWAS are classed as a ‘public fund’, meaning that it cannot be used to support those with ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) including those with leave to remain in the UK. The NRPF condition should not be applied to families with dependent children.
  • There needs to be significant new investment in community mental health care and debt advice services to ensure that these services can be readily accessed within every local community.  
  • Every part of the country should have strong, formalised, networks to facilitate ‘warm referrals’ between different council departments and organisations across the statutory and voluntary sectors which help to prevent crisis. The local crisis support network needs to move beyond simple signposting, which is generally seen to be ineffective in ensuring that people in crisis receive the holistic support they need.

You can read the report in full here The Nowhere to Turn report 

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