“What the pandemic has demonstrated is just how quickly people get into financial difficulties become destitute and have to turn to Universal Credit and food banks." Yvonne Atkinson
10th March 2021
Cllr Yvonne Atkinson, Labour County Councillor for Alphington and Cowick in Exeter, spoke at Devon County Council Cabinet meeting today in support of her motion on Local Welfare Assistance (LWA) promoted by the Children’s society. She said:
“What the pandemic has demonstrated is just how quickly people get into financial difficulties become destitute and have to turn to Universal Credit and food banks.
As of November 2020, there were 16,719 families with child dependents claiming Universal Credit within Devon, compared to 8,559 the year before. This represents about a 95% increase, demonstrating how many families have found themselves in crisis due to COVID-19”.
Joe Farnworth-Mayers, Local Public Affairs Officer at the Children’s Society says:
“With COVID-19 leading to more people than ever facing financial emergency, Local Welfare Assistance schemes have often been the difference between someone staying on their feet or falling into destitution. However, we are concerned that future funding is at risk, with the Winter COVID Grant scheme coming to an end by April and no further dedicated funding made available in the Local Government Financial Settlement. This is why we are urging government and local councils to ensure sustainable funding for this provision over the next financial year”.
Cllr Atkinson continued:
“It’s really positive that Devon County Council has and will continue to allocate funding for emergency support during the pandemic.
However, there is a need for a sustainable LWA scheme to make sure people’s needs can be quickly alleviated. The pandemic has shown that the current level of Universal Credit system is not sufficient to keep people out of poverty. The £20 increase will stay until September 2021 and this is part of the solution to poverty, and I welcome this but this £20 should be maintained after September. It is a political decision to keep people in poverty.
There was a discussion on Radio 4 this morning with professor Le Grand saying that there is no evidence from any of the studies carried out anywhere in the world that by giving people a minimum level of income to live on creates dependency rather than fostering independency. Therefore, giving people a higher rate of minimum income through UC and emergency payments is a good way to getting people and families back on track in difficult times.
The bureaucracy and speed of dealing with UC claims plus the statutory 5-week delay in their first payment means at the point when people are most vulnerable, the system fails to support them and adds to the turbulence of their finances. While a hardship payment can be claimed it is a loan, has to be paid back is too late and keeps people in poverty and is slow to get agreed.
Levels of financial hardship look set to be sustained, with the rate of unemployment not expected to return to pre-pandemic rates until 2024.4 In conjunction with a strong national welfare safety net, local welfare can play a crucial role in helping people out of immediate moments of crisis which threaten to pull them under. Now is the time to put long-term investment in place to build this vital infrastructure.
The establishment of a Local Welfare Assistance scheme in Devon would enable wrap-around support to address underlying needs and enable people to build their own resilience against future crises.
Given that in the last 10 years we have had a 72% cut in funding to this council this year’s funding and further funding will have to come from reserves or cuts in other services. It is clear that going forward this is unsustainable.
We need sustainable funding from both the county council and central government. We are calling for the Department for Work and Pensions to allocate at least £250 million for local welfare assistance over the next financial year, as it would bring spending on local welfare assistance in England in line with that of other UK nations.
I am grateful that the recommendation before cabinet today supports this motion.”
That Council be recommended to:
(a) maintain the Team Devon Financial Hardship scheme to support, as far as the resources permit, residents facing financial crisis for 2021/22.
(b) campaign for a new funding allocation for councils from central government to provide schemes to address financial hardship and economic vulnerability be made available at the next comprehensive spending review and protected in real terms over the following years.
(c) write to the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to request that they make such a funding allocation available to local authorities; and
(d) continue to work and engage partners as necessary to create the appropriate climate for job creation in the County to improve its prosperity