This week, the government committed to making a fresh decision on how Local Welfare Assistance Schemes (LWAS) (also called Local Welfare Provision) will be funded in 2015/16. Their decision will be informed by a thorough examination of how schemes are functioning, and the needs of those that benefit from them - great news for the vulnerable people that rely on them in times of need.
DWP has already started a review of the schemes, and, once completed, this will be used to inform their decision. This review is based on a basic questionnaire that all local authorities have been asked to complete and in depth interviews with a smaller number of local authorities. Some other organisations have or will also be feeding information and evidence into this review.
The government will also take the time to consider their equalities duties. We know that families and individuals from groups protected by the Equalities Act are over-represented amongst LWAS recipients. This is an opportunity for the government to fully consider how funding decisions affect these groups.
They will also run a public consultation which will be open to a broad range of organisations. We would encourage you to consider responding to this consultation once it is opened, and we will be doing all we can to promote the consultation.
The decision on funding for 2015/16 will be made in time for the Local Government Finance Settlement in December. We are not yet sure about when the consultation will open, but we expect the review to be completed before the end of October.
This commitment was made as a result of the settlement of a judicial review brought by a disabled man in Cheshire, Christian Jump. He was challenging the Government’s decision to cease grant funding for LWAS. Child Poverty Action Group were acting as Interveners in the case, and London Borough of Islington were an Interested Party. We are pleased that we have managed to get this decision without having to go to court. We feel that this settlement gives the opportunity for a thorough decision making process where the voice of vulnerable people can be heard.
LWAS are integral to our social security system. It has long been recognised that those on low incomes cannot manage one-off, unexpected costs. LWAS funding enables families to flee domestic violence and avoid homelessness, young people to set up home after leaving institutions, and disabled people to buy items to help with independent living. It provides a vital life line for people in need.
We would like the government's funding decision to recognise this role within the social security system. This would mean providing adequate and clearly designated funding for the schemes. LWAS may be a case where a ring-fence, or at least strong guidance, is required to ensure that local authorities deliver this vital support in the best way possible
At Child Poverty Action Group, we are looking forward to working with the government to find the most effective way of supporting our poorest families, and ensuring that their voices are clearly heard in the decision making process.