A study conducted by the cross-party group London Councils has found that the support provided by councils in the capital is a crucial safety net to households that find themselves in financial crisis, as well as suggesting that councils should receive long-term funding from the government to maintain local welfare services.
The first in-depth research of its kind, the independent, commissioned research delved into the role that boroughs are playing in helping residents through their local Welfare Assistance (LWA) schemes.
Following the research, London Councils says that the provision for long-term funding is needed “more than ever due to the severe cost of living pressures” that are being faced by residents on low incomes. It also cautioned that local authorities’ ability to support residents is restricted by tight funding constraints.
London Councils’ Executive Member for Communities, Cllr Claire Holland, said:
“It’s hard to overstate how tough things are for some people at the moment. Huge numbers of Londoners are struggling to make ends meet - and boroughs are doing everything we can to help the most vulnerable escape spiralling financial crisis.
As this research shows, councils’ local welfare services provide a vital safety net. We’re often our residents’ last hope and a bulwark against homelessness and despair. Boroughs believe the money invested in this sport pays real dividends, not only by assisting those in crisis but also through avoiding additional costs to the wider public sector.
“Time and time again councils have proven themselves invaluable partners to the government when targeting support to those most in need. Re-establishing government funding for local welfare schemes would strengthen our ability to help residents and prevent bad situations turning worse.”
Research firm Policy in Practice led the analysis, which was co-funded by the Greater London Authority, with the evaluation of LWA schemes finding:
- “A vast range of events can cause financial crisis and trigger and application for welfare assistance. Examples included domestic abuse, flooding of homes, redundancy, and bereavement. Many applicants had experienced sever delays in receiving benefits payments, suggesting delivery problems in the national benefits system are a factor in driving demand for local welfare support.
- Typically, all other support routes have been exhausted before residents request help from their council. Applicants reported that their only other options would be extremely risky and potentially harmful, including living without electricity, taking out unsuitable loans, and stopping eating.
- Council rent arrears of LWA residents decreased significantly compared to an average increase for all low-income households, strongly suggesting that LWA provision has a positive impact on housing security and homelessness prevention.
- As well as benefitting from the monetary support, LWA recipients reported improved mental health from knowing that a safety net exists and that council staff were working to help them.
- LWA provision enables councils to respond to hardship in their communities flexibly and strategically, including through signposting recipients to other local services and supporting them through better budgeting and debt management approaches.”
The research concluded that not only does the government rely on local authorities to distribute a number of funding pots to help those in need, as well as the fact that local authority finances are under considerable financial pressure themselves. This would mean that dedicated government funding would boost the abilities of boroughs to support their residents in financial crisis.