Councillor Whybrow explains: “We know that the number of people experiencing severe hardship has increased, with the government’s attack on benefits being a major cause, along with the rising cost of living. A system that fails to release funds for those that need it most looks to be fundamentally flawed, so there needs to be a reappraisal of eligibility criteria and we also have to make sure that KCC does not divert any remaining funds for other purposes.”
The Kent Support and Assistance Service (KSAS) was established by KCC on 1 April 2013 following the introduction of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which transferred the management of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Social Fund and Community Care Grants to 150 local authorities across England.
The devolved funding is used to help people on low income manage during crisis situations, such as helping when gas and electricity have been cut off, providing cash for food, the purchase of cookers, furniture or clothes. However, instead of providing cash, KSAS generally provides vouchers and help in kind to people facing economic difficulties.
For Kent, there were two grants provided from the DWP comprising an Administration Funding Grant of £605,142 and a Programme Funding grant of £2,863,798. This total funding grant amounts to £3,468,940 for the current financial year (from 1st April 2013).
By 21st January 2014, almost 10 months into the financial year, KSAS had only spent £939,991 of this budget, with the rest unspent. At this point, 22,401 enquiries had been received seeking advice, support and assistance. From these enquiries, 6,702 applications for goods and services had been made, resulting in 4,028 households being granted an award. The total number of awards was 7,415 as often households will have more than one award in a single application e.g. a single application may request food, energy and clothing.
To put this into context, there were more than 20,000 cases of people being offered help in a crisis in the final year of the Community Care Grant and Social Fund (1).
Thanet Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver, said: “The money allocated to KSAS is not ring-fenced and any underspends at the end of the financial year can be used for other purposes. The scheme needs to be better publicised and we want assurances that the large amount that will be left at the end of April will be added to the funding for 2014/15.”
Councillor Whybrow is also concerned about the criteria. “It is clear that many on benefits are now the victims of unwarranted sanctioning, typically with little or no warning, and this can cause immediate hardship. I know from talking to people in this situation and from voluntary groups that work with the vulnerable, there is amazement that at the moment when help is most needed, these people are seldom deemed eligible for KSAS, with the official explanation being that this would be, in the words of KCC, undermining the work of the DWP.”
FURTHER INFORMATION: Councillor Ian Driver, Tel: 07866 588767, or Martin Whybrow on 07787 124794
Promoted by Stuart Jeffery for Kent Green Party, 82 Buckland Road, Maidstone ME16 0SD
KENT GREEN NEWS, free ezine, is available by subscription at www.kentgreenparty.org
The breakdown of the number and costs of the goods and services that have provided to residents under KSAS to 21st January is:
Year to 21/1 Food Energy Equipment Travel Cash Total awards
Number of awards 3,658 2,172 1,471 18 96 7,415
Spend £309,545 £102,571 £519,695 £1,059 £7,121 £939,991
Value of awards by district:
Ashford 9.30%Canterbury 7.12%
Tonbridge & Malling 3.75%
Tunbridge Wells 3.35%
1.See spreadsheet attached to this e-mail. Figures produced by the Guardian. See http://www.theguardian.com/politics/datablog/2014/apr/20/the-crisis-in-local-welfare-assistance-explained