Friday, 24 October 2014

KCC short-changing Kent’s poorest residents

Kent Green Party is calling on Kent County Council (KCC) to honour its obligations to support the county’s most vulnerable and impoverished residents. The council is threatening to take away money allocated for people in dire need and use this to cover overspending elsewhere.

When pressed on this issue by Green Party KCC member for Hythe, Martin Whybrow, at today’s full council meeting, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Finance and Procurement, John Simmonds, admitted that KCC would only consider rolling over the underspend on the council’s Kent Support & Assistance Service (KSAS) if the authority as a whole achieved underspending of at least this amount.

KSAS provides support for people having serious difficulties managing their income or facing exceptional pressures because of an emergency or crisis. It provides essential home items such as groceries (for up to seven days), clothing, young child and baby food, milk and nappies, furniture, bedding, and electrical appliances plus help with utilities (gas and electric, for up to seven days) and emergency travel arrangements.

KSAS is funded by the Local Welfare Assistance Fund (LWAF), a budget allocated to local authorities since 2013 by central government to support people in urgent need. The fund was created under the 2012 Welfare Reform Act to replace Social Fund Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans, previously administered by the Department for Work and Pensions.

KCC is predicting an underspend on KSAS of £2.691 million and, as Councillor Whybrow has argued, this should be rolled over to extend the service for at least another year (it is unclear whether there will be any additional central government money to support the scheme beyond the current year). Some voluntary agencies in the county have been critical of KSAS, arguing that it has been hard to access and has placed too many obstacles on claimants, but KCC has previously stated that it has been cautious because of the uncertainty of future funding. Now it is proposing to take the predicted £2.691 million to prop up other departments that have not made their budget targets.

Councillor Whybrow says: “This money should clearly be ring-fenced for the purpose for which it was intended. But it is clear that KCC is eyeing up the fund as a means to cover shortfalls elsewhere. This is at a time when many people in Kent need help more than ever before, because of the increasing levels of inequality.”

Links: KSAS

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