At the Community and Public Safety Scrutiny Committee on July 2, as well as a unanimous call for more progress on drug-dealing, street drinking and tackling anti-social behaviour, we examined the work of the Lincolnshire Community Assistance Scheme (LSAS).
The scheme was set up in 2013 by Lincolnshire County Council to replace Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants.
The County provides urgent help including food and water, clothing, essential household items and emergency heating and lighting to those who meet key criteria.
A number of people have had cause to approach me this year for help. Each time the LCAS team was supportive and responsive.
But, there are a number of issues. The Government only provided £3m to the council to run the scheme for two years. This small amount will not meet the needs of everyone in need of help and assistance is only short term.
Many people are unaware of the scheme and last year it was approx £200,000 underspent. The previous schemes were easier for people to access and had higher success rates nationally, according to a report by The Guardian. So, though demand is rising, it is becoming harder to access emergency help.
Grantham falls into the Indices of Multiple Deprivation with pockets of low income households, not only on our council estates but also in the town centre where people face higher rental charges as well as other living costs.
The level of poverty in our County in the coastal areas is also high. There is competition for resources.
Much blame lies with the Department of Work and Pensions. Significant delays in benefit payments are causing hardship across Lincolnshire. I called upon the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee to challenge this Government department to speed up its handling of cases.
Lincolnshire County Council is using some of its fund to signpost people to the Citizens Advice Bureau and Foodbank. Budgeting help and advice on how to join a Credit Union is also available.
Although this practical advice can be useful, a number of Scrutiny Committee councillors pointed out it is difficult to budget when you have next to nothing to live on.
Some County Councillors have supported Foodbanks using our Big Society Fund but this is discretionary. It was clear from the report provided that few County Councillors have done this due to competing needs. Despite inadequacies in the current system however, the situation is set to get worse.
In this year’s Local Government Finance Settlement the Government revealed plans not to renew the Welfare Assistance Fund beyond 2015/16 (used to support this scheme).
The Local Government Association has called upon Government Ministers to re-think. Whatever our country’s declared economic situation it is clear that not all people are benefiting.
There is a danger that with an economic upturn the needs of our most vulnerable people will be ignored. This is not a situation most decent people would want and notably many rely on friends, neighbours and family now for help.
LCAS assistance is available through the County Council office on 01522 552222.