Nearly 6,000 residents have relied on food parcels and almost 450 people accessed crisis loans from a Rotherham Council backed emergency scheme in the last year.
The Council is set to continue providing the safety net service for people who find themselves unable to afford food or in desperate need of a short term loan for an overdue utility bill or basic essential furniture, such as a bed, and will be reviewing the scheme to make sure it works as effectively as possible.
With current arrangements set to expire in March 2020, proposals to continue funding crisis loans and supplying food for food banks will be discussed by the Council’s Cabinet on 21 October.
The Council originally stepped in to provide crisis support provision after the Government axed its Discretionary Social Fund in March 2013 and stopped providing local welfare funding all together in 2015. At that point it was down to individual authorities to decide if they would continue to provide support, with no Government funding available.
With no indication that the demand for support is likely to reduce, the Council is setting out plans to work with a lead voluntary sector partner for crisis support services over the medium term – 2020/21 to 2022/23.
It is proposed to maintain Council funding for the service at the same level - £100,000 per year.
Councillor Chris Read, Leader of Rotherham Council, said: “The Council’s crisis support fund is the final welfare safety net for local people who have nowhere else to turn. For many service users, the support they receive prevents a very difficult situation from becoming impossible.
“People get into difficulties for numerous reasons – it can be a benefit sanction or delay in processing benefit payments, a change of job with different pay day, family crisis, poverty pay or sudden loss of hours on a zero hours contract. The switch to Universal Credit has hit people particularly hard.
“That’s why we need to continue to provide this funding, and we will be working with partners from the voluntary sector to make sure it meets local needs into the future.”
In 2018/19, 433 Rotherham residents accessed crisis loans worth a total value of £34,585 while 4,408 emergency food parcels were used to feed 5,867 local people.
Most crisis loans were issued to people to cover general living expenses, such as food and bills, but were also required for basic electrical goods and furnishings or in lieu of delayed benefits payments. But not everyone in a crisis situation is able to access an emergency loan because responsible lending regulations mean they must be able to demonstrate they can repay the loan.
Low income is the most common reason for people needing to access emergency food provision, followed by delays to benefits.
If the proposal to extend the Crisis Support (Local Welfare Provision) scheme is approved, the Council will invite bids for a lead voluntary sector organisation to work alongside the Council and other bodies in a co-design project in accordance with the Rotherham Compact.