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A London-wide approach is now needed to improve the safety net for London’s most vulnerable – Stephen Knight

March 27, 2015 10:38 AM

A hardship fund designed to protect the poorest in society is failing to deliver since it was devolved to local councils in 2013 is the key finding in a report published today by Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member Stephen Knight.

The report reveals that for the second year in a row many London Boroughs are unlikely to even spend their allocated budget of local welfare assistance (LWA).

The report, based on freedom of information requests sent to every London Borough, reveals that:

  • Three quarters through the financial year London boroughs were sitting on almost £15 million of unspent cash
  • Only six London Boroughs are on track to spend their budgets in full by the end of the financial year 2014 - 2015.
  • Kingston upon Thames has the lowest budget, but is also the worst performing borough at spending it.
  • Lewisham has the third largest budget but is the second worst performing borough at spending it, and has the lowest application success rate.

The report recommends a number of improvements that could quickly be made to the scheme, including sharing of best practice on fund management, increased publicity of local schemes and changes in funding arrangements from central Government.

However the report's key recommendation is that the running of local welfare assistance should be overseen in future by the Greater London Authority, with minimum London-wide standards set to ensure that all Londoners suffering hardship get the support they need and for the GLA to have the power to redistribute unspent funds from one borough to another. .

Highlighting the need for this fundamental change Stephen Knight said:

"I have long been an advocate of devolving more powers down to London Boroughs, however when it comes to the local welfare assistance all the evidence shows that London boroughs have not been successful in administering the scheme. There is clearly a need for strategic oversight of provision to ensure that all Londoners suffering from hardship get access to a minimum level of support, whilst enabling boroughs to add to provision locally in line with local priorities and needs.

"If the Government were to give the total funding for London Boroughs to the Greater London Authority to distribute and oversee, we could remove the postcode lottery and areas of the capital would not run out of funding while others sit on unspent cash.

"Giving the Greater London Authority strategic oversight of the schemes would also mean that the capital could shout with one voice when negotiating with central Government about welfare funding."