Many readers will be totally unaware of the Local Welfare Assistance Fund, which has proved a real Godsend to people in tight financial situations without the possibility of help from other sources.
I could cite many examples of where a relatively small amount of money has made a very large difference to people who are in pretty dire circumstances. Through this fund, which has funded our own Local Assistance Network, many are back on their feet and financially independent.
By the end of this financial year, the network will have handled 6,100 successful applications, two-thirds of which will have been made by individuals. It is a fine example of cost-effective preventative early intervention very much in line with the county council’s belief and policy to help people to help themselves.
Through the Local Assistance Network, West Sussex has set up a network of voluntary and community groups who are able to meet urgent need by providing assistance in kind, such as furniture, vouchers for food banks or other household essentials.
So I have to admit to being dismayed by the news that the Government is withdrawing this fund, leaving councils, such as West Sussex, facing a potentially difficult decision as to where to find the added costs of helping out families who find themselves in crisis situations.
We will hopefully be debating this issue following a notice of motion being put to the next full council meeting on April 11.
While we all understand and accept the need to make savings and deliver efficiencies, and West Sussex County Council has certainly played its part, this is a cut too far, and I hope the Government will be prepared to revisit its decision.
We had set up exactly what the Government wanted us to set up and we know it has helped people who needed help at the most vulnerable point in their lives and for whom there will be no other options other than loan sharks who will charge extortionate rates of interest.
It means we will have some unpalatable choices ahead of us in deciding where in our budget the £1.24million sum will come from in future years.
We would urge residents and all our stakeholder partners in West Sussex to write to their local MPs.
This is a campaign we cannot afford to lose.
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