A “wholesale redesign of the national framework for local welfare” is needed to help London boroughs tackle poverty and support low-income residents, according to a new report by London Councils.
Supporting Low-Income Londoners: The Future of Local Welfare makes the case for giving boroughs a leading role in locally administered support as the most effective means of responding to residents’ welfare needs and moving from crisis management to prevention.
With pressures continuing to grow on low-income Londoners due to welfare reform, housing costs and stunted wage growth, boroughs want the government to have a renewed focus on local solutions. The report warns that the current approach is overly centralised and undermines boroughs’ contribution to welfare provision.
The termination of Universal Support in April this year, through which councils were funded to support Universal Credit claimants, ended local authorities’ formal role in this flagship government policy. In 2015/16 the government abolished national funding for Local Welfare Assistance – emergency payments made by councils to residents facing financial crisis. Years of continued reductions in local authority budgets have curtailed councils’ ability to support households in need.
London Councils’ report proposes a new model of local welfare that provides boroughs with the freedoms and resources required to intervene early and improve support for low-income Londoners.
It calls for the Department of Work and Pensions to introduce full sharing of Universal Credit data with local authorities – including notifications of when a claimant is sanctioned or affected by the Benefit Cap – and for government funding of Local Welfare Assistance to be restored to pre-2015/16 levels.
Cllr Muhammed Butt, London Councils’ Executive Member for Welfare, Empowerment & Inclusion, said:
“Boroughs are determined to tackle poverty and support low-income Londoners, but to achieve this we need a wholesale redesign of the national framework for local welfare.
“The capital is home to some of the most deprived people in the country and the government’s welfare reforms have hit many Londoners hard. Empowering boroughs to innovate locally and provide properly resourced welfare solutions would make a huge difference to the lives of many Londoners.”
Laura Payne of the London Child Poverty Alliance said:
“The number of low income Londoners struggling financially is set to increase over coming years due to welfare reform, housing costs and low wages, and this timely report acknowledges the vital role that local welfare support schemes play in keeping families afloat.
“Many London boroughs work hard to support their most vulnerable residents and provide locally tailored support to prevent debt becoming unmanageable and to release families from the grip of poverty. But to continue to do this most effectively they need to know which families are struggling and have the money available to respond.
“DWP and local authorities must work closely together, alongside the voluntary sector, to tackle the restraints that can lock families into poverty.”
London’s poverty rates are higher than the national average and the number of London families struggling to meet essential household costs is expected to triple to 238,000 by 2020 . Recent analysis of welfare reform and tax changes found the poorest 10% of Londoners by income are set to lose £260 per year by 2021/22, while the second poorest 10% will receive £610 less.
London Councils is developing a comprehensive local welfare support offer as part of its Pledges to Londoners – a series of shared commitments on the issues that matter most to Londoners, which it will deliver over the next three years.
Supporting Low-Income Londoners: The Future of Local Welfare represents the first step towards the goal of renewed local welfare support, with London Councils wanting to work with the government in developing a more effective national framework.
- A Cumulative Impact Assessment of Tax and Welfare Reform in London, Greater London Authority (July 2019)
- Launched in April 2019, London Councils’ Pledges to Londoners brings together the pan-London priorities of the 32 boroughs and the City of London for improving the lives of residents and making the capital a great place to live, work, and do business. This is the first time London Councils and its member boroughs have signed up publicly to a series of shared commitments, which they will deliver over the next three years. More information on the Pledges to Londoners can be found here: www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/pledges