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Maria is one of thousands of parents up and down the country who have received support from their council through local welfare provision funding. She was living with her abusive partner and her child, with no access to the household’s money, and no family in the country. When she took the brave step of fleeing her husband to a Solace Women’s Aid refuge, she was reliant on this funding to help her set up a new home for her and her child. Understandably, since then Maria’s focus has been on rebuilding her life.

Incredibly, schemes like the one that Maria relied on are now under serious threat.

In the pre-Christmas Provisional Local Government Settlement, Kris Hopkins announced an end to dedicated central government funding for them.  But he also included in the settlement documents a question on how the schemes should be funded and said that he would take into account responses to the proposed cut before a final settlement is made in February.

Councils have received funding for local welfare assistance schemes since April 2013 when the discretionary social fund was abolished.  The schemes fulfil a function that has been long recognised. Low incomes and benefits are set at a level that does not allow households to build up reserves so when faced with a critical need, people need access to funding for one-off or unexpected costs, such as an oven breaking, a fire at home, or a new bed for a growing child.

For the first two years, these schemes were funded by a Department for Work & Pensions grant of £174m a year, but this is set to end in April. If Whitehall pulls the plug on these schemes, town halls will be expected to fund schemes from their general grant – even though three quarters have said that, without separately identifiable funding, they would have to scale back or close down their schemes.

The Government is expected to give its final decision soon (the consultation ended yesterday). Without these schemes, it is hard to imagine how vulnerable people like Maria would cope when a critical unforeseen need arises, and threatens crisis.  But what we do know is that when you cut crisis support for the poorest, you heap more misery on them, push them closer to the edge and towards high-cost credit lenders.

And as well as the human cost, in the long run, costs to the state are likely to increase dramatically. CPAG has heard of cases in which local welfare grants have prevented children from being taken into care, allowed ex-offenders to set up homes and reduce the risk of re-offending, and enabled vulnerable people to leave hospital or supported accommodation. So, axing the dedicated, central funding for the schemes would be a false economy as well as a cruel blow to the most vulnerable in our communities.

 Megan Jarvie is London Campaign Coordinator at Child Poverty Action Group