Axing a fund that provides emergency support to people in a short-term crisis in Horsham would be ‘almost unconceivable’ according to one charity.
The Government announced earlier this year it would not be continuing funding to local authorities which helps charity Horsham Matters assist people in an emergency after 2015.
The service offers things such as food parcels, beds, sofas, cookers or washing machines to those on benefits or low income suffering a crisis or emergency.
Speaking to the County Times last week Guy Sherlock, services director at Horsham Matters, described his disbelief at the Government’s decision, how many people helped by the service walked out ‘in tears’, and said he dreaded to think what would happen without it.
He said: “My first reaction was utter disbelief. It’s almost unconceivable that money could not be made available for these people because it’s such an effective use of money.
“We are preventing a great deal of downstream issues arising further.
“We are extremely efficient at dealing with this service and the bang for buck is amazing.”
The Government’s Local Welfare Assistance Fund (LWAF) helps fund West Sussex County Council’s Local Assistance Network.
The LAN’s £1.24m budget helps the network of charities in West Sussex, including Horsham Matters, implement the services on the ground.
It is one of several projects run by Horsham Matters, which has charity shops in East Street and Guildford Road, Horsham.
Typical examples of people coming into the Horsham charity’s headquarters in Blatchford Road are those who have had their benefits stopped and are desperate for food, or others who may have moved house and cannot afford to buy furniture.
One woman came in having survived without a cooker for six months, living off cold or microwaved food.
After sitting down with the person and providing basic information Guy goes through what is needed, and if they can provide it they will.
He added: “The vast majority can’t believe we will give them all this stuff and a good percentage will walk out of here in tears.
“The great majority are in desperate need and are phenomenally grateful.
“Some times it can be very painful and quite distressing. You hear stories that are almost beyond belief.
“The hardship they have suffered is quite horrendous and you wonder how on earth you can help them.”
He added: “It’s a very fine line between survival and it does not take much. A small crisis can tip people over the edge.”
Guy has posted several thank you letters from people who have been helped by the service on Horsham Matters’ website.
One reads: “I am so grateful to you for getting me a cooker, I’ve been without one for six months and you won’t believe what a difference you have made to my life.”
Another says: “Thank you to you all for the love and care you give, to not only me in my hour of need, but to all those going through troubled times. If it wasn’t for your kind hearts lots of people would be suffering in the UK right now.”
As well as providing goods the network flags up other services that may benefit people who use their service.
For example if they were providing furniture for a woman on her own and saw she was pregnant they might refer her to a pregnancy crisis centre, or if a person is in debt, they can be given the details for the Horsham Debt Advice Service.
Guy added: “I dread to think where people would go instead, perhaps to loan sharks.”
He praised the work of the county council in overseeing the network of charities, and believes the LAN as a whole is getting better and better at delivering services.
He explained: “They saw themselves as the cornerstone of it. They did not want to be responsible for the day to day delivery of it. They wanted to put this network of charities together to deliver it.”
The charities involved meet on a quarterly basis to discuss issues they come across and the best way to deliver a unified response.
Guy added: “The communication between the charities has been fundamental to its success under the direction of the county council. They are very much part of what we want to do. They are not just there to write a cheque.”
Since the Government’s announcement both West Sussex County Council and Horsham District Council, as well as Horsham Matters, have called on the Government to reverse its decision on the fund.
But responding to a letter by David Sheldon, chief executive of Horsham Matters Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, suggested it would be up to local authorities in the future to fund the LAN through their reduced Revenue Support Grant (RSG).
He wrote: “The Government believes that it makes most sense for local authorities in England to choose how much funding to allocate these services in their areas in future and how to provide such support.
“So from 2015/16, when local authorities have become accustomed to and mainstreamed their new responsibilities, such support will be funded from within their general fund.”
But Louise Goldsmith, leader at the county council, has written to Horsham MP Francis Maude inviting him to visit Horsham Matters and talk about the future of the emergency welfare fund.
She has also written to Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government.
In her letter to Mr Maude Mrs Goldsmith expressed her disappointment that the decision to scrap the fund had been made before the promised review was undertaken.
As WSCC made cuts to its budget because of a drop in central Government funding she said finding funding for the network would be an ‘additional pressure’.