It's time to sufficiently acknowledge and fund councils' safety net role

By Jon Rowney | 09 January 2024

The Settlement has passed.  As we digest the impact on next year’s budget, we await confirmation of whether the Household Support Fund (HSF) will continue.

In Camden, the HSF is worth £4m, supporting c.17,000 households, ranging from food vouchers and financial awards to preventing homelessness and supporting care leavers.

HSF is a critical feature of our cost-of-living crisis support as it is for many across local government. 

The uncertainty over the future of HSF is symptomatic of a deeper issue on supporting those who are financially vulnerable.

Too often, this type of funding is unstable and short-term, exacerbated by a wider funding system that has not kept up with the evolution of local councils over the last 15 years – a consequence of Whitehall’s departmentalism, a lack of constitutional protection and a range of societal events that have transformed our operating context.  Covid and the cost-of-living crisis being recent examples.

We’ve had to rise to the challenge of a national social security system which is fragmented with increasingly more people needing local support.

Our work to support people into good employment has expanded because of a growth in insecure forms of work and in-work poverty. 

Places with capacity (often through planning gain) have intervened to help deliver more relational and effective interventions for those with complex needs or those not eligible for other forms of public support.  In London, this is worth £40m.

Councils have become the vital safety net for many in our communities. 

Too often, this vital role isn’t sufficiently acknowledged nor funded.

This needs to change and be supported by both a more stable welfare settlement and a more creative approach to how we support people into work and through the welfare system.  Joined up, relational, local public services need to be at the heart of this.

This is an issue of both equity and supporting economic growth.

Jon Rowney is executive director of corporate services at Camden LBC

X – @CamdenCouncil

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Finance Welfare Homelessness Finance Settlement Cost of living