We’re delighted that Wandsworth Council has listened to calls from local community groups like ours, and has this week announced its local lifeline for residents in severe hardship in the year ahead.
We believe local welfare assistance like the Wandsworth Discretionary Social Fund (WDSF) can provide a lifeline for residents impacted by loss of work or hours, sickness, domestic violence and other life shocks – reducing the need for emergency food aid, and helping to prevent a financial emergency from escalating into a more sustained crisis.
This week Wandsworth Council has agreed a budget of £550,000 for the WDSF for 2021/22. This is more than twice the pre-pandemic budget set for this scheme.
This increased budget means that some of the positive changes we called for during the pandemic will continue, including:
- Families and individuals in extreme financial hardship can receive up to three awards of food and fuel vouchers, or essential furniture and white goods, in 12 months (rather than two, pre-pandemic)
- People who are refugees, or seeking asylum, or migrants subject to No Recourse to Public Funds restrictions, can apply for much-needed help
- People can get help to apply online by phoning Citizens Advice Wandsworth on 020 4529 0674 between 10am and 12 noon, Monday to Friday. At the start of the pandemic, the only way to access crisis grants was online – meaning people who were digitally excluded faced a barrier to help.
We know it makes a difference. One mother we’ve supported, who fled domestic violence with her children carrying just a bag each, received an Asda voucher for £100 just before Christmas. She said ‘I needed to buy some food and things for my children and it was so very helpful. Our move was an emergency move so I didn’t even have much underwear for them, so I bought them it – and we didn’t have winter clothing so I bought them one coat each.’
Since the start of the pandemic, Wandsworth Council has received more than £3million in government grants to support residents experiencing financial hardship and poverty – funding which was targeted and/or ring-fenced for providing crisis help with food, gas and electricity, warm clothes and essential bills.
Some of this has gone into the WDSF, and we were also glad that the Council agreed to use some of this funding to provide £15 per child/per week supermarket vouchers to families whose children receive Free School Meals, during school holidays since Christmas.
Now this week the government has announced a further £160million for local authorities, so that residents can ‘get help with food and essential utility bills as we move back towards normality’.
With the impact of the pandemic continuing to be felt by many local residents; with evictions re-starting; with child poverty continuing to rise across the borough; and with our voluntary sector services continuing to be stretched as never before, we look forward to seeing how Wandsworth Council will use this latest funding to get money into the pockets of residents in greatest need.
We also continue to encourage Wandsworth Council to strengthen and invest in the WDSF – a vital local lifeline for residents – beyond 2022.