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Emergency cash from London boroughs tripled during pandemic as Brent’s leader calls for more government support

PUBLISHED: 17:03 22 October 2020

Financial support is needed by councils. Picture: Brent Council

Financial support is needed by councils. Picture: Brent Council

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Brent Council’s leader has called for more welfare assistance as figures reveal demand for emergency financial support in London boroughs almost tripled during the first three months of lockdown.

Umbrella group London Councils said Covid-19 had led to “unprecedented demand” from residents and Cllr Muhammed Butt said economic pressures are “bound to get worse” during a second wave of the virus.

Boroughs have collectively paid out almost £2.3 million in local welfare assistance between March and June.

Last year, the figure was £857,500.

Most requests came from families for small one-off payments for essentials such as gas and electric bills or travel expenses for vulnerable individuals returning home from hospital, councils said.

Local authority leaders warned further restrictions would lead to an unprecedented spike for welfare support.

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They asked the government to reduce its five-week wait for a first benefit payment under Universal Credit and introduce “starter payments” to ensure those in need have enough money to pay for food and heating during the pandemic.

Cllr Butt, who is London Councils’ executive member for welfare, said: “The crisis has brought severe financial hardship to many Londoners and an enormous surge in people approaching their local borough for help.

“A second wave of the virus means that economic pressures are bound to get worse. London boroughs will continue helping our residents as best we can.

“Even a modest amount of financial aid provided by a council can help a resident avoid spiralling debts, homelessness and other situations likely to lead to larger costs to the public purse.”

The government abolished its £178 million annual funding for local welfare assistance in 2015 and councils have been in charge of the schemes ever since.

Cllr Butt added: “We urgently need the government to improve Universal Credit and to restore councils’ funding for local welfare assistance.

“These measures are crucial for helping struggling Londoners. Without a more effective welfare response to the pandemic, boroughs fear the coming months will only bring an increase in financial hardship and further spikes in poverty and homelessness.”


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