Suffolk Public Sector Leaders commits £1m for hardship schemes beyond October 2022
A £1million sum has been committed for a redesign of Suffolk’s hardship support services beyond October, as the cost of living crisis continues.
The Suffolk Public Sector Leaders group of council, police and health chiefs on Friday agreed to commit the seven figure sum from retained business rates, which will help some of the hardest hit families.
During Covid-19, two support schemes were formed – the Suffolk Advice and Support Service (SASS) to help with debt and money advice, and the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme (LWAS) to help those in financial hardship through supermarket vouchers, white goods and fuel coupons.
Public sector leaders committed £800,000 for those schemes, with work beyond October 2022 effectively being a revamp of those schemes to better meet people’s needs as they have evolved from Covid-19 support to cost of living needs.
Demand for both schemes peaked in March this year with 683 calls per month to SASS and 643 applications to LWAS, with requests for supermarket and fuel vouchers from the LWAS having significantly increased since September.
According to project bosses, the £1m is needed to provide certainty beyond October 2022, but national sources of funding and grants will be sought first.
Gemma Levi, specialist lead at Suffolk County Council, said: “We would like to co-produce a future hardship model for Suffolk post-October where we can look at how to better share data, better case management systems so we are not as reliant on the number of checks we have to do through the digital team, using digital solutions to simplify the support and reduce the labour-heavy offer we currently have, being able to review the support we are giving within our available resources and being able to change and meet the demands coming through.
“We have limited notice on the funding available through to national government, and it will be good for us to have security post-October as we are unaware what the demand will be post-October.”
The move comes as the cost of living crisis has hit the finances of families across the country.
That has included increases in the cost of food, fuel, energy bills, and council tax among others.
Steve Gallant, leader at East Suffolk Council, said: “This cumulative impact of rising food prices, energy costs and the lifting of the energy cap, which is going to change again in October, is really significant.
“The rising costs of petrol, diesel, and importantly heating oil, is starting to have this real impact on peopel’s lives. It is causing great concern.
“Unfortunately, for the first time ever we are seeing huge swathes of people that are in employment, are working really hard and are finding themselves having to make difficult choices.
“I fully support this, but it needs to take away some of those barriers and get it as slick and easy to access as possible.”
More details of the revamped scheme are set to be announced in due course.