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FRN Comment on the Autumn Statement

Wednesday, 25 November 2015 15:38

The devil, as they say, is in the detail, and there will be much scrutiny of policy behind the Chancellor’s headline statements in today’s Autumn Statement.

There are a number of policy areas and departmental budget cuts which affect the charitable reuse sector, such as employment; business, innovation and skills, the environment, and we’ll have a much better understanding of the facts in coming days.

However, two key announcements stand out for the reuse sector this afternoon.

Firstly, the welcome news that the rumoured £320million `cut’ from the Big Lottery Fund coffers was just that, and that funding will still be available – we hope – to empower deprived communities and to rebuild lives.

Secondly, the Chancellor’s surprise decision to scrap the phasing out of tax credits altogether, leaving tax credits intact until 2018.

He still intends to cut £12bn from the country’s welfare bill, but do so, “in a way that helps families, as we make the transition to our national living wage”.

Whilst this is good news for the 3 million low-income families who were set to lose an average of £1,000 a year, we at FRN still have serious concerns about the level of (unrecorded?) poverty in this country and the struggle this country’s `strivers’, and those forced to live on benefits experience on a daily basis.

We recently surveyed FRN members in order to inform our response to a Work & Pensions Committee inquiry about Local Welfare Assistance provision. Is provision localism at its best, or a postcode lottery?

Whilst the results and comments indicated a mixed picture regarding the effectiveness of provision of support for families in crisis by each local authority in England, most worrying was the acute shift in the make-up or socio-demographic profile of people seeking help from FRN’s member charities operating in some of the most deprived communities in the country.

The charities still help people on benefits; families fleeing domestic violence; children leaving the care system; ex-service personnel; the homeless, but shockingly the sector is seeing a rise in the `working poor’ seeking help and support. All 260 FRN members in England estimated that 80-90% of people now coming through their doors fall into this category. Members in Wales and Scotland echoed this situation.

These are hard-working families. These are families highly reliant on tax credits to boost their weekly income as employers fail to pay minimum, let alone living wages. The Chancellor’s tax credit announcement today changes nothing for these people.

For the `working poor’, they may just have enough to pay the bills, get to work and to put food on the table. However, when something needs replacing, like a broken cooker, there simply isn’t the spare cash to purchase.

This is where our sector steps in, as best it can, to help.

They are, where able, and where provision is lacking elsewhere, expanding their goods and services. Many are now offering debt advice and 60% of members are providing food parcels.

The long-term sustainability of traditional re-use charity models is unclear, but we are resilient, we are adaptive and we are strategic. We’ve been alleviating material poverty and providing better life chances to those in need for nearly 30 years. Are we needed for another 30?

We will continue to forge partnerships with local authorities to help them with waste and welfare budget cuts, as they ask for more from us; we will work with social housing providers to improve the financial and social inclusion of their tenants; and we will work with more private sector companies in order to access the essential reusable goods that low income households need.

The Autumn Statement doesn’t really change anything for the reuse sector and the people we support. It was tough before. It’s still tough….and once we’ve absorbed the detail, we’ll know how much tougher things really will be.

 

Helen Middleton

Market Development Manager

Furniture Re-use Network

 

Read 2647 times Last modified on Thursday, 10 December 2015 12:15

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