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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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55 calls for help every week to Cumbrian welfare scheme

Nearly 3,000 people have turned to a welfare service for help inside a year as Cumbria’s cash crisis deepens.

Patricia Bell photo
Patricia Bell

More than half of those who contacted Cumbria County Council’s Local Welfare Assistance programme were referred to food banks, according to shock new figures.

The service has received 2,863 calls – an average of 55 a week – since it was set up on April 1 last year, with 17 per cent from parents of children under 16.

More than £55,000 has been handed out to 1,635 people to help pay energy bills, and buy food, toiletries and essentials for babies.

Nearly 1,000 calls were from Carlisle, followed by Barrow with 586, Allerdale with 544, Copeland with 325, South Lakeland with nearly 250, and 177 came from Eden.

The worrying statistics also showed that 51 per cent of callers were referred to food bank projects to access free parcels of basic food and drink supplies.

A further 39 per cent were passed on to the Department of Work and Pensions for short term advances or crisis loans.

It comes after the News & Star revealed how homeless families were living off instant noodles as changes to the benefits system start to bite.

Mark Lloyd, who works with homeless and struggling families, warned that when people are in hardship one of the first things they neglect is the quality of the food they eat.

Meanwhile, the Carlisle Food Bank, which feeds about 80 families a week, is bracing itself for demand for help to soar because of universal credit – a new payment to replace tax credits, jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit and others.

Founder Rachael Rodway said: “I don’t think the benefits crunch has really happened here yet.”

The county council’s welfare assistance scheme was set up specifically to deal with the Government reforms and provides support to vulnerable adults and families across Cumbria.

Patricia Bell, the authority’s cabinet member for welfare, believes it is an “invaluable” service.

She said: “This programme is clearly a lifeline for many people who are in severe hardship, but as well as helping with an immediate crisis, the programme provides support to deal with the root cause of a problem.

“For eight in 10 people the reasons why they called the programme in the first place had not reoccurred. This fact alone shows the value of the service.”

The council says it has also pledged thousands of pounds to deal with the expected fallout as a result of the benefits changes.

A total of £10,000 has been allocated to groups such as children’s centres and food banks to help them provide support.

More than £70,000 has been injected into a Cumbria-wide winter warmth programme, and nearly £61,500 of one-off grants have been dished out to community services.

Members of the welfare service team have also met food bank organisers and children’s centre staff, and have been involved in roadshows to promote their work and developed a voucher scheme for people to access recycled furniture.

Anyone who believes they are in crisis can visit www.cumbria.gov.uk/welfare or call 01228 221100.

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