As part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, the Government decided to remove a pot of money called the Discretionary Social Fund or DSF. This fund which was introduced in 1987 and distributed to Local Government across the country as the name suggests to help meet social need where there was particular case to do so. This was not about the ongoing provision of help for a small number of people, but rather a fund that could be used in a broad range of situations where families or individuals are affected by an acute situation where a few £100 might ensure that they can avoid a greater catastrophe. These funds have been used in the areas where the scheme is working best, alongside provision of debt advice, food banks and even furniture re-use schemes to reduce the prospect of the family or individual needing help in the future. In some areas the scheme has not worked well and so rather than attempt to promote best practice, the Government decided to withdraw the funding altogether. However this decision was challenged in a judicial review and we are now reaching the end of a consultation process which is intended to allow the Government to do what it intended all along.
As with all Government consultations, the need for a response is dressed up in a number of different questions and a document that frankly is impenetrable for many of us and although only 14 pages long, it is not a quick read. The consultation asks 6 questions and one of those has 6 options and the question then asks you to justify your selection. I am not suggesting that ignoring all 6 questions is the right thing to do, but would contend that the document has been laid out as it has to suit the DWP, rather than to capture the majority of views. My own experience in East Sussex and Brighton & Hove gives me plenty of reason to want to see this fund retained. The partnership working in both of these places is ensuring that the fund is getting to some of the right people at the right time for them. The tragedy is that this funding is being cut, when what is needed is for it to be extended. If some local authorities are not using the money, I know that certainly in East Sussex and Brighton & Hove, they could make good use of the unspent monies from other areas. However that is not a likely outcome, but it is vital that as many people as possible do respond in a manner that they can do so. The consultation exercise closes on 21 November which is this Friday and if you are able to respond, even if you don’t have the time to read all 14 pages and respond to all 6 questions, there is an email address to which you could simply send a brief message asking for the Government to retain the DSF in its current format. The information and consultation document can be found on the DWP website here.