FUNDING for crisis support in Bolton has fallen by more than 20 per cent over the last three years, a new study has found.

A report by Greater Manchester Poverty Action (GMPA) says assistance for people who need help living independently and those facing a sudden financial emergency has been cut from £953,700 to £750,000 since 2015/16.

The organisation has gathered information on all councils in the city region through Freedom of Information requests.

It claims the situation arises from the government’s 2013 decision to shift responsibility for community care grants and crisis loans from its Social Fund to councils in the form of local welfare assistance schemes.

It says councils are forced to run the schemes on a shoe string and they “come nowhere near” replacing the assistance that was previously available.

And while Bolton Council is continuing to run its scheme in the face of continuing financial pressure, it is one of five in Greater Manchester — along with Bury, Trafford, Stockport and Tameside — that have had to make significant cuts to their funding.

The number of successful applications for support in Bolton during 2017/18 was 2,188 — the highest in Greater Manchester.

Cllr Anna-Marie Watters, the council’s community’s chief, is responsible for operating the authority’s welfare assistance scheme

She says the council works with a range of partners, including Urban Outreach Bolton Nice, and Hoot Credit Union to provide urgent help for those in need.

But she adds: “The government clearly needs to do more, because it’s the people at the bottom of the ladder that always struggle.

“The middle-income families are just about getting by, but we are half way up this ladder now that’s affecting people.”

Cllr Watters adds that Universal Credit, government’s flagship welfare programme, is one factor behind people falling into crisis.

One of the key changes that initiative has introduced is paying housing benefits into a claimants bank account, rather than directly to their landlord.

She said: “It’s okay people in high places saying people need to learn how to manage their money better so are going to put them on monthly benefits, but that’s not helping.

“These are people that live from day-to-day, not month-to-month, it’s an absolute disgrace.”

Cllr Watter adds that the rise of zero-hours contracts is also a “massive, massive concern”.

She said: “How can people plan their finances, how can they plan their lives on zero-hours contracts? There’s talk about them not being compulsory, but more and more employers are offering them. Something needs to change and needs to change from higher up.”

Bolton’s Tory Leader, Cllr David Greenhalgh said: “It is absolutely right that councils should be there to support genuinely vulnerable individuals and families who, for whatever reason, find themselves struggling. But I also believe that the move away from the old system of cash handouts and loans towards vouchers, referrals and advice is hugely welcome, and that local councils are best placed to make those local decisions and the amount they need.”

He added: “The era of throwing money at individuals, irrespective of outcomes, is over. Councils have tough and difficult decisions to make, and it is up to them to decide on their own priorities.”

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