Bristol mayor George Ferguson backs £1.7 million crisis fund for the needy
A NEW £1.7 million fund to provide crisis loans for people in desperate need has been set up by the city council.
Mayor George Ferguson gave the Local Crisis and Prevention Fund his seal of approval after a recommendation at a meeting of his multi-party cabinet at City Hall last night.
The fund will plug the gap left by the Department for Work and Pensions' decision to abolish part of its Social Fund later this year as the government looks to cut back its own welfare spending to reduce the deficit.
Responsibility for providing emergency loans to people with no money to pay for essentials is being passed on to councils, with Bristol's new fund now taking shape.
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Those in greatest need can apply for basic household goods such as cookers and beds and emergency payments through the initiative, which uses funds from a central government grant.
The new fund will target people who are or have been homeless, people who have just left local authority care, ex-prisoners and those escaping domestic abuse.
Cabinet member Gus Hoyt (Green, Ashley) told the meeting that the project was essential as the need for crisis loans was "growing" in Bristol.
After the meeting Mr Hoyt told The Post: "The new fund is absolutely critical.
"More and more people are facing hardship, so it's vital that we provide the means that we have."
Loans from the fund are designed to identify vulnerable people, preventing what the authority described as a "small but significant number of people" from being "locked into a counterproductive and damaging cycle of increasing debt".
The council will tender the distribution of loans to applicants out to four main providers.
A pot of £1.2 million every year will be allocated to provide household goods, while £500,000 will be spent on emergency vouchers for food and bills.
In November the council advertised a £300,000-a-year contract to manage the new fund.
However, despite offering to provide the service for below the asking cost the sole bidder "did not meet the specification" and was refused.
As a result, overall management of the scheme will be carried out in-house by the council.
The DWP plans to abolish portions of the Social Fund in April. A total of £1.9 million should be handed over to the city council to pay for the grants and administrative costs.
Discussions of the new scheme followed a demonstration outside the council house about cuts.
Members of the Trade Unionists and Socialists Coalition spoke during the meeting, criticising Mr Ferguson for not protecting Bristol from national cuts.