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Labour county councillors criticise West Sussex Council as cuts hit people ‘at their most vulnerable’

Further cuts proposed by the Tory-led West Sussex County Council in their ‘Forward Plan’ will reduce the budget for ‘households in crisis situations’.

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Tory-run West Sussex County Council has been accused by Labour county councillors of striking a ‘massive blow’ against the poorest and most vulnerable people across the county.

This comes following the publication of proposals to slash by three quarters the “Local Assistance Network” provided by the council, a fund dedicated to helping those in need with essentials, when they need it most.

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In the same “Forward Plan” update last Wednesday that revealed the devastating cuts to homelessness provision across the county, the West Sussex Tories are now highlighting a further cut that will hit some of the poorest in the county: the county council are putting forward proposals that the Local Assistance Network will be slashed by three quarters from £800k to £200k.

The Local Assistance Network is what is left of what was the discretionary element of the old Social Fund formerly administered by the DWP/DSS. The Government delegated its administration to the county council in 2013, then totally withdrew the money to fund it in 2015. The county council kept some financial support going as a way of helping people re-establish themselves independently.

The Forward Plan states: “The Local Assistance Network (LAN) was established in 2013 to replace a number of discretionary benefits for households in crisis situations which had previously been available through the benefits system”.

It currently provides assistance for households with and without children on a low income, in crisis who require essentials such as food, clothing, furniture, white goods or help with gas/electric or petrol/travel costs.

These services have been used across the county, and are particularly heavily used in Crawley and Lancing. However, usage in the Horsham, Chichester, Worthing and Arun Districts is also significant.

The Local Assistance Network in Crawley is administered through Crawley Open House, CAB and various Children and Family Centres. In other parts of West Sussex, there are similar arrangements with their homelessness providers, and CAB and various Children and Family Centres can also help. Furnihelp administers some of the fund in Mid Sussex, and Horsham Matters in Horsham District. Stonepillow helps administer it in Chichester District, and Worthing Churches in Worthing, Adur and Arun.

Enquiries recently by Labour councillors with the county council revealed the council have not yet worked through the precise details of what will remain available through the fund if it is reduced as proposed, but it will reduce discretionary help to bare subsistence, and mean providers will no longer assist with bigger ticket items like furniture or white goods.

Labour county councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Gossops Green) condemned the move, saying:

“The loss is almost certainly going to have a significant impact in terms of health and wellbeing, child poverty, the ability to secure and sustain accommodation in the area where the person is living, and they will be faced much more often with choices whether to heat their home or eat.

“This will also restrict the ability to resettle people moving off the streets or out of hostel accommodation, get them to appointments and interviews for accommodation, detox and rehabilitation.”

Agreeing with Cllr Jones, Labour Group Leader on West Sussex County Council Sue Mullins (Northgate and West Green) added:

“Given that all these things the Local Assistance Network used to provide were precisely the sort of things that were meant to be helping people ‘get back on their feet’, it is a further massive blow to the people who are at their most vulnerable and those right at the bottom of the pile. It is a sign that the Tories both nationally and locally aren’t really committed in helping those who need it most.”

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West Sussex raises alert level as more coronavirus cases are confirmed

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The current alert level in West Sussex has been escalated to “yellow” (raised local alertness) which means there is an increasing number of confirmed cases of coronavirus. This is in line with the increase in cases being seen nationally. There were 116 confirmed cases in West Sussex in the last seven days.

The County Council has introduced a traffic light system (green, yellow, amber and red) to keep residents informed about the current rate of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the county.

With the rise in cases, residents are being asked to take preventative action to stop the spread of the virus.

This includes following the “Rule of Six” which means you should not meet in groups of more than six people from outside your household both indoors and outdoors.

Residents should continue to wash hands regularly, practise social distancing, wear a face mask when appropriate and get tested when they have symptoms.

Amanda Jupp, West Sussex County Council Cabinet Member for Adults and Health, said:

“So far in West Sussex we have seen a relatively low number of cases of coronavirus. However in line with national trends there has been an increase in recent weeks of the number of people who have tested positive.

“It is important we do all we can to keep numbers as low as possible. In line with government guidance, please do not meet in groups of more than six people. It is also important to continue to wash your hands regularly, keep socially distanced, wear a face mask where appropriate and get tested when you have symptoms.

“I am very grateful to all residents for their continued efforts to ensure the county remains safe. We have done so well to control the spread of COVID-19 in the county up until now and we are keen to keep it that way to ensure we can #KeepWestSussexSafe.”

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