In just a few months since launching, the £2.5m Knowsley Better Together Hardship Fund has supported many residents and is making a real difference to people’s lives.
The last 18 months has been extremely challenging for everyone – for many, getting back on their feet seemed impossible, but thanks to the support through the council, partner agencies and the Knowsley Better Together Fund, getting the right support at the right time has been pivotal.
We caught up with the Council’s Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr Jayne Aston, to talk about the fund and the impact it is having in communities.
Why was the Knowsley Better Together Hardship Fund established?
Over the last 18 months, our residents have faced significant challenges. It wasn’t easy before COVID, but COVID has accentuated issues and created new ones. Me and my fellow Elected Members were receiving calls and emails asking for help throughout the pandemic over an array of issues. Lockdowns and self-isolation have created whole range of problems with many residents having no or fluctuating income, some have experienced job loss and this then has a knock-on effect with other things such as paying the bills and food. Unfortunately, some turned to loans to get them through the tough times, but then found that repayments with interest put them in a worse position. We were often hearing “we honestly don’t know what to do.”
We have listened to our residents and I know that many don’t want to ask for help. That’s why the Council established the Knowsley Better Together Hardship Fund and importantly, the fund is accessed through our partners, community groups, charities and Council services as we know that many residents don’t want to ask for help. They are already working with our vulnerable residents and can identify the issues they face and importantly, by working together, they can find a solution.
What is the Knowsley Better Together Hardship Fund?
The Council invested £2.5m funding as part of its 2021/22 Budget, to set up the Hardship Fund. The fund aims to support residents with the right support at the right time. The funding has been allocated to services in the Council, partner agencies, community groups and charities who are working within our communities with vulnerable residents and can provide support with a range of things including:-
- Food and essentials
- Winter warmth and safe heating schemes
- Emergency boiler and central heating repairs for eligible residents (including those on benefits and low income)
- Fuel vouchers
- Improvements to home conditions for families with children as well as supporting them to maintain tenancies
- Financial advice and debt management support through a specialist Money Advisor and welfare benefit advice
- Emergency Support Scheme offering residents short-term assistance in relation to food, fuel and furniture
- Support can also be provided to residents in receipt of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit through the Discretionary Housing Payment Scheme.
- Support for residents who have been long-term unemployed through the Knowsley Works team with the offer of a ‘bridging payment’ until they receive their first wage
How do you know that it’s making a difference?
The feedback we have been receiving from residents who have been supported is extremely positive. We’ve had comments including:-
- “It’s been a lifeline”
- “A huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders”
- “I can now stop worrying”
- “I’m overwhelmed at the support I’ve been given”
- “I honestly didn’t know what to do until I spoke to the Money Advisor, who instantly knew what to do and put the wheels in motion”
- “It’s made a huge difference to our lives”
- “Just thank you”
What types of issues is it addressing?
Lots and they are very wide ranging. As I said earlier, the fund is largely being allocated through our partner agencies, community groups and charities who are working directly with vulnerable residents. There’s been food vouchers issued to families in order for them to buy essential food items, packed lunches provided to a ‘walk and talk’ group who arranged a day trip aimed at tackling mental health and social isolation, heating and boiler repairs have taken place to address poor living conditions, financial reviews have identified residents are eligible for certain benefits that they hadn’t claimed, Discretionary Housing Payments have been implemented where there’s been a need. Plus, funding is also set aside as we move into the winter months with a number of heating schemes being supported through the Council and partner agencies.
How can I access the fund?
Partner agencies, community groups and charities as well as the Council’s own Benefits service who are already working with vulnerable residents can identify issues and then refer residents to the relevant agency who can offer targeted support. You can find useful information around Financial advice and support, Benefits and Emergency Support Scheme.