Last year, we uncovered the fact that parents from over 1 million families are having to give up their own bed so their child has somewhere to sleep – a problem we are calling bed poverty. In this report, we've taken a closer look at how our social security system supports families in financial crisis to understand what's going wrong with local crisis support.
Our report in October 2023, No crib for a bed: the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on bed poverty, found that families across the UK are having to prioritise essentials like food, heating and electricity over things like replacing mouldy bedding or fixing a broken bed for their child.
In this briefing we are publishing new data, gathered from local authorities in England, on the extent of bed poverty in their crisis support services. We've also published an extended technical report providing further background and analysis of the Freedom of Information (FOI) data published in this briefing.
Families in need are approaching a cliff edge
Local crisis support is a vital part of our social security system that's designed to provide rapid help to people experiencing financial crisis. 62% of all local welfare spending comes from the UK Government’s Household Support Fund – a scheme set to end in March 2024. We are deeply concerned about this approaching cliff edge and the impact it will have on families in crisis.
Through our research, we found that:
Crisis requests for help with children’s beds and bedding more than quadrupled between 2018-19 and 2022-23, rising from 4,000 to 18,000
Over the last five years the rate of successful applications for beds or bedding for children fell from 53% in 2018-19 to 41% in 2022-23. This means that in 2022-23, 10,307 children and families were turned down with more than half of the requests for help with children’s beds and bedding unsuccessful.
On average, local authorities received 180 crisis requests for help with children’s beds and bedding in 2018-19. By 2022-23 this had risen to 450 requests, an increase of 150%.
If local authorities had been able to keep up with growing need, the average local authority would have satisfied 365 requests for beds or bedding to children in 2022-23. Local authorities could only satisfy half (51%) of these requests.
These figures do not show the full picture. We estimate there would have been over 60,000 crisis requests for children’s beds or bedding if there was no postcode lottery in local crisis support in England.
Danielle from Bradford
Mother to three sons aged six months, six and three
Why the Household Support Fund needs to be extended
The Household Support Fund has increasingly become a vital part of funding for local crisis support, enabling local authorities to provide emergency help to people in financial crisis to help with energy costs and household goods.
Analysis by End Furniture Poverty found that in 2021-22, 45% of spending on Local Welfare Assistance schemes came from the Household Support Fund. By 2022-23 this had risen to 62%.
62% of all local welfare spending comes from the UK Government’s Household Support Fund, which is set to end in March 2024
The Household Support Fund will end in March 2024 creating a major gap in provision of local crisis support across England which won't be able to be filled by local government or the charity sector. At the same time, the Government’s Cost of Living Payments scheme will finish in February 2024. We're very concerned that the cliff-edge facing local crisis support is likely to hit low-income families at a critical time, limiting their ability to seek the help they need from their local authority.
In October 2023, Barnardo’s, alongside other charities, wrote to the Chancellor to highlight our concern regarding the collapse of local crisis support services, driven by uncertainty over the future of the Household Support Fund. Since then, we are aware of local authorities that have begun ‘switching off’ their crisis support schemes with potentially serious consequences for families and children.
Following our latest briefing, we have written to the Chancellor again, alongside [X number] of other organisations, calling for an urgent extension to the Household Support Fund.
Our recommendations for the UK government
It's clear that we need urgent action from the Government to fix the Household Support Fund. That's why we're calling on the Government to:
urgently extend the Household Support Fund before the scheme ends in March 2024
provide a sustainable three-year funding settlement for local crisis support, increased by 16% to meet growing need (currently £842m)
end the postcode lottery of provision by embedding a minimum standard for local crisis support across England
establish a Local Crisis Support Commissioner to provide oversight and improvement of local crisis support by coordinating best practice and overseeing the publication of basic monitoring information
amplify, simplify and speed-up the application process so families in crisis get help within 48 hours