Under one roof: Finding ways to improve availability and access to financial support in Cornwall
Updated: Jun 12
As poverty levels continue to soar across the UK, it’s more important than ever that local collaboration can bring much needed ‘cash first’ support to people who would otherwise need to turn to a food bank to feed themselves and their families.
This week, Transformation Cornwall, Cornwall Council, the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) and the Trussell Trust will be bringing together frontline organisations and support teams doing their utmost to support people unable to make ends meet. Our in-person event in St Austell will focus on how people facing financial hardship can access cash first (income-focused) support across Cornwall.
This critical discussion stems from work undertaken by IFAN, Transformation Cornwall, the Trussell Trust and Citizens Advice Cornwall together with other local agencies to co-produce the Cornwall ‘Worrying About Money?’ leaflet first published in July 2021. This resource helps people struggling with money worries and support workers to navigate their way to income-focused local support and advice. Over 35,000 leaflets have been distributed across Cornwall, alongside the promotion of an interactive, online version. The resource has also been featured on Cornwall Council’s website, while more recently poster versions have been shared.
Money Counts training linked to the Cornwall ‘Worrying About Money?’ leaflet has been attended by over 200 people working to support people facing financial hardship in Cornwall. These sessions, helping frontline workers gain confidence in using the step-by-step guide and having conversations with people about financial struggles, have been run for Family Hubs staff as well as Cornwall Council staff working in a range of departments.
Then in November 2021, following conversations with frontline workers as the Cornwall ‘Worrying About Money?’ leaflet was first put together and distributed, Transformation Cornwall, IFAN and the Trussell Trust ran an online discussion forum attended by many of the groups coming together this week. This forum gathered critical evidence on how people were able to identify and access financial support from Cornwall Council which, in turn, led to a review of the local authority’s Local Welfare Assistance Scheme (LWAS). It was hugely valuable to hear from a range of frontline support workers and we pulled together a report from the insight we gathered broadly themed around eligibility criteria and improving access to schemes.
Key recommendations included in the report were that:
there is better promotion and awareness of options available to Cornwall residents in financial crisis and the organisations that support them
eligibility criteria are made much clearer
in order to improve approval rates that eligibility criteria are widened
there is greater flexibility in terms of how any grant can be used
there is a holistic understanding across the council as to the impact of financial crisis that would enable dignity, agency and power for those approaching them for support
routes for feedback and appeal are set up and highlighted
Cornwall Council builds on the momentum generated by this process and works alongside local community support organisations to implement a process for ongoing monitoring and review of Cornwall Council’s LWAS
Cornwall Council draws on the expertise of those who have experienced financial insecurity as partners in the process of designing, monitoring and reviewing their LWAS
Keen to hear and learn from this feedback, Cornwall Council took the review’s recommendations on board and invited us to review their Discretionary Financial Assistance Policy and internal guidance notes for staff around eligibility criteria based on the report’s recommendations.
Recent changes to Cornwall Council’s Discretionary Financial Assistance Policy are testament to local partnership working, openness and a willingness to reduce poverty through income-focused solutions. These vital changes included:
Updates to the Cornwall Council’s webpages to make information about our discretionary schemes clearer.
The Crisis and Care Award (CCA) application form has been made simpler and only asks questions that are relevant to the applicant’s current circumstances.
The value of the awards made to people needing crisis assistance with food has been increased in line with the Eatwell Guide - Increased awards are now made to enable applicants to purchase healthy, nutritious food and provided in cash via vouchers exchanged at post offices.
The amount awarded for emergency help with utility costs has doubled in line with increases in home energy costs over the last 12 months.
There’s now an understanding that just because all other social security benefits are being accessed, the household income may still not always be sufficient to cover an unexpected or emergency need. On this basis, Cornwall Council no longer automatically refuse applications on the grounds of the need simply being a budgeting issue and the offer is support is framed positively.
When a CCA application is made, Cornwall Council representatives don’t just look at the immediate need on the application form but discuss other potential support with an applicant whether successful or not. They draw on extensive knowledge of the other support available across Cornwall to help the residents improve their financial and personal circumstances.
And beyond Crisis and Care Awards, Cornwall Council is taking a cash first approach to the distribution of their allocation of the Household Support Fund (HSF). Increasing incomes is the central theme of the local authority’s approach to HSF distribution.
IFAN, the Trussell Trust and Transformation Cornwall were invited to be part of Cornwall Council’s Turning the Tide of the Cost of Living summit last September and Simon Fann of Truro Foodbank gave a presentation on the Cornwall ‘Worrying About Money?’ leaflet and a cash first approach to food insecurity. Going forward comprehensive reviews will be carried out by the Cornwall Council Assessment Team in partnership with individuals with lived experience of poverty and the frontline services supporting them. How these reviews will take place will be discussed this week in St Austell.
We’re looking forward to finding more ways to collaborate further in partnership and, above all, to reduce people’s financial hardship through our collective local response to the UK’s deepening food insecurity crisis.
In June 2023, it’s critical that we hear how these changes have impacted people struggling to afford the essentials and how frontline support workers have been finding the financial support landscape in Cornwall. Thursday’s new evidence-gathering session will focus on financial support, how people access or are signposted to this, what is working well in terms of access to crisis and care grants now and how the process can be improved. We’ll be co-producing a further report to be published in July and are planning another joint evidence-gathering session for January 2024 following some inevitably testing winter months.
By Sabine Goodwin, IFAN, Emma Greenwood, the Trussell Trust, Louisa Beddoe and Mark Ransom, Cornwall Council and Sam Williams, Transformation Cornwall
If you can’t attend Thursday’s event but would like to provide feedback and please provide evidence via this form. If you’d like to attend the evidence-gathering session planned for January 2024 please express your interest here.