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Desperate people turn to council for help
MORE than 1,300 desperate people have gone cap-in-hand to Worcester City Council to plead for items like food vouchers, furniture, microwaves and beds in the last year.
Your Worcester News can reveal how a new Government-funded £445,000 pot to help vulnerable people has been inundated with applications.
And rather than easing off, the numbers of people trying to get help from it have surged in recent months, flying in the face of the economic recovery.
One year ago the city council launched the Welfare Assistance Scheme, managing it for Worcester, Malvern and Wychavon.
The fund is worth nearly £900,000 in total and is designed to last for two years, running until April 2015.
It is a discretionary scheme, and offers help with basic day-to-day living for those deemed to be in genuine crisis.
Rather than cash it works around vouchers, which are handed out for food, white goods like washing machines and fridge freezers, and even energy bills.
Up to the end of February 1,371 people applied to it, with 1,287 applications approved.
In May last year just 80 people applied for it, but it has steadily increased since then and hit a record monthly high of 175 in January.
Of the 1,287 successful applicants 946 were from Worcester, compared to just 270 in Wychavon and 155 in Malvern.
The city council now says it expects the cash to be "fully spent" by the end of next year, and is desperate for it to be extended.
Prior to April 2013 crisis loans were issued via the Department for Work and Pensions, but the Government decided to ask councils to take on responsibility amid concerns the old system was not working very well.
The city's Labour leadership says it is alarmed by the findings, as the scheme is considered one of "last resort".
In Worcester 44 per cent of vouchers went towards household items, 31 per cent energy costs and 25 per cent on food.
Councillor Roger Berry, cabinet member for health and well-being said: "I was a social worker for most of my working life and I know how difficult crisis loans were to get.
"The city obviously inherited this scheme from the Government and the fact the money for year one is nearly all gone is a tribute to the staff.
"But the big question is what happens at the end of those two years, we've got to lobby our parliamentarians and I've already written to Robin Walker to ask that it continue."
Mr Walker said: "It's obviously an example of where a scheme has worked well and I'll be happy to take it up with Government."
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