Starter packs for families in Hastings cut

Hastings Furniture Service
Hastings Furniture Service

Packs containing essential items such as saucepans, crockery, and towels for re-housed families in town are no longer being provided as of this week.

More than 200 packs were distributed to Hastings residents by Hastings Furniture Service (HFS) in the last year, funded by the Discretionary East Sussex Support Scheme (DESSS).

The packs are given to people on low incomes starting a home with nothing, those who have been homeless, people who are moving into independence after a time in an institution, as well as families that have suffered a crisis such as a fire.

They containing very basic essential items and cost about £60 per household helped.

Government funding for the scheme, which is run by East Sussex County Council, has been cut by more than 50 per cent despite a vigorous campaign to save it, led by HFS with cross-party support.

The scale of the scheme has been reduced significantly although beds and white goods will still be provided for some households in need.

Earlier this year a plan was put forward for borough and district councils to contribute £6,000 each towards the costs but this has been withdrawn.

HFS and other charities have asked all the local authorities to reinstate this contribution in order to fund the starter packs county-wide.

Naomi Ridley, from HFS, said: “There is a massive need in Hastings for this practical support for families starting again with nothing.

“These are the most vulnerable people in our community and the packs provide a few essential household items to help them get back on their feet. The survival of the service should not depend on desperate fundraising by charities like ours.”

The charity has written to the main parliamentary candidates in the county asking them to help save the starter packs, and secure funding for the scheme from the Government in future years.

Kevin Boorman, spokesman for Hastings Borough Council, said: “The Government initially announced the ending of the separate local welfare assistance fund that it paid to county councils last year and the starter packs were funded out of that. Hastings Borough Council, along with other districts and boroughs in East Sussex, agreed to contribute £6,000 towards maintaining such a fund – the ‘Discretionary East Sussex Support Scheme’ - when it looked like the Government was giving nothing.

“The Government then changed its mind, and it is continuing to support local schemes, although at a reduced level (£74 million for 2015/126 against £174 million for 2014/15). However, it appears that the Government partly paid for its change of heart by cutting instead the discretionary housing payment budget which is paid to local districts and boroughs. The discretionary housing payment is paid in addition to housing benefit for households in particular difficulties. This was cut by 25% nationally, but Hastings’ budget was cut by even more than that, by some 33%, losing us about £100,000.

“In response to the Government cut, Hastings Borough Council is putting in an additional £50,000 into this budget, despite having to make cuts to our services elsewhere. So far from cutting £6,000 from the budget for helping some of the most vulnerable households in Hastings, we are actually increasing our funding by £50,000.”