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Leading Labour councillor leads last-ditch effort to save crisis welfare fund

Cllr Ashley Walsh, Deputy Leader of the Labour Group on Cambridgeshire County Council, will lead a last-ditch effort to save Cambridgeshire’s crisis welfare fund known as the Local Assistance Scheme at a meeting of the full County Council tomorrow.

The Cambridgeshire Local Assistance Scheme (CLAS) provides crisis grants to victims of extreme hardship but is threatened with closure after the national coalition government announced it would remove funding for the scheme from April 2015. Launched in 2013 following cuts by the Department for Work and Pensions to the Social Fund, CLAS supports families to buy food, bedding, clothing and white goods.

Cllr Walsh, who represents Petersfield, will submit a motion tomorrow calling on the County Council to demand that the government reinstate the funds and, if the government refuses, to continue funding the scheme as a council. The government will announce the financial settlement over the coming financial year for councils in December 2014.

 CLAS has caused controversy at Shire Hall before after the Tory Cabinet slashed the budget by 28% in April 2014 following an under-spend worth £450,000. But, since then, council officers report that the scheme has come under increasing pressure due to growing hardship in Cambridgeshire.

Cllr Walsh said: “It is unbelievable that the Tories and Lib Dems are heartless enough to remove support for helpless people in absolute cases of hardship. This cruel cut shows just how vicious the coalition government’s austerity agenda can be.

“National government should fund the crisis scheme because its own misguided austerity economics is causing the very poverty that the scheme deals with. If the government continues to put its fingers in its ears, ignoring widespread concern from charity groups and councils up and down the country, the County Council must pick up the bill. We have a basic duty to make sure our citizens are not trapped in extreme poverty.”

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