A vital charity that helps vulnerable people has become vulnerable itself.
In January, ministers warned that urgent action was required to provide more funding for councils in England to avoid deep cuts to services. Around 40 Tory MPs threatened Rishi Sunak with another Commons rebellion about funding cuts that have seen a growing number of councils warn they are facing bankruptcy, amid soaring costs and rising pressure on services, compounded by years of government-driven austerity.
The consequences of funding cuts to local councils have been laid bare in the city of Bath. Julian House, which supports vulnerable individuals including people experiencing homelessness in Bath, has itself become vulnerable, as the local council considers limiting the funds it provides to them, and other frontline organisations that support their work. The charity only found out about the proposed cuts on January 4, and said they came as a ‘complete surprise.’
Bath and North East Somerset Council is rushing to plug a £24.5m hole in its finances in the next financial year. It had planned to make a £802,000 cut in charity funding, but has since rowed back, following warnings from the sector that they would cost the council more in the long run. The council says the cut will now take place over two years to avoid a ‘cliff edge.’
The local authority currently spends £1.6m to fund housing related support, which would be reduced to £552,000, if the cuts go ahead.
Julian House service users who have experienced rough sleeping, have warned that homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse and crime will ‘spiral out of control’ in Bath if council funding to charities is slashed. Michael Dixon, who was homeless off and on for eight years in Weston-Super-Mare, is staying at Julian House. He described the charity as a vital ground service that leads to a lot of other services.
“If services like this were cut, it could lead to people not getting services higher up,” said Dixon.
Joanne Wootton, Julian House’s strategic partnerships director, spoke of how the hostel is always full, and has a waiting list of eight people at any one time.
“It’s an important stepping stone because there’s not enough social housing and the private rented sector is completely out of reach for a single person who’s on universal credit — even working and on universal credit,” said Wootton.
The criminal justice service provided by Julian House is also under threat of losing funding from the council. The service has seven beds in its two supported houses, offering accommodation to prison leavers. “We are trying to break the offending cycle,” said Rachel Ferris, service manager.
Describing the service as a ‘massive lifeline for people,’ Ferris warned that the impact of shutting any of these services ‘would be enormous.’
“It seems like a false economy to cut the budget to help people where they are in the community and push them back into prison,” she added.
In a statement, Mark Elliott, council cabinet member for resources, said: “We greatly value our third sector partners and we’ve listened carefully to the concerns they’ve raised as we work to balance our budget.
“The council is under significant financial pressure, so we will still need to make savings in this area, as we are doing across the whole council.
“These specific community service contracts have not been looked at for some time, so it is reasonable we consider them as part of our budget process.
“However, we are acutely aware of the risk that a decrease in funding for preventative services may create an increase in costs for statutory services we provide in the future.
“In order to address this, the council’s 2024/25 budget proposal has been amended to take into account the feedback we have received, and we are now proposing to make any changes carefully over two years, avoiding a sudden cliff edge.”
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
Picture credit: Useche70