A hardship fund designed to protect the poorest was devolved to councils last April. Since then, spending and the number of people being helped have gone down. What has happened?

DATA: Get the full spreadsheet

Local welfare assistance is the social safety net for Britains poorest and most vulnerable citizens, intended to provide them with vital support when they face a short-term emergency or cash crisis.

Introduced in April 2013, it replaced the social fund, the centrally-administered scheme abolished under the 2012 Welfare Reform Act. A portion of the money previously allocated to the social fund (around £178m in 2013-14) was redistributed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to 150 English councils, and to the Welsh and Scottish national governments.

Government changes to the social fund have created an emergency assistance postcode lottery that risks pushing vast numbers of the poorest families into the hands of high-cost money lenders and deeper into debt.

By denying help to those most in need, many more families will become trapped in a vicious spiral of debt and despair.

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