Families in crisis will have nowhere to turn when a £10m emergency fund for the region is axed within months, campaigners warn today, according to the Northern Echo.

The Children’s Society raises the alarm over Government plans to scrap ‘local welfare assistance schemes’ – seen as a last lifeline to stop vulnerable people falling into debt and destitution.

The cash – administered by local authorities – is helping an estimated 80,000 people across the North-East and North Yorkshire in this financial year, the organisation said.

Some are women fleeing domestic violence, who desperately need money quickly to buy an oven for their new home.

Other grants are given to parents so they can visit their sick child in hospital, or to struggling families when they face an emergency cost such as a broken boiler.

But the funding will be withdrawn from next April, under proposals put forward by the department for work and pensions (DWP) expected to be confirmed in the New Year.

Ministers say local councils can fund the schemes themselves – but those councils must themselves find billions of pounds of savings, amid huge cuts to their Whitehall grants.

Matthew Reed, The Children’s Society chief executive, said: “This is a cut too far.

“At a time of increasing child poverty, high levels of problem debts, and cuts to support for families, it is more important than ever that local welfare assistance schemes are available to help families in crisis.

“Without these schemes, families will have to choose between going without basic essentials to keep their family safe and healthy – such as food or heating – and turning to high cost credit or payday loans, plunging them into a debt trap.”

Durham County Council – which will lose £407,270, if the plans go ahead – said it had not yet drawn up proposals to plug the gap.

Roger Goodes, head of policy, said: “We are looking at how we might be able to continue to support people, should funding be withdrawn.

“Once the funding situation is confirmed, we would expect to develop detailed proposals which would be put to members of the council’s Cabinet for consideration.”

 Almost three-quarters of councils are planning to hack back their schemes – or end them completely – according to a recent Local Government Association survey.

But a DWP spokeswoman insisted it was not planning to end support, but giving councils greater freedom how to spend funds from Whitehall.

She said: “This Government is giving councils more control because they understand best their local area’s needs. This is in contrast to the old centralised grant system that was poorly targeted.”

The estimate that almost 80,000 people in the region are currently receiving help is based on the average grant of £124.

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