Families use crisis loans for booze says Cheltenham Borough Councillor Paul McLain
CASH handouts for families on the breadline are being blown on alcohol, according to a councillor.
Gloucestershire county councillor Paul McLain (C, Charlton Kings), the cabinet member for vulnerable families, said there was a "great amount of suspicion" around how crisis loans were being spent by desperate families.
He believes some of the money, funded by taxpayers, might be being spent on drugs or alcohol instead.
His controversial comments have been criticised by charity workers who help struggling families.
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He said: "There is a great amount of suspicion on whether or not the people who actually apply for the emergency crisis fund actually spend the money on the sofa or bed that they need or if it ends up being spent on bottles of Bucky.
"I do think we need to bite the bullet and put in place something that works.
"This is not just anecdotal - there is a wealth of evidence that these loans are being not being spent on what they are taken out for. There are people who are addicted and, if you shove cash in their hands, it will go on alcohol or drugs instead."
Cash-strapped people will have to apply to the county council for the short-term loans from April, rather than the Department for Work and Pensions. The council is asking contractors to bid to take on handing out the loans. But government cuts mean council bosses want to scrutinise how families spend the money.
Gareth Edwards, head of operations at Cheltenham-based County Community Projects, which supports vulnerable families, said: "It is very easy to make these comments but actually 99 per cent of people in this situation go without food or find they can't stay in their accommodation if they don't get this support.
"Obviously there are always exceptions but most people are genuinely in a difficult place."
One Cheltenham resident, who did not want to be named, said: "'It has been extremely cold this winter. Unfortunately, I did not budget my money well enough to cover the extra fuel costs and this left me with no gas or electricity.
"A crisis loan enabled me to put money on my gas and electric metres. This was a massive help as without it I would have been sat in a dark cold house."
Crisis loans are issued under strict guidelines to help people in an emergency.
Mr McLain said the council would do its best to stop crises.
"We had the discretion to not do anything," he said. "But I think that would be a vast disservice to vulnerable people and to the people who want us to step up to the plate here.
"The reality is that the government is not giving us the same amount of money that it spends at the moment.
"The more we can reduce the crises, the more we can redirect people away from crisis. But we have to reassure people that their taxes are being spent in the right way."
Every year, 9,500 crisis loans are handed out in Gloucestershire. The estimated value of the county council contract will be £2.4 million over two years.