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Harrow Borough Council's funding cut to Home-Start charity will put vulnerable families at risk
A volunteer at a charity that works with disadvantaged families has described Harrow Borough Council’s decision to cut its funding as “madness”.
Helen Hudson, 68, of Farmborough Close, accused the council of being short sighted when it decided not to renew a £76,000-a-year contract for charity Home-Start.
The charity, which has been running for 32 years, trains volunteers who currently work with 27 young families across the borough, as well as 19 first time mothers.
They have helped 266 families during the last two years with problems ranging from financial difficulties to new mothers suffering from postnatal depression.
All the families the charity helps with must have children under the age of five.
Mrs Hudson said the most mothers referred to Home-Start feel isolated, trapped, depressed and may struggle with day to things.
She said: “They may have very little money and have children to bring up and children to feed so it gets on top of them.
“When I visit we may go out for the day, or take the kids to the hospital or just be there to listen.
“A lot of it is just trying to give these families a helping hand when they have no one else to lean on.”
The council provides 50 per cent of the charity’s funding.
Without it the service will stop at the end of this month and the charity will shut down completely in May.
The 68-year old, who has been a volunteer since September last year, said: “It just seems like madness to take funding away from a well established organisation that does a great job at a very low cost.
“They are getting rid of us because we are the easy option.
“These are vulnerable families and they have a very small voice but if we can’t look after children then what is the point?”
The authority has said its own services will assess the needs of the families and provide any support they need, but scheme manager Margaret Faley said there is no service that she is aware of in Harrow that can provide the same support.
Because Home-Start uses volunteers rather than full-time paid staff it is able to offer its services for £1,200 per family per year.
Mrs Faley explained that as the council will be using paid staff its service will cost more so no savings will be made.
She said: “Vulnerable families are not being protected.
“They feel more comfortable when they are dealing with volunteers who are parents themselves.”
Although renewal of the contract is not automatic, the charity said that it was only told its funding would be completely cut on February 26.
The council said this is part of tendering process for a new service based on a new assessment of the families it supports and Home-Start will be able to bid to provide the service in future.
But Mrs Faley said this will be not be possible because a date for the bidding process has not been set and by then the organisation will most likely no longer exist in Harrow.
During a full council meeting on February 28 council leader Thaya Idaikkadar and the portfolio holder for finance Sachin Shah said the two per cent increase in council tax was to protect the most vulnerable in society.
The Harrow Times asked to speak to an elected member of the council but it declined to comment.
The councillor for Hatch End, Stanley Sheinwald, said he was annoyed at the decision and thinks the council should help the voluntary sector, not penalise it.
He said: "If they claim to be listening then they should reinstate funding to organisations like Citizens Advice Bureau and Home-Start rather than spending more than £4million on consultants."
In a statement, Catherine Doran, the council’s corporate director for children’s services, said the authority is looking to modernise and make the service more efficient.
She said: "We value the support Home-Start has given over the years to families and we will continue to work with them.
“We notified Home-Start in December that we would not automatically be renewing their contract.
"We plan to build on Home-Start’s successes and make our services for families even stronger for future years."
An online petition to get the council to keep funding Home-Start until the tendering process begins can be found here.