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Government cuts threaten families project backed by David Cameron 'Big Society' award

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Government cuts threaten families project backed by David Cameron 'Big Society' award

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Health and also in Central Government, Communities, Housing

Government cuts threaten families project backed by David Cameron 'Big Society' award Government cuts threaten families project backed by David Cameron 'Big Society' award

A project that received a 'Big Society' award from Prime Minister David Cameron is being threatened with closure.

The SWEET project, which provides support for some of Birmingham's most desperate families, is facing being shut down because of Department of Health cuts, three years after the prime minister awarded it with a 'Big Society' accolade.

Set up in 2010, the not-for-profit venture helps families and individuals struggling to cope with debts or stuck in poor housing.

Speaking as the SWEET project received a 'Big Society' award in 2011, David Cameron said: “The SWEET Project has made a real difference to people’s lives in Birmingham, delivering a tremendous support service to families while at the same time giving social work students the opportunity to enhance their skills.

“The project’s valuable contribution to helping families in need of extra support is an excellent example of the Big Society in action.”

Despite the prime minister's apparent admiration for the project, the Department of Health has cut funding by almost a third, pushing the scheme to the brink.

SWEET was founded by experienced social worker Jayne Hulbert and family support worker Jayne Cresswell, after both were made redundant from a national charity as part of a process which led to the closure of family support services in south Birmingham.

The pair resolved to find a way to bring the services back and their work was praised by Cameron, who saw it as an example of the 'Big Society' he was then keen to promote.

The project takes on student social workers from universities who need to carry out placements as part of their degree course.

They are overseen by experienced staff and work with families in south Birmingham who have been referred to the project by agencies, including the city council, health service, police, fire services, domestic abuse projects, schools and GPs.

So far, more than 415 student social workers from 26 universities have been placed with the project.

It is funded using the fee paid by the Department for Health for student placements, which is £28 per head. But this will fall to £20 in September, in a cost-cutting measure that will save the government £5 million nationwide.

Managers at the SWEET project have said that the cut makes the project financially unviable.

Jayne Cresswell said: “We are the largest student unit in the country.

“We are the future of the training of future social workers and nobody have any thought what reducing the placement fee would do to a project like ours.

“If we go who is going to work with these families? We are talking children who are on child protection plans, we are talking vulnerable adults, but equally we are talking low-level support of be-friending, of being able to help families who may need some debt advice or help accessing food parcels.

“So we are in complete crisis right now. If our organisation goes, what are those families going to do?”

Richard Burden, Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield, has urged the government to reverse the funding cut.

He said: “Just three years ago, David Cameron praised the SWEET Project for their work. But now his government’s rushed cuts are putting that at risk. SWEET are the only provider of vital support services for children and families in the Three Estates and vulnerable local people will suffer without them.

“It’s not right that health ministers didn’t tell the largest provider of student social work placements in the country this was happening, and gave them just 12 weeks to cope with the cut.

“I’m calling on David Cameron to show Birmingham some of his Big Society spirit and set a realistic timescale for the budget change.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said that the grant funding put in place is for the 2014 academic year only and that it is currently "looking at the arrangements for 2015".

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