Leeds City Council: Cross-sector working and a review of local welfare support

Leeds City Council has added a new breakthrough priority on cost of living to its ‘Best City Ambition’ (the overall vision for the future of Leeds), recognising that partners need to work together to harness the capacity and capability in the city.

Cost of living

The initiative

Building on many years of experience, Leeds City Council has added a new breakthrough priority on cost of living to its ‘Best City Ambition’ (the overall vision for the future of Leeds), recognising that partners need to work together to ‘harness the capacity and capability in the city, its communities and those with lived experience to develop a city solution to welfare provision and address the cost of living pressures – with a specific focus on food, fuel, housing and digital inclusion.’

Partnership working

Partnership has long been central to addressing poverty and inequality in Leeds. The council has set up a city-wide welfare board to link delivery partners across the public and voluntary sectors. Jo Rowlands, Financial Inclusion Manager, said:

“There is so much good work going on across many organisations. We, as a council, know there is a limit to what we can do, so we work with others who may be better placed to reach people.”

This can include the council facilitating networks and meetings, and actively attending groups facilitated by others. For example, there is a longstanding Leeds Food Aid Network which the council attends and supports but does not lead.

As the cost of living pressures took hold, the financial inclusion team conducted 18 one-to-one meetings with council services and external partners, including advice services, to take stock of their work and ask what was important to them. The result was a long list of shared themes and initiatives – at a time with no additional funding and reducing budgets. Amy Porter, Senior Policy Development Officer, said: “There are things we were doing that other services weren’t aware of, and vice versa. A huge part of the breakthrough project is about taking stock of what we’ve already got and really looking objectively at how to coordinate, collaborate and share knowledge and resources to maximum effect.”

Leeds City Council works with the Leeds Poverty Truth Commission and other local partners to ensure that views and learning from those with lived experience of poverty is incorporated. The financial inclusion team is keen to build on this approach, exploring ways to include a wide range of experiences – including residents who do not engage with services. Examples include supporting deep poverty’ research by the University of Leeds.

The council is also working with private sector partners. A major electrical supplier based in Leeds offered to donate a regular supply of high-quality fridge freezers – returns that would otherwise be scrapped. An agreement is now in place for up to £52,000 worth of donated fridges to be provided each year, which can then be presented to local welfare support scheme (LWSS) customers and community organisations such as food aid providers.

Jo Rowlands said: “That is a perfect example of our ‘Best City’ ambition, which focuses around health and wellbeing, inclusive growth and moving towards ‘net zero’. It is socially conscious, links with business and the environment, and improves people’s health and wellbeing. We need to do more of that with businesses.”

Local Welfare Support Scheme

Leeds is reviewing its Local Welfare Support Scheme (LWSS), working with partners to ensure they can influence and help to deliver it. The vision is for a system that operates as a multi-agency referral mechanism for welfare support. Grace Lawrenson, Senior Policy Development Officer, said:

“The scheme is one small part of the city’s welfare offer. We are looking at how to better link that offer together through technology, moving towards a system that will enable better partnership working.”

As part of the LWSS review, Leeds piloted a cash grant scheme for people in financial crisis, funded by the city council (£50,000) and operated in partnership with the Trussell Trust and three food banks, which made the referrals. It ran for six months from October 2021, aiming to help grant recipients in four ways:

  • increasing their emotional wellbeing
  • negating the need for further food bank use within a year
  • enabling them to better afford the essentials
  • enabling them to better manage their financial situation.

In total £45,450 was distributed in 187 grants, supporting 283 individuals. Analysis of the Leeds City Council Cash Grant Pilot programme found that 94 per cent preferred a cash option to a food parcel; 90 per cent experienced improvement of their overall finances; and 86 per cent did not use a food bank while in receipt of the grant. Longer term impacts included the ability to accumulate small savings pots, debt repayment, and increased financial confidence. Leeds is now looking at how to embed a cash offer within its LWSS.

Learning points

  • The cash grants pilot happened because of existing relationships with partners, good communication and a shared understanding of the added value in working together. 
  • The council is happy to trust other organisations to take the lead where they are the experts.
  • Linking providers can produce immediate results. At a recent meeting one debt advice provider reported a backlog of clients; another said they had extra capacity and could take on some of that work.


For more information contact Leeds City Council’s financial inclusion team. 
Email: [email protected]