Welfare board faces up to cuts

By Jessica Elgot, August 20, 2010
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Concern:Rebecca Weinberg

Concern:Rebecca Weinberg

Leeds Jewish Welfare Board is urging the community to "dig deep" for its Rosh Hashanah appeal, fearing that budgets could be slashed by Leeds City Council.

LJWB chief executive Rebecca Weinberg is concerned about meeting an increasing caseload in the wake of recession-related job losses, debts and family breakdowns.

"We are looking at a much greater demand for some of our services, particularly mental health and family services," she said. "We see a lot of people driven into deep depression by debt and we are somewhat limited because we are not debt counsellors."

In addition, the upcoming 20 per cent VAT rate would cause "huge problems for many, many people".

The charity, also now incorporating Leeds Jewish Care Services, has projected expenditure of £3.4 million for the 2010/11 financial year. Half the funding comes from statutory services and the charity is resigned to cuts.

"We have been doing the 'Big Society' thing since 1878," Ms Weinberg pointed out. "It's encouraging that the government wants to encourage local charities to run services, because when it comes to local provision and expertise, we are the best in town.

"But we could be looking at between 20 to 40 per cent cuts. Leeds City Council is just following national instructions - it has a £14 million deficit to cut. We have to make sure we are rigorously prepared, because we understand the council has a horrible, horrible job to do."

LJWB is also adapting its long-term fundraising strategy and has launched a legacy campaign. "In the past we've shied away from talking about things like legacies. But we can't apologise for it, we have to be matter-of-fact."

Other potential considerations could be staff cuts and charging for more of its services. "We have had many conversations with our service users. We have to accept that we may need to charge those who can afford it for some of the services we used to provide for free.

"We have such a loyal team of staff, and of course, for some the future is uncertain. It doesn't necessarily mean redundancies but we can't tell until we know how much the council will cut our budget. I am trying to be as reassuring as I can be. We are pedalling hard to stand still."

The Rosh Hashanah appeal is the organisation's biggest of the year and supports services like the Rainbow Project for people with learning difficulties, the Manny Cussins Family Project, Neshama, dealing with mental health issues and Moorcare, providing care for the elderly at home. LJWB also runs the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Community Centre, a blind and deaf society and a charity shop.

Last year, more than £230,000 was raised by the appeal, which goes out to five synagogues.

"This year it is more important than ever that the community digs deep," Ms Weinberg said. "It is ironic that many potential donors overlook the fact that they will need us at some point.

"Experiencing poor mental health, having a child with additional needs, or coping with physical or learning disability can affect any one of us at any time."

    Last updated: 9:54am, August 20 2010