Financial support offered to the county’s poorest families has been cut from £3 million to £400,000 in four years, new figures have revealed.

The Essential Living Fund – the crisis grants Essex County Council can use to help people in extreme hardship has been reduced by 87 per cent from 2013/2014 to 2017/18.

The Local Welfare Assistance Scheme in Essex has been funded entirely by the county council since the Government stopped funding it in 2015.

In 2017/2018  the total amount available to people suffering financial crisis from the Essential Living Fund fell to £394,500.

Recent figures have also shown a severe deduction in the approval rate for applications – down from 68 per cent in 2013/2014 to an approval rate of 32 per cent in 2017/2018. The number of applications  fell – from 8,297 in 2013/2014 to 2,033 in 2017/2018.

In that year about 591 households – around a quarter of the total who applied for an award – had children aged five or less.

Of that number 199 applications were successful.

Church Action on Poverty is calling for the Government to make it a statutory duty for top-tier local authorities in England to run a welfare scheme which can provide cash grants, loans and in-kind support for people, as appropriate, in times of need.

An Essex County Council spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting local people who may unexpectedly find themselves vulnerable and in crisis.

“The Essential Living Fund is one of the ways as a council we can support these individuals and families.

“It is a non-cash scheme that provides practical support by way of recycled furniture, white goods, pre-payment cards for utilities and food parcels when needed.

“During 2017/18, 1,152 adults and children benefitted from this support.

“In 2015 we challenged the Government’s decision to cut the grant.

“We believe the scheme provides real benefits to those in need and we made the decision to ensure this support continued.

“For 2019/20 we have invested £400,000 to provide this vital lifeline for residents.

“We will continue to lobby ministers for adequate support for vulnerable residents.”