An reformed offender has challenged David Cameron over the 'Big Society' initiative, after Government cuts threatened her community organisation with closure.

Annys Darkwa, who set up St Helier-based Vision Housing in 2007, after overcoming a drug addiction, said cuts to crisis loans for vulnerable ex-prisoners by will put her social enterprise out of business.

The Middleton Road organisation, which is heavily dependent on charitable donations, finds homes in Merton for homeless ex-offenders – who must claim the loan from the job centre immediately to pay the rent.

But she said staff were beginning to refuse the loans after changes made by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) on Monday, April 4.

Ms Darkwa said: “I attended Mr Cameron’s [February 14] 'Big Sciety re-launch, and he said we were exactly the type of organisation that should be growing, not facing closure.

“These people do not have any alternatives – other than committing crime or loan sharks.

“It is vital we house people as soon as they get out of prison, otherwise they will go back to what they know.”

She claimed Vision Housing has saved the taxpayer millions of pounds after housing 383 ex-offenders since 2007.

Between 15 and 20 per cent of those newly released go back to prison, compared to the national average, which varies between 50 and 75 per cent.

Writing to Ms Darkwa on Mr Cameron’s behalf, a DWP civil servant said “tough choices” had to be made to curb public spending, including making it tougher for people to access crisis loans.

Sue Merrick said: "Crisis loans will no longer be paid for items in an emergency. [They] will still be available for items in the event of a disaster.

"These changes are being made because public expenditure in this area has tripled since 2006 and, in January this year, exceeded £1m per day."

What do you think of the 'Big Society' and what can be done in Merton? Leave a comment below, call 020 8722 6335 or email: ooakes@london.newsquest.co.uk.


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