Council announces £12.3m plans to support families in Dacorum and Herts amid cost of living crisis

Holiday food vouchers will continue until next year as part of the proposals
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Holiday food vouchers for children living in some of the poorest families in Dacorum and Herts look set to continue until next year, as part of a £12.3million package of proposals drawn-up by the county council.

As part of the proposals, supermarket food vouchers would be made available to families with children eligible for benefit-related free school meals.

And that would mean £165 vouchers per eligible household – payable in instalments at Easter, Summer, Christmas and half-term holidays until February 2024.

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With an estimated cost of £5.6m, the vouchers – first introduced in the county during the Covid pandemic – are at the heart of wide-ranging proposals designed to support the most vulnerable in the county as the cost of living crisis continues.

And on Monday (April 17) the council’s cabinet will decide whether – or not – to approve the plans, from the £12.3m allocated to the council from the government’s Household Support Fund.

Also included in the proposals is £1.5m to support unpaid carers on low incomes, £1.2m to support low income homes in crisis – whether that’s with food, energy or white goods – and £1.1m for food banks and energy support.

There are also plans to offer support those who are homeless, pensioners or who have learning difficulties or disabilities.

And there could also be funding available to increase capacity at the county council’s Money Advice Unit and Citizen’s Advice – as well as signposting those who are ‘just about managing’ to available support.

On Wednesday (April 12) the plans were unanimously backed by a joint meeting of the adult care, health and wellbeing cabinet panel and the children, young people and families cabinet panel.

However there were concerns expressed at what would happen next year (2024/25), if the government did not make similar funding available.

Executive member for adult care, health and wellbeing Cllr Tony Kingsbury said that this was ‘significant funding’ for some important schemes.

Meanwhile executive member for children, young people and families Cllr Fiona Thomson said the government funding was ‘incredibly welcome’.

And she said the council’s ‘very well thought-out’ spending plan would target support at the most vulnerable residents.

Labour’s Cllr Nigel Bell said he welcomed the extra government money – and the coucil’s plan to allocate in excess of £5m of it to holiday food vouchers.

Labour colleague Baroness Cllr Sharon Taylor said the funding was ‘welcome’ and praised the detailed and thoughtful work by council officers.

But she said that it was ‘another bout of sticking plaster politics’ – pointing to the impact of the government’s austerity programme, cuts to local government and other funding over last few years.

And she echoed concerns about what would happen if the government did not make similar funding available next year.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Ron Tindall suggested that if the government did ‘let us down’ and not make funding available, the council looked at what it could do.

In addition to the allocation from the government, the county council and health chiefs have allocated a further £1.923million for further cost of living support measures.

This funding has already been earmarked for measures that include support for the Hertfordshire Warm Spaces programme, HertsHelp, Citizen’s Advice and the Money Advice Unit.

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