‘An appalling copout’: Hertfordshire’s Labour leader blasts​​​​​​​ government over scrapping household support fund

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Labour’s group leader on Hertfordshire County Council has blasted Rishi Sunak’s government for scrapping the household support fund after September.

The fund, first introduced in 2021, has been used by councils up and down the country to support children on free school meals, pensioners in fuel poverty, and welfare support for other struggling households.

The final extension of the funding provided by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been set at £6.17million, to last from May until September.

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This last batch of funding was discussed by the council’s Children, Young People and Families committee on Friday, May 10.

Labour Group leader Cllr Nigel BellLabour Group leader Cllr Nigel Bell
Labour Group leader Cllr Nigel Bell

Cllr Nigel Bell, Labour group leader on the council, said: “I’ll say thank you to the officers who’ve clearly worked very well on this and you knew what was coming.

“This is about an appalling copout by the present government, to leave it so late in the day so that not just Hertfordshire but so many other councils have had to act very quickly.

“To only guarantee it until the end of September… they could have done it for at least a year to be honest, or longer, and that would have actually given a little bit more chance for officers here and in other councils to do much more long-term support.

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“Blame where blame should be, it’s the national government, you know I’ve got to say that because it’s caused a lot of issues.

“We’re already in May, we’ve only got four months to go and what’s going to happen after that?”

Cllr Steve Jarvis, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “Clearly the continuation is welcome, it’s a pity it was announced so late and a pity that it’s such a short extension.

“Maybe I’m being pessimistic about this, maybe there is a plan as to how the council is going to do something if the household support fund doesn’t continue, in order to try and address the problem faced by parents of children who get free school meals during term time during school holidays.”

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Sally Orr, the council’s head of family and health services commissioning, said information was on offer for families but added: “Realistically, yes we can’t replace the cost of providing a voucher in the school holidays except by directing to other support available locally.”

Eden Scott, the council’s head of corporate and executive office, previously told the meeting: “This is our household support fund paper which sets out how we intend to spend the latest tranche of household support funding that’s come from the DWP.

“We’ve been awarded a household support fund since October 2021, and Hertfordshire has benefited from over £30million in the first few phases.

“For the phase April until September this year, we’ve been allocated 6.17million.

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“Particularly relevant to members of this cabinet panel will be the decision to fund supermarket vouchers in the school holidays to children eligible for free school meals. We have already covered the Easter holidays and we will be funding the May half-term and summer holidays.

“I think just to flag, that we aren’t necessarily expecting further household support fund beyond the end of September although we were very pleased to have the six month extension that will take us to the end of September.

“We are planning to have to transition away for household support funding by the end of September.”

Committee chair, Cllr Fiona Thomson, said: “As you’ve said Eden, Herts County Council has received over £30million of funding. We’re very grateful to the DWP for that and being able to facilitate support for some of our most vulnerable families, including super market vouchers, welfare assistance and help with energy.”

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Cllr Thomson said she’d written to the secretary of state to request extending the household support funding, but had not received a reply.

She added: “I would like to say to his government and future governments, clearly we need to keep the pressure on because this money is essential for our residents.

“But of course, it’s about sustainability in the meantime, and how do we continue to support the most vulnerable.”

Cllr Bell said: “I’m pleased that you wrote to the government. I am surprised that even out of courtesy you didn’t get a reply. I hope we can get a reply or that you can write again. We need to try to get the government to actually make a more long-term decision while they’ve still got the power.”

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Cllr Thomson said: “A report will come to a future panel outlining transition plans. Absolutely, I can assure you that I will be continuing to lobby. I know organisations across the county and all local authorities will be having the same conversations about what they will be doing.”