What support has already been given to help families in need?

Ministers have defended the Government’s refusal to provide free school meals in England over half-term, insisting that families have already been offered generous support.

But local government leaders say money given to councils over the summer to help people who are struggling to afford food and other essentials has already been spent.

In June, ministers announced that £63 million would be made available to local authorities to help those struggling financially as a result of the pandemic.

The Government said at the time that it anticipated most of the funding – distributed from July – would be “spent within 12 weeks”.

Civic leaders stress that the money has now been spent, and was not specifically designed to help support families in receipt of free school meals.

Richard Watts, chairman of the Local Government Association’s resources board, said: “No young person should have to go hungry and ensuring vulnerable pupils are provided for is a top priority for councils.

“Short-term hardship funding provided by the Government this summer helped councils try and provide much-needed crisis support to all households – including those without children – struggling to afford food but also fuel and other essentials.

“Demand for support from households facing financial hardship as a result of Covid-19 has outstripped this funding now and councils are having to find money from stretched budgets to top it up.

“This is increasingly difficult as they continue to face rising costs of providing services – such as adult social care, protecting children and housing rough sleepers – and income losses as a result of the pandemic.

“As many households are likely to be economically vulnerable for some time to come, it is vital that the Government restores local welfare funding so councils can provide preventative support to all households who need it.”

Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace

The Government has also increased Universal Credit by £20 per week, or £1,000 a year, but this is due to end in April.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Monday: “People have access to Universal Credit and in response to this issue of Covid, we’ve increased that by over £1,000 a year.

“At the same time we’ve given local authorities £63 million in England and Wales to be able to focus specifically on families in need.”