Government’s £500m support package fails Britain’s poorest households | Cost of living crisis
A key part of the government’s response to the cost of living crisis has not been made available to candidates for months in parts of the country after councils ran out of money, the Observer can reveal .
The government launched the £500million Household Support Fund (HSF) last autumn to help poorer households with basic necessities. Ministers highlighted the HSF in response to accusations that it is not doing enough to help people cope with soaring inflation. Just last week Minister for Work and Pensions Chloe Smith repeatedly quoted the HSF in an interview with Channel 4 News.
The funding was due to last until March 31, but figures from the Freedom of Information Act show that one in six English local authorities ran out of funding for applicants at least a month earlier, some as early as December.
The bureaucratic nature of the process also meant that dozens of councils that still had funds turned down more than a quarter of all applications.
Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Since the start of the year, we have seen record levels of demand for crisis support amid a squeezing cost of living. Government assistance is far from sufficient to target low-income households who need it most.
“It is concerning that this limited aid has forced some councils to shut down their systems early. With only the same amount of money coming in again in April and cost of living pressures still rising, that won’t be enough for those struggling.
“The government must urgently put in place targeted financial support through the benefit system, so that people have no one to turn to.”
Katie Schmuecker, senior policy adviser at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “The government has placed considerable reliance on the Household Support Fund as its preferred solution to the enormous pressures that have been put on low-income people, rather than to ensure the social security system had sufficient funding to help people through difficult times.
“The help offered by these types of devices is useful for a one-off emergency, if your refrigerator breaks down and needs to be replaced, for example, but they are not suitable for dealing with a constantly insufficient income. The crisis we face is the result of very low incomes among the poorest, while prices are soaring but benefits are far from keeping pace. These programs fall far short of the magnitude of the current challenge.
“With the cost of living crisis set to deepen further, schemes like this cannot be relied upon to protect people from hardship or harm as a result – only a social security system fit for purpose. lens can do it.”
The government recently extended the HSF until the end of September with an additional £500m. But whereas the winter scheme required English councils to set aside half the money for families with children, these councils must now guarantee a third of the funding for pensioners and another third for families with children.
Since total funding has not increased, less money than before will therefore be earmarked for families with children. Councils can use part of the remaining third of the funding to support this group, but this could divert money from others in need.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We have extended the Household Support Fund so targeted support for families with children and pensioners will continue to be available.
“This is just one of the ways we are supporting people facing the cost of living and is part of a wider £22billion package of measures. This includes support for working families, as we have raised the minimum wage by over £1,000 a year for full-time workers and put an average of £1,000 more a year in the pockets of workers on Universal Credit .