From the Campaign Trail - Rachel Bishop-Firth

8 Apr 2024
Rachel Bishop Firth

Wokingham Borough Council and our partners in the Hardship Alliance breathed a sigh of relief when, at the eleventh hour, the government finally agreed to an extension of the Household Support Fund.  We had worked hard lobbying for this funding to be continued. The bad news, however, is that this funding is only for another 6 months. There is no guarantee of any further funding after September 2024. If funding is confirmed at the last minute we have real difficulties in planning support to residents. How do you manage staff, for example, when you don’t know if someone dedicated to assessing grants will be needed in that role in less than a month’s time?

More importantly, the delayed decision left those in most need facing a financial cliff edge. The Household Support Fund pays for emergency support grants, and food vouchers in the school holidays for families who rely on free school meals in term time. Without the central government funding we would simply be unable to continue this support. The current government has a chaotic, piecemeal approach to supporting those in most need. Universal Credit is now so low that last year it fell £35 a week below what was needed to pay for basic essentials for a single person. If you look at everyone in Wokingham Borough who relies on Universal Credit, that gives you a £12 million gap between their incomes and the cost of essentials.

The council and the voluntary sector are filling the gap as best as they can, but local councils are underfunded and the Voluntary and Community Centre are also under huge pressure. The council’s main focus has to be on providing services which we’re required by law to provide to residents. These include services for children and care for the elderly and those with disabilities.

Unless the Government continues the Household Support Fund after September, those living on the lowest incomes will go without food and heating as we go into the winter. It’s that simple.

We will continue to lobby the government to continue funding for those in most need and to put into place a stable and sustainable safety net. We will also continue to use the £250,000 Hardship Fund put aside by this Lib Dem administration to invest in longer term solutions to fight poverty in Wokingham. Money from this fund is currently supporting:

  • the launch of the Roots Community Store, and helping it to expand and become self-sustaining. 
  • the two ‘School Days’ projects to directly help families living on the lowest incomes afford the cost of the school day
  • help to prevent residents from getting into unmanageable debt, through debt surgeries and our partnership with the Boom community bank.

Wokingham Borough Council and our Hardship Alliance partners are achieving great things locally. But to end poverty in Wokingham we need the national government to take a serious approach to fighting poverty so that everyone in this country can afford basic essentials.

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