Helping Wokingham people at Christmas

19 Dec 2023
Basket of basic goods in local supermarket

The cost of living crisis means that many of our residents will sadly find it difficult to just pay for the basic essentials this Christmas.  

Although inflation is thankfully lower than it was in 2022, rents and food prices are still rising at more than 10% a year.  Many of our residents aren’t seeing increases in their incomes to match.  The government has promised that most benefits and tax credits will rise in line with inflation, and there will also be an increase in the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage – but none of this will happen until April 2024.   This leaves many low income households worse off in real terms over the winter, at a time when they’re battling the higher costs of living of the cold winter months.

Wokingham Borough Council is working with our partners in the voluntary and community sector to make life a little easier.

The rising cost of food is a huge problem for many residents, leaving too many relying on a diet of cheaper but less healthy foods which can cause health issues in the long term.  Wokingham Borough Council has grants to help the parents of children who receive means-tested free school meals in term time to eat a health diet during the holidays.  You can apply for a grant of £20 for each eligible child for every week of the school holidays.  This is an increase from £15 per child each week which we offered last year, reflecting the increase in food costs.  If you’re eligible and are not already receiving these vouchers, you can apply via our charity partner First Days at firstdays.net.  

These children will also be eligible for places in our Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) Programme.  The HAF ensures that the children living in the lowest income families don’t miss out on the stimulating activities that will help them when they return to school in January, while providing them with a nutritious meal on the days that they attend.    

Wokingham Borough Council is also making emergency grants available for those who can’t afford to pay their essential bills.  Depending on the size of the household, we can provide a grant of £240 or £120 to help pay for energy, food and other essentials.  For further information, please visit www.wokingham.gov.uk/hsf or get in touch with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (if you are over 50, you can also approach Age UK Berkshire).  

Our incredibly successful Winter Warmers Scheme is back for winter 2023-4 to help those who are struggling with their energy bills.  The scheme provides green, energy efficient items such as slow cookers, heated blankets and air fryers to help residents to use less energy.  Items already given out will save our residents more than £1 million in total, from an initial investment of just £60,000.  This year’s Winter Warmers Scheme is looking to double that amount.

If you urgently need a cooker, bed or other essential household item, we have discretionary grants available for these larger items – please apply via wokingham.gov.uk/benefits/local-welfare-provision.

Full details of the help on offer from Wokingham Borough Council can be found at  www.wokingham.gov.uk/cost-of-living.  If you need help to apply, you can contact Citizens Advice Wokingham, using their online referral form or by calling 0808 278 7958, Monday to Friday. 

Our voluntary and community partners are working alongside us to help the people of Wokingham, distributing vital advice, emergency food and essential home furnishings and school uniforms to those who need it.  Alongside the essentials, they are working to make Christmas enjoyable for those under the most pressure during the Cost of Living crisis, especially children.  First Days and The Cowshed are both working to get Christmas presents to children who might otherwise get nothing on Christmas day.  If you’re in the position to be able to make a donation – or even to help out as a volunteer - please visit their websites to find out how you could make a difference this Christmas. 

There is one more message that we need to share.  Most of this help to local people relies on Government grants.  Without these grants, we will not be able to give emergency loans or pay for free school meals in the school holidays.  We are very concerned that there is currently no guarantee that we will receive any money after March.  The Liberal Democrats are campaigning for reassurance that this money will continue until we can ensure that benefits and working incomes are paid at a level which means that everyone can afford the basics. 

Rachel Bishop-Firth

Executive member for equalities, inclusion & fighting poverty.