Council leader: Government must extend the household support fund

In a column for the Echo, Waltham Forest Council leader Grace Williams says vulnerable people will face further hardship if the government does not extend the HSF beyond 31st March

Main picture credit: mammamaart via Canva
Grace Williams (inset), Credit: Waltham Forest Council

If the worst of the cost-of-living crisis is over, the news has yet to reach those sharing a meal at The Gleaners in Walthamstow’s Hornbeam Centre.

Here, in this bustling snug of a community café, anyone can get a hot lunch and a drink for no more than they can afford to pay, and there is no shortage of takers this winter.

Projects such as this and many others are funded by the council using the Household Support Fund (HSF), which was introduced by the government two years ago as the scale of the cost-of-living crisis became increasingly clear.

The people who run them as well as those who rely on them all tell us in one clear voice: they do not see the crisis as over. In fact, in many ways, it is only getting worse.

In Waltham Forest we have received £4.2million from the HSF between April 2023 and March 2024. We have invested that money to help the people who need it the most. It has been used to give free breakfasts for 2,135 children before the school day starts, to support 11,000 families with free meal vouchers in the school holidays, and to provide over 5,000 direct targeted payments to vulnerable

This is no aberration and we are not alone. Across London the picture is very similar. In August 2023 London Councils reported that one in every 50 Londoners is homeless or living in temporary accommodation. Terrifyingly, this includes one in every 23 children.

And while inflation figures may have fallen back from historic highs, this is not reflected in the price of food and indeed all the other basics on which we rely. Things are still much dearer than they were in January 2023. In short: the crisis is far from over.

It is the most disadvantaged, those with little or nothing to cut back on, who are still struggling through the worst of the crisis. The Chancellor, in his Autumn Statement, acknowledged as much saying: “High inflation remains a challenge for many households, and this pressure is not spread equally.”

Yet despite this he has caused confusion and concern by not confirming any extension of the HSF beyond 31st March. The Department of Work and Pensions has been just as quiet about whether it will continue.

This, to remind you, is money that was given to councils to help us deal with the worst of the problems faced by ordinary people like you and your neighbours. The working parents who struggle to afford a full shop to keep the children fed; the pensioners who leave their homes in the day because they are afraid to leave the heating on; the homeowners who’ve seen hundreds of pounds added to their mortgage repayments and the private rental tenants who’ve seen their rents shoot up: all of these groups have benefited from the HSF and all will lose out if it is not extended.

This story is published by Waltham Forest Echo, Waltham Forest's free monthly newspaper and free news website. We are a not-for-profit publication, published by a small social enterprise. We have no rich backers and rely on the support of our readers. Donate or become a supporter.

The chancellor talked about building a brighter future. But to get to a better tomorrow, we need to deal with the reality of the problems we face today. What is most worrying is that the amount of people needing help is still increasing.

In September 2023 the number of individuals and families in dire risk of becoming homeless who asked for our help increased by 50% compared to the previous year. Our local Citizens Advice Bureaus have seen an increase of people asking for advice about the cost-of-living crisis of over a third in just three years.

There will be an inevitable misery lag. Poverty over time becomes entrenched. Loans do not disappear overnight; deferred payments still need to be paid, with interest; credit must be paid off.

High interest rates disproportionately affect those who are already struggling. The pain will be felt for years to come. We already faced an unprecedented level of demand for core services, combined with massive cuts to our budget from central Government in the last decade.

Taking adult social care alone, we are now looking after 1,000 more people than we were in 2019. The HSF was brought in to enable Local Authorities get help to people who need support immediately. It is a vital lifeline for many, increasingly including those who never believed they could find themselves in such a financially precarious situation just a few short months ago. It must remain in place.

The consequences without it do not bear thinking about. The result for many people will be even further hardship. For us as a council it will pile even more demand on our already stretched services.

It will create serious problems not just in Waltham Forest but across London and the whole country. So today I am urging Echo readers to lend your support to the campaign. Please take a minute to add your name to our petition. Each signature makes our case a little bit stronger and harder for the government to ignore the simple fact that the crisis isn’t over.

You can read and sign the petition here. Do you benefit from the fund? Get in touch and tell us how it has helped you at [email protected]

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