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Herts County Council to end supermarket food vouchers for struggling families in school holidays?





A scheme that offers struggling families in Hertfordshire supermarket food vouchers through the school holidays could be cut.

Households with children eligible for benefits-related free school meals in the county have been able to claim the vouchers since 2020. But now they are being warned that the last vouchers could be issued this month (February).

The Hertfordshire County Council scheme relies on funding through the Government’s Household Support Fund (HSF). However, the authority has been given no guarantee the funding will continue past March. Without that clear commitment, HCC is now drawing up plans to end the scheme.

Cllr Fiona Thomson: “We’re hopeful we’ll be able to fund an additional voucher for the Easter holidays, but this is dependent on the funding available”
Cllr Fiona Thomson: “We’re hopeful we’ll be able to fund an additional voucher for the Easter holidays, but this is dependent on the funding available”

“At the current time, there are no plans for the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) fund to be extended beyond the end of March,” said Conservative Cllr Fiona Thomson, HCC’s executive member for children, young people and families. “So we have plans in place to let all eligible families know that February half-term’s voucher will be the final one.

“We’re hopeful we’ll be able to fund an additional voucher for the Easter holidays, but this is dependent on the funding available. We will, of course, keep families informed should anything change.”

Acknowledging the financial pressures families were facing, Cllr Thomson said she had already written to the relevant minister to ask for the HSF to be extended beyond the end of March. She said: “We will continue to lobby the Government to ensure they understand the challenges we are facing.”

Cllr Nigel Bell: “It is not right that the Government did not make the commitment in the Autumn Statement”
Cllr Nigel Bell: “It is not right that the Government did not make the commitment in the Autumn Statement”

Cllr Nigel Bell, leader of the Labour group on the county council, said the threat was “very concerning”.

He said: “It is not right that the Government did not make the commitment in the Autumn Statement, leaving families and local families not knowing what is happening.”

Cllr Mark Watkin, the Liberal Democrat group’s spokesman on children’s services, said: “It is devastating for the families that this vital support will be removed. And we have to challenge the Government on the harm this will cause.

“The county council is facing drastic financial challenges because of the failure of the Government to fund local authorities properly. I blame central government for walking away from this and causing the subsequent harm to our most needy children.”

Cllr Mark Watkin: “We have to challenge the Government on the harm this will cause.”
Cllr Mark Watkin: “We have to challenge the Government on the harm this will cause.”

In response, a spokesperson for the DWP said: “We have invested over £2 billion in the Household Support Fund over the last two years, with almost £800 million already paid to families with children to help with the cost of living.

“The current fund is available up until March as part of wider cost-of-living support worth on average £3,700 per household, including raising benefits by 6.7% from April and increasing the Local Housing Allowance.”

The DWP is said to continue to keep all programmes and cost-of-living measures under review.

The county council’s school holiday activity programme, HAPpy – which includes a meal for participating children – will continue during the Easter, summer and Christmas holidays this year.

Anyone who needs help can contact HertsHelp on 0300 123 4044, email info@hertshelp.net or visitwww.hertshelp.net.



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