Household Support Fund closure catastrophic, warns charity

Hundreds of thousands of families have had help through the government’s Household Support Fund.
Household Support Fund closure catastrophic, warns charity
Mum Osaretin and Dad Israel and their triplets

The closure of a fund for people struggling with cost of living pressures will be “catastrophic”, the Barnardo’s charity has told the BBC.

More than 160 councils have warned that thousands of vulnerable families are facing a cliff edge of support without the Household Support Fund.

But the government says other benefits are rising to help cover living costs.

The Asemotas are just one of the hundreds of thousands of families who have received help from the fund.

Its closure is “going to be a really sad moment”, says Israel Asemota. “It’s just going to be another kick for our family.”

Over the past two and a half years £2.5bn has been given out through the Household Support Fund.

The safety net funds food banks, warm spaces and provides direct cash for those in need.

When the Asemotas had triplets, Israel reduced his hours at work to help care for the children alongside his wife Oseratin, who is on maternity leave.

“It’s been a relief to get the help, but we know it will still be a struggle in the months and years ahead,” he says. Looking at his three two-month-old babies, he adds: “You’re taking it from them”.

Osaretin says the couple were “so grateful” to get support through the fund.

The grant they received from Oldham Council came through Homestart Host, and they have been able to spend it on baby formula, nappies and energy bills to keep the house warm enough for the three newborns.

Her husband Israel said: “We have never needed help before. We’ve both worked, and only ever depended on each other.”

When asked what it felt like to receive the money Osaretin said: “It was one of the best days, they brought food, they gave us vouchers, I was very happy because it wasn’t going to be easy just depending on our income.

“I am no longer working, and he has reduced his hours to 20 hours a week, so the money is really not coming in anymore.”

The fund funnels government money to councils in England for projects targeted at those who are most in need.

Lauren Forrester from Homestart Host said: “For lots of families that we’ve supported it’s meant feeding their children and heating their homes, just those really important but basic essentials, that you really need to raise small children.”

Ruth Welford from Barnardos

Ruth Welford, assistant director for Barnardos, says that is a picture that has been repeated across the whole country.

“We know this is a scheme that has helped local authorities reach lots of families that have no way of feeding and clothing their children, and that cost of living crisis is not over for those families.”

“It’s critical that it continues,” said Ruth “Otherwise thousands of children will be plunged even deeper into poverty. It will be catastrophic.”

Last month, more than 120 organisations wrote to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to urge him to extend it for at least another year.

A cross-party group of 160 councils in England has said the fund is a “vital lifeline” and have called for it to be extended.

Councillor Shaun Davies, chair of the Local Government Association, says closing the fund risks more households falling into financial crisis, destitution, and homelessness. “That increases pressure on already overstretched public services such as the NHS, social care and temporary accommodation,” he says.

The fund is due to end in four weeks’ time, unless a turnaround is announced in the budget this week.

Naomi Maynard

In Liverpool there are thousands of households who get help from food banks and pantries each week, which are being funded via the Household Support Fund.

“It’s enabled us to keep pushing the edge of the cliff further away for households across the city,” says Naomi Maynard, the director of Feeding Liverpool.

Her organisation supplies 84 different food banks in the area, which have faced a double-whammy of falling donations and rising prices for food which they now need to buy in themselves.

“The Household Support Fund is filling that gap,” says Naomi. She says that as demand for help is still increasing: “We’ll be cutting ourselves off at the knees if we get rid of this funding at this crucial point when households are still struggling and are trying to recover”.

But the government says that as the Household Support Fund ends, benefits and the Local Housing Allowance are rising to help cover living costs.

A government spokesperson said: “The current fund is available up until March 2024 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.”

For Israel, the dad of the triplets, his concern is that others won’t get the help his family has been given.

“I feel for those who are going to be in my own shoes,” he says. “This is one of the things that can really help.”


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