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Renewal of Household Support Fund urgently needed to protect our most vulnerable residents

Cash-strapped councils and emergency food organisations are heavily relying on the Fund to help the most vulnerable residents with the cost of essentials including food. The Sustainable Food Places Network is campaigning for the Fund to be extended to the next financial year ahead of the Autumn statement.

Lunch club in Hastings. Credit: Hastings Voluntary Action

Lunch club in Hastings. Credit: Hastings Voluntary Action

The Department for Work and Pensions’ Household Support Fund (Fund) is money given to councils to support residents with the cost of essentials including food. It was first launched on 6 October 2021. It has been extended several times and it’s worth £2 billion over its lifetime. It has become a lifeline for councils to be able to support our most vulnerable residents and for projects in food emergency networks to be able to support people to access healthy food. Devolved administrations received funds for their own welfare assistance schemes under the Barnett formula, the mechanism used by the Treasury to determine the amounts of expenditure to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It has increasingly become a fund which cash-strapped councils have heavily relied on, to stem the flow of desperate families struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living bites. It has also become a lifeline to overwhelmed emergency food organisations, where other sources of food or donations have dried up.

However, there is no confirmation that it will be extended beyond March 2024. It is unthinkable to imagine a near future without this money at a time when our frontline services are experiencing the most demand. In previous years, the Fund has been renewed shortly before the start of the financial year, not giving enough time to councils to plan spending and retain staff who has been involved in previous rounds. For best outcomes, the renewal of the Fund should be announced at the Autumn statement 22 November.

Why is the Sustainable Food Places network concerned?

Among other functions, food partnerships in the Sustainable Food Places (SFP) Network support local food poverty alliances, work strategically with or within their council and the voluntary and community sector. They play several roles related to the Fund including:

  • building the evidence and/or working with the council to agree priorities for local spending;
  • delivering projects or distributing grants/funding to community and voluntary sector organisations and projects on behalf of the council;
  • receiving support to address long term action on food insecurity and wider food systems change.

Where food partnerships and food poverty alliances work closely with and within their local councils to influence how the Fund is spent, this helps target limited resources to the families who need it most, as exemplified by Feeding Bristol.

‘We would strongly recommend advising local authorities to work collaboratively with their VCSE counterparts […] since Feeding Bristol started working with Bristol City Council to distribute the Fund, we have been able to support a significantly higher proportion of the population affected by the cost-of-living crisis. We have been able to support groups the council have previously found hard to reach, and who have been largely under supported in the past.'

We were all hoping that we would see a decrease in the numbers of people who are needing to access emergency measures like discretionary vouchers or food banks, but nationally this has increased even more. For example, the Brighton & Hove Food Partnership has recently published its annual report revealing a 25 per cent increase this year in people seeking help with accessing food.

Food partnerships, councils and food emergency networks are extremely concerned about the uncertainty around the Fund. These accounts from SFP members in Hull and Plymouth are echoed across the network:

It is unthinkable to imagine a near future without this extra money at a time when our frontline services are experiencing the most demand. Applications from Citizens in crisis are more than nine times the volume they were prior to the pandemic and the current cost of living crisis. It is only through the Household Support Fund that we have been able to support citizens as we would wish to, and there is now an expectation of that support being there at a time of continuing need.’

With the Household Support Fund we were able to support a family […] who had been living in temporary accommodation having moved to Plymouth from Cornwall due to domestic abuse. Multiagency working provided emotional and practical support for all of the family. They are now settled in their new home, the eldest boy is settled in primary school and the 2 younger boys are in nursery part-time. Without the Household Support Fund they would have struggled to manage.’

What action we are taking

Food partnerships across the country have been writing to their local MPs to express concerns that the current Fund is due to finish on the 31st of March 2024 and there is currently no plan in place to replace it. On behalf of our members, Sustainable Food Places has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Chancellor of the Exchequer urging the Department of Work and Pensions and Treasury to extend the Fund in the financial year April 2024 to March 2025 in the Autumn budget. This would give councils enough time to plan and deliver allocation at a local level.

We have compiled and submitted to Treasury case studies showing the positive impact of the fund in several local areas in our network.

Beyond emergency food

While the Fund has become an essential source of funding to sustain the emergency food response, food banks and other affordable food projects relying on surplus food are struggling to meet growing demand and reporting an exhaustion of volunteers and food. Surplus is not a sustainable supply for emergency food and has unintended consequences, fuelling obesity, removing dignity and choice, and deepening poverty, as small food shops miss out on business.

Our framework of action around the six key issues provides the structure for local action to ensure healthy food for all. This includes supporting local food poverty action plans and alliances, promoting Living Wage Employers and Living Wage Places, removing barriers to breastfeeding, promoting food access for older and disabled people, and people of colour, and engaging people with lived experience in co-producing research. School meals for all ages would go a long way to create a nutritional safety net for children and an inclusive education system. While this requires a national political consensus and national funding, local areas can encourage uptake of Free School Meals for those already eligible and use available budgets and additional resources to extend access to healthy and nutritious food during term time and holidays. Alongside our members, we are campaigning for Government to fix the Healthy Start scheme by introducing auto-enrolment, increasing the value of payments and extending eligibility to more households including those on No Recourse to Public Funds.

We support the Trussell Trust’s Guarantee our Essentials campaign asking for an overhaul of Universal Credit to address the fact that it does not currently cover people’s everyday living needs. Fair living wages, control of rampant housing costs and funding renewable energy sources are all part of addressing long-term issues.

Published Monday 6 November 2023

Sustainable Food Places: The Sustainable Food Places Network helps people and places share challenges, explore practical solutions and develop best practice on key food issues, so if you are working to drive positive food change or are interested in developing a programme, please do get in touch.

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Sofia provides strategic oversight, programme and staff management to local action projects and campaigns at Sustain.

Sofia Parente
Head of Local Action

Helen Starr-Keddle works as Deputy Director for Food Matters and is on the programme management board for Sustainable Food Places.  She also works for Brighton & Hove Food Partnership as Project manager, previously coordinating the cities’ response to food insecurity; chairing the Emergency Food Network, Food Insecurity Group and advising Brighton & Hove City Council on food policy.

Helen Starr-Keddle
Deputy Director for Food Matters

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