Row over threat to free school meals vouchers for 12,000 Rotherham children
Rotherham Council’s ruling group has called for a three-year extension to the Household Support Fund, which is worth £4.9 million to the borough.
It has helped pay for £15-a-week meal vouchers outside of term time – but there was no reassurance in the government’s Autumn Statement that the fund would continue beyond Easter 2024.
A group of charities including Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society and Joseph Rowntree Foundation released a statement saying: “We are disappointed the chancellor decided not to extend the Household Support Fund in the Autumn Statement.
“This was a missed opportunity to provide certainty to local authorities with a long-term decision on the future of local crisis support. Time is now running out.”
In Rotherham, the council has also used the money on council tax relief for low income households and energy grants for more than 2,000 residents.
Council leader Cllr Chris Read said: “We called on the chancellor last month to give us a fair deal – to put council services on a fair footing, bridge the gap in funding for survivors of sexual violence, back flood defence plans, and critically to extend the Household Support Fund. And he has done none of those things.
“Instead, the Conservatives are cutting £5 million from some of the people who need it most in our borough, including £195 of food per year from the mouths of children in the lowest income families.
“That’s a scandal that for thousands and thousands of Rotherham families will mean the cost of living crisis just gets harder.
“There are already a number of councils across the country who have had to scale back their support because there are just so many people in dire need at the moment.
“But as demand for foodbanks in our borough has trebled, we’ve been determined to get help to those who need it directly.
“There is still time for the Tories to change course but we need them to do that urgently and I hope that people will raise their concerns with our MPs now before it is too late.”
Cllr Simon Ball, leader of Rotherham Conservatives, accused Labour of “desperate political opportunism”. He added: “This is targeting vulnerable households making out that support is being withdrawn. It is not.
“The Department for Work and Pensions, as they do each year, are now considering the further extension of the Household Support Fund.
“On top of this – the Holiday, Activities and Food programme which makes free places available to FSM children during the holiday periods has funding in place until 2025.
“The Holiday Activities and Food programme provides healthy meals, enriching activities and free childcare places to children from low-income families, benefiting their heath, wellbeing and learning.
The council’s Labour administration ha said it intends to use its current remaining £500,000 balance to provide energy crisis payments to up to 2,200 more households struggling with bills.