THE Children’s Society has welcomed the Government’s announcement last weekend of a new financial package to help to support children and families through the winter — but both the society and the Methodist Church have said that a long-term plan is still needed.
On Sunday, £170 million was promised for a Covid Winter Grant Scheme, designed to support vulnerable people during the winter months. Local authorities will be given the money next month, and the scheme will run until March. Most of the funds— 80 per cent — will be reserved to support people struggling to pay for food and bills.
In addition, the Holiday Activities and Food programme will be expanded to cover the Easter, summer, and Christmas periods next year. It provides activities and healthy food for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Healthy Start scheme, which gives payments for fresh fruit and vegetables to expectant mothers on low incomes, will be increased from £3.10 to £4.25 per week from April next year.
In a statement released on Monday, the chief executive of the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, said: “The coronavirus crisis has left many families facing financial hardship; so we welcome this package of support that will undoubtedly help many of those who are currently struggling to feed, clothe, and keep their children warm.
“We are very pleased to see so much money going into local welfare assistance. The Children’s Society has long been campaigning for better provision of the scheme, to ensure families have somewhere to turn should they face serious money problems. With 80 per cent of this money ring-fenced for food and essential items for families, this is a hugely welcome investment.”
He continued: “However, while this money will make a difference in the short term, child poverty is not going away, and is likely to get worse. The Children’s Society wants the Government to introduce a long-term strategy to address the underlying factors contributing to the issue.
“Measures must include widening free school meal provision to all low-income families who receive Universal Credit, and permanently allowing those with no recourse to public funds access to this vital support. More investment must be made in children’s services, and the Government must ensure local welfare assistance continues to provide a much-needed safety net past March 2021.”
The policy adviser for the Methodist Church, Paul Morrison, said on Monday that “the expansion of emergency food provision through foodbanks and vouchers cannot, however, be a long-term solution. We need a welfare system that is strong enough to hold back hunger. Today, it does not provide this, and yet current plans are to remove the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit next April. That vital lifeline must be kept.”
The Methodist Church drew attention to the work of the Whitechapel Mission: an organisation that provides food, shelter, and medical support to up to 300 people per day. The Whitechapel Mission released a video last month describing the ways it has helped homeless people during the pandemic, including serving 10,000 breakfasts since March.
Churches that had planned to provide vouchers for school meals to children from low-income families during the Christmas holidays, including Copplestone Methodist Church, in Dorset, have suspended their plans to do so as a result of the Covid Winter Grant Scheme.
The Archbishop of Canterbury posted on Facebook his support for the total expenditure of more than £400 million, and applauded the campaigning efforts of the footballer Marcus Rashford (News, 30 October): “This is really good news. Congratulations Marcus Rashford and everyone involved in this campaign. Churches will also carry on helping families across the country. Let’s keep going. Together we can end child food poverty.”