Social Justice

'It's a lifeline': MPs urge government to help families in crisis and continue household support fund

Conservative MPs are among those who have joined charities in calling for an extension of the household support fund. Thérèse Coffey, who was work and pensions secretary when the scheme was launched, said how vital it is for families and individuals

coffey

Thérèse Coffey is among those backing an extension of the scheme in some form. Image: Flickr/ UK Government

There is “robust cross-party support” for the household support fund, which offers cash to help with everyday costs, with Conservative MPs joining the calls for continued financial support.

Speaking at a parliamentary debate on Wednesday (31 January), former work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey was among MPs backing the continuation of the household support fund in some form.

Coffey, who launched the household support fund alongside Rishi Sunak in September 2021, said: “I do think the government should look to extend this, in whatever way they call it in the future.

“We should be more challenging to councils who work with, for example, with community foundations to work together to make that money to go further and reach further.”

The household support fund is provided by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to councils, who give support directly to those who need it most. It could be in the form of vouchers to cover the costs of food and utilities, or free school meals over the holidays.

Campaigners, charities and councils across the country have consistently – and increasingly urgently – been calling for answers over whether the “lifeline” household support fund will be continued in 2024. It is currently set to end on 31 March.

Coffey was joined by Will Quince, the Conservative MP for Colchester, who was the parliamentary under secretary of state for the DWP when plans for the household support fund were laid out.

Quince said: “We wanted to design a scheme that provided targeted support with a focus on food and bills, and we also believed that local councils were best placed to understand which groups needed extra support.”

He added: “I want to urge the government to continue that support so that it can continue to help millions more people. […] We know sadly that there will continue to be households that will struggle and struggle to afford the essentials and are facing severe hardship.

“The household support fund allows councils to directly target help to the hardest hit families and individuals, as well as providing support for children who need it over the holidays. Any family or household could be in crisis with energy, food and other essential items.

“This is a targeted safety net when families and individuals have nowhere else to turn. When I look back to my time in government, this is one of the things that I am most proud of because it has made a huge difference to millions of families.”

MPs from across the country shared how the household support fund has helped people in their constituencies. Selaine Saxby, the Conservative MP for North Devon, said that around 15% of the fund has been spent on children and she is concerned about the impact that its loss will have on families and particularly children living in poverty.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Labour MP for Salford and Eccles, said 19,000 households in Salford have accessed the scheme – and this is only expected to grow. She said that cutting the household support fund would catapult people into destitution and hunger.

The current minister for employment, Jo Churchill, representing the DWP, said: “To be clear, the government continues to keep these matters matter under review. No decision has been made on the future of the scheme and the current scheme runs until the end of March.

“While the household support fund does important work, it is only a part of what we are doing.”



Churchill outlined the cost of living packages the government has in place and plans to increase benefits, but she recognised the importance of the fund, saying: “The household support fund has done much to support those in need, providing billions of pounds through millions of individual awards.

“Local authorities have used the fund to help those most in need and, as I have said, the current round will end on 31 March as it was planned to do, but we remain committed to a sustainable long-term approach to supporting vulnerable individuals and tackling poverty.

“I have heard everyone’s comments, both on the success of the scheme and the local focus and members will be aware that there is a fiscal event [the Spring Budget] on 6 March, and it is not for me to preempt what may be included, but I will ensure the comment from today’s debate are passed to Number 11.”

It comes as PoliticsHome reports that Mims Davies, the minister of state for disabled people, health and work, is among those at the DWP who have asked the treasury for an extension of the household support fund – although the minister did not appear at the debate on Wednesday.

Sir Stephen Timms, the Labour MP and chair of the Work and Pensions Committee who called the debate in Westminster Hall and has consistently been pressuring the DWP and treasury over its plans, said: “I particularly welcome the robust cross-party support that’s been expressed during the course of the debate for the household support fund, not least from the two former recent ministers who were responsible for it.

“I welcome as well the positive tone that the minister has taken in her remarks about the household support fund, and perhaps what we should all do is wish her well for her discussions with the treasury in the next few weeks, so that the fund does get extended.”

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