A NEW emergency support fund to help the most vulnerable children has been announced by Hampshire County Council following the government’s unpopular decision not to extend holiday food vouchers.
Leader Cllr Keith Mans said the authority would be distributing funds to food banks, charities and other organisations to compensate for the loss of the voucher scheme.
“It’s obviously not possible to introduce a scheme ourselves for this half-term, but it is my intention that Hampshire will provide the same level of support that would have otherwise been provided through the government’s previous voucher scheme,” he said.
“The county council is already facing huge unplanned financial pressures as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, not helped by the latest tranche of funding from government which was significantly lower than we expected.
“Nonetheless, supporting vulnerable families during the school holidays must be a priority.”
Cllr Mans said the move would be partly funded by additional finances identified in the spring for councillors’ grants to help mitigate “crises in local areas during the Covid-19 pandemic”.
“In addition, we are exploring other sources of potential funding within the county council to contribute where possible,” he said.
“I am also encouraging Hampshire’s district and borough councils to make use of funding they still have available, which was awarded to them from the government’s coronavirus Welfare Assistance Fund via Hampshire County Council – precisely for use in such scenarios.”
While this was “clearly a national issue”, said Cllr Mans, which required a national solution, any action taken at a local level was important.
“I will be writing to the secretary of state and Hampshire’s MPs to press for government to implement a long-term strategy to cover the Christmas and Easter school holidays to help those families who have been specifically and significantly affected by the pandemic,” he said.
The county council is the latest to offer help to those children most at risk of going hungry, with dozens of businesses rallying behind the high-profile free school meals campaign. Restaurants, pubs, cafes and takeaways have all come together to offer food parcels this half-term.
Earlier this year, the government funded a voucher scheme for children of low-income families during the Easter holidays, and footballer Marcus Rashford’s crusade forced a government U-turn on provision over the summer holidays too.
But Labour’s recent motion to extend that policy further, until Easter 2021, was defeated by 261 votes to 322, with both New Forest MPs voting against.
The Tory-led BCP Council is also offering food parcels via its helpline 0300 123 7052.