DEFRA’s 12 week grant in July should now be spent!

Here is the the link to the arrangement that was published by DEFRA relating to the £63 Million pound provision from the Government to local authorities as a Grant for Food. The grant was announced by Boris Johnson on the 10th June and the funds were released the following day due to the urgency of the needs this money was intended to provide. The sums involved included £737,319.31 for West Sussex, £591,062.61 for East Sussex and £320,713.25 for Brighton and Hove. Responding to the announcement by the Prime Minister that a £63 million local welfare assistance fund was launched for the most vulnerable families hit by the coronavirus crisis, Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board, said:

“Councils have responded quickly and effectively to the complex challenges faced by local communities and this funding will help them continue to provide much needed crisis support to households who are struggling to afford food, fuel and other essentials. We are pleased that the Government has listened to our call for funding to help pay for this much needed additional support. 

The element reproduced below from the DEFRA guidance which is the first section out of a total of nine parts explains that the money which was provided on 11th June was intended to be used from the beginning of July and most of it was due to be spent within 12 weeks. So if the starting point was Monday 29th June and the end point was 4th October that would be 14 weeks, if it was extended to the end of the first half term that would be 17 weeks and so any prospect of it reaching 18 weeks and being significant enough for the half term when people were asking for food provision would suggest the local authority was ignoring the words in the first text of the publication. In addition the part called Funding Overlap which is section 5 states “If families are receiving food vouchers for children through the Covid Summer Food Fund, this should be taken into account, and you should avoid duplicating provision.” Now of course if the funding had remained available back on 22nd October once the Government decided not to repeat what they did in the Summer it may be that councils would have realised that if any was left, that they needed to apply it rather differently to the Summer but that seems very unlikely. Particularly as the needs for this funding which is meant to last throughout the Summer and until the end of September were already very clear back in June when the money arrived.

1. Objectives and principles

You should:

  • use discretion on how to identify and support those most in need
  • use the funding from July onwards to meet immediate need and help those who are struggling to afford food and essentials due to COVID-19
  • use the funding for existing schemes and other support which deliver the same outcomes and where the need is greatest
  • work together with other local authorities to provide support and ensure the funding meets its objectives

When deciding how to help people, you should consider:

  • using cash or vouchers where practical – this may reduce pressure on your local partners
  • advising and providing information to people to help them access longer term support they might need, such as benefits – you should decide which approach is suitable in your community

The government anticipates that most of the funding will be spent within 12 weeks.

Sadly while most of the Councils would have been fully aware of the 12 week anticipation, that DEFRA which set it out had explained, the rest of the Government appears to have forgotten or ignored the information. On Tuesday in the House of Lords Elizabeth Berridge was asked a question by Simon Woolley. Elizabeth is The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade) (Minister for Women).

SW: To ask her Majesty’s Government, following the announcements of the Welsh and Scottish Governments, as well as local councils, whether they will end the free school meals postcode lottery and provide free school meals for eligible children in England during the school holidays until Easter 2021.

EB: My Lords, the Government are determined to ensure that children are supported throughout this pandemic. We recognise that these are unprecedented and difficult times for some families and that is why the Government have significantly strengthened the welfare safety net. We have put in place additional measures worth around £9 billion this financial year. Further to that, we have provided £63 million in welfare assistance funding to local authorities to support families with food and other essentials.

A few days earlier last Thursday a couple of written questions were answered by Vicky Ford who is the Under Secretary of State for Education. The two questions came from Ruth Cadbury and they were

RC: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans his Department has to extend free school meal vouchers in England to include the October 2020 half term and to extend the free school meal voucher program into 2021.

The response from Vicky Ford included this final few words

VF: These welfare measures sit alongside our extensive support package, including income protection schemes which have so far protected 12 million jobs and people, at a cost of almost £53 billion. Further to this, we provided an extra £63 million for local authorities to provide discretionary financial help to those in need.

Then on 21st October the debate regarding the Free School Meals included a speech by Therese Coffey, the Secretary for State for Work and Pensions. Therese stated

In particular, it is important to stress that £9.3 billion is not a small amount of money compared to what was injected into the welfare system when we had the last financial crisis. It is giving families an extra £20 a week, and that takes those families right through to Easter next year. It is important that we try to make sure that we have that targeted support, which is why, in addition to the councils that received £500 million extra earlier in the year, an extra £63 million was specifically given to councils, because our social workers know the families in their areas who are at risk and can get that extra help to them. Of course, with the Barnett formula, all the devolved nations have had extra funding as well.

Perhaps the head of DEFRA, George Eustice could take some of his colleagues to one side and explain that when he published in public that the £63m was declared to last till the end of September or the middle of October at the latest, that having his colleagues speaking at the end of October as if it was intended to cover half term, Christmas and next Easter would be a little dishonest or incompetent!

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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