You may be blissfully unaware, but Sussex is at risk of losing tens of millions of pounds of government funding to support the county’s most vulnerable residents.
Amidst the cost of living crisis and with frontline services experiencing record demand for support, the government has still not confirmed whether it will renew the Household Support Fund (HSF), due to end on 31 March.
HSF D-Day – will the government step in to save vulnerable families?
Launched in 2021, HSF was designed to prevent people from spiralling into financial crisis. Administered by local councils, it is a lifeline for residents facing sudden unexpected costs or struggling to afford essentials such as food, heating, clothing or household goods like a cooker or a child’s bed. Recent research by Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that there are now one million children living in destitution – defined as unable to meet their most basic needs – up 88 per cent since 2019.
Food partnerships across Sussex are extremely concerned, calling the end of the fund on 31 March 24 a ‘cliff edge’ which threatens to overwhelm food banks and frontline public services.
Take Marge, for example. She was recently discharged from a long stay in hospital, had very little mobility and no family living close enough to help. All she had at home was a single ready meal and a packet of biscuits. Her pension was barely covering household and energy bills, clinicians had advised her not to leave the house due to her fragile health and she could barely stand up long enough to cook a meal. Using the HSF, a local charity was able to step in. They arranged for Marge to receive a daily hot meal delivery and then ensured she received support from adult social care, benefits advice and help with her energy bills.
A precarious edge: Sussex food banks brace for impact
An unexpectedly large cost can have shattering consequences for people already living on a low-income. Food is often the essential that people cut back on first, as paying rent or bills is the immediate priority. The worry is that cutting the HSF will open a flood gate to food banks that are already under immense pressure and now are having to make tough decisions about who they can support – and who they have to turn away.
Food insecurity figures remain high. According to the Food Foundation’s latest food insecurity tracker, 23.4 per cent of households with children and half of all households on Universal Credit were unable to access enough affordable, nutritious food. Minoritised ethnic groups and people with disabilities are at even higher risk.
While no substitute for fair wages, secure work and an adequate social security system, HSF is important. It has been used to help food banks buy in additional food, issue emergency food and fuel vouchers to enable people to cook, and deliver food to housebound people living alone, like Marge. As free school meals are only available during term time, the fund is also vital in keeping children fed during half-term and holiday periods.
Silence in Westminster: Minister tight-lipped on fund’s fate
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, has been very quiet on the subject and won’t say who will pick up the pieces if HSF isn’t continued after March. Councils are more cash strapped than ever, and public, voluntary and community sector services are stretched to the limit. With a rise in malnutrition and the return of Victorian diseases such as rickets and scurvy, the impact on people’s health and mental health is simply unthinkable.
Ahead of the Spring budget, food partnerships are urging the UK government to extend the Household Support Fund for another year. You can help by writing to your local MP and asking them to do all they can to ensure the fund continues.
As one Sussex food bank volunteer said, “Our members will go hungry without it, it’s as simple as that!”
Resources: contact your local MP
- East Sussex: Your MPs | East Sussex County Council
- West Sussex: MPs for West Sussex – West Sussex County Council