I visited Horsham Job Centre last week, one of the many that have risen to a huge challenge during Covid and, assisted by an increase in staff, are providing practical help and training. Although job opportunities exist unemployment is increasing and the 18-24 age range is particularly hard hit.
Covid is having a dreadful effect not only medically but on peoples’ economic well-being. We are all acutely aware of the impact that this can have on families.
The first priority has been to support as many jobs as possible. To date some £53bn has been committed to protecting incomes, helping to increase the security of some 12 million jobs. This is alongside long term investment which the Government continues to pursue during the pandemic – building a better economy for the future.
This reduces the economic downturn but cannot stop it entirely: £9.3bn is committed to enhancing welfare, including an increase in Universal Credit specifically to help during this Covid period worth £1,040 over a year.
This provides direct help to families through the downturn.
Since the introduction of the welfare state no previous Government, whatever their party politics and whatever the state of the economy, has ever extended Free School Meals to all those eligible outside of school. I am very glad that this summer we did just that. The free school meals voucher scheme saw over £380 million worth of supermarket voucher codes redeemed by schools and families.
I am particularly impressed by the Holiday Activities and Food programme which in the summer provided targeted support to around 50,000 children across 17 local authority areas: providing not only free meals but activities which support children who have missed out on so much.
The additional support for Free School Meals was provided when most students were not in school. With the return of schools in September the vast majority of students are now back in the classroom, Free School Meals are continuing as normal during the school week but also as normal are not being provided at weekends nor over this week’s half term.
Targeted support continues, £63m was allocated earlier this year to local authorities to help support those suffering hardship. West Sussex County Council via its Community Hub. It has received 54,000 calls and on-line support forms. Over half the emergency funding made available to County has been spent on direct support for food and other essentials for those in need, alongside grants to local community charities who are also providing support.
There are moments when there is complete agreement on the result we want but disagreement on the best means of getting there.
No one wants any child to go hungry.
That’s why I fully support the measures put in place to help families. Free School Meals which have been in place for a hundred years have a valuable role to play but are part of a much wider package of support to families, including targeting help to where it is most needed.
Photo Credit: Horsham Wardens are our and about in Town and last week were putting up further signage to encourage social distancing.