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Household Support Fund

Volume 703: debated on Monday 8 November 2021

1. What steps she is taking to ensure that the household support fund helps the most vulnerable during winter 2021-22. (904052)

We have made £500 million available across the UK to support vulnerable households this winter. It really is for local authorities, which are closer to their communities, to use the funding to support those with needs for food, utilities and wider essentials. They are best placed to design schemes that support those most in need locally.

The £500 million household support fund is extremely welcome and my local council is busy ensuring that support reaches those who need it through their excellent Helping Hand scheme. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Buckinghamshire Council on ensuring that a comprehensive package is available for those who are sadly unable to put food on the table or heat their homes, and will she set out what more can be done to ensure that those in such distressing circumstances know that local authorities have the resources and should be the first port of call?

My hon. Friend is right to praise Buckinghamshire Council, which was allocated £2.4 million from the fund. It is fair to say that local authorities delivering the household support fund have access to elements relating to health visitors, social workers and housing departments, and access to the benefits system through the Searchlight portal, to identify people who may need help at this time and are most in need. Of course, people should turn to their councils for that support, and they should be warmly welcomed.

According to the Resolution Foundation, the combined effect of the removal of the £20 universal credit uplift and the Budget measures means that 3.6 million households on universal credit—three quarters of the total—will still be worse off this winter. These measures take £3 billion out of support for the poorest, so how far does the Secretary of State estimate that the £500 million household support fund, which is equivalent to just one sixth of the amount that has been removed, will reduce the level of hardship for people this winter?

The hon. Lady will recognise that some of the announcements made in the Budget recently will, I expect, provide some direct support for people working or, indeed, encourage people into work. However, the £500 million, being a targeted fund, will be a great support, with people identified by local councils that know who to target in this regard. It is also fair to say, as has been said many times, that the uplift was temporary, recognising the situation that we are in, and candidly, it was far more generous than ever happened—or rather, never happened—when we had the 2009-10 financial crisis.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith), I pay tribute to Buckinghamshire Council for all that it has done with the Helping Hand scheme. Does the Secretary of State agree that in a place such as High Wycombe, where riches and poverty are often found so close together, it is imperative that we equip councils to provide local people with the local help that they need?

I strongly agree. That is why we are working through local authorities, which understand their communities well, without there being blanket schemes. It is important that that is reflected around the country, including in places such as High Wycombe.