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Covid-19: Vulnerable People

Volume 803: debated on Tuesday 12 May 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when the £76 million funding to support vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic, announced on 2 May, will be distributed.

The Question was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.

My Lords, the £76 million government package of support to charities supporting vulnerable people, which is targeted at several different groups, will be administered by the MHCLG, the DfE, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. Departments are working hard to get the funds to where they are needed as soon as possible. Details on how domestic abuse charities can access the vital funds they need were set out by the Communities Secretary on 7 May, and the application information is clear that the department aims to announce successful grantees by the end of May.

The Minister will be aware that the £76 million is a reannouncement of part of the £750 million announced for charities on 8 April, nearly five weeks ago. Charities are reporting that very little of that money is getting through to the coalface—in other words, to them—and many are financially on their knees. Why did the Government take until last Thursday to announce that domestic violence charities must bid for £10 million of the already announced £76 million of the already announced £750 million, for housing? Why, according to the application form, must they contribute something from their own resources towards the additional costs they are facing when they are already stretched beyond their limits?

The noble Baroness is right that these charities perform an absolutely critical role. The Government and all departments are moving as fast as they possibly can to meet these needs and make sure that this funding gets to the right place as quickly as possible.

My Lords, I welcome the announced funding—I think it will do good—but I have one question. How do we promote the routes out of risk for those who are experiencing abuse? By what means can we encourage that promotion and how much of this funding will go towards ensuring that those who are most at risk have routes of escape?

My noble friend is quite right that we need to think about the long-term position of people who are experiencing abuse. In providing this funding, we will work with specialist charities, which are the real experts in this, to understand the perspective of victims and address their need for both immediate safety and long-term freedom from abuse.

Covid-19 is making the task of identifying victims of human trafficking even more difficult. Some victims may have gone underground and perhaps are in grave danger. Providing essential and practical support has become even more challenging. It has become very difficult because charities which normally provide practical support are under resource constraints. How are the Government ensuring that support and funds are reaching those charities in a timely manner and that every effort is being made by authorities to seek out such victims?

The noble Baroness touches on an important area. The lead here is the Home Office, which has been working through the modern slavery victim care contract to make sure that government-funded safe accommodation and ongoing support are made available to victims of modern slavery as quickly as possible.

Will the Minister bear in mind that asylum seekers are among the most vulnerable groups in society? They currently receive only £37 per person per week, which is 72% below the poverty line. Will the Government do something for asylum seekers in these very difficult times?

The Government are very aware that particular groups, including asylum seekers, are especially vulnerable. We have a voluntary and community sector emergency partnership involving organisations such as the British Red Cross, and we are getting regular intelligence, feedback and advice on how to respond to those particular needs.

I am sure that we all agree that the voluntary sector needs our immediate support, and we plead with the Government to do that, but we must avoid increasing the number of vulnerable people. One such increase is unemployment. Even last September, the Governor of the Bank of England said that a hard Brexit could mean half a million more unemployed people. However, it is worse than that: we face not a hard Brexit but an impossible Brexit, an impossible deal. We must do everything we can, including extending the transition period from the end of December, because we cannot have fruitful ongoing discussions under the threat of the virus. Will the Government look again and extend that transition period?

The Government are keeping all those issues under review. Their commitment to supporting people to stay in employment remains undiminished.

Voluntary sector workers with type 1 diabetes have been pressured to go back to work even where their doctor has advised otherwise. Is there some way in which this funding could be used to deal with what is an anomaly in current practice and policy?

I am unclear as to whether this fund would be applicable, but the Government’s advice on going back to work is clear: people should go back to work only if it is safe to do so, and, clearly, an existing medical condition could impact on that. As the noble Lord knows, detailed guidance is being produced. I recommend that those in the situation that he describes refer to it.

My Lords, it is a relief that the Government have recognised the urgent need for funding for domestic abuse charities. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, I am concerned about their having to match some of the contributions. I know that the Minister understands this issue well, so can she assure the House that the Government now accept that those organisations are essential and will never again face the levels of uncertainty over their funding which they have experienced over the past 10 years?

The Government have been absolutely clear. Like me, the noble Baroness recognises what a huge issue domestic abuse is, not just for women but, critically, for children growing up in homes where fear and coercion are the norm.

My Lords, one of the strands of funding is through the Department for Education to support vulnerable children, but it has become clear through the discussion this morning that there will be new cases of domestic abuse. How does the Department for Education identify new cases of vulnerability if there is not regular sight of children going to school?

The noble Baroness raises a crucial point. A number of organisations, including the Department for Education and charities in this field, are finding new ways to make sure that they have regular contact, whether by phone or online or, where safe to do so, face to face, to support those children.

My Lords, asylum seekers waiting for asylum decisions are expected to live on £37.75 a week. Can the Minister assure the House that either a generous portion of the £76 million for vulnerable people can somehow find its way to these particularly deprived people or, better still, that asylum support rates will be lifted by £20 per week in line with universal credit?

It is up to individual departments to decide exactly how the funding for vulnerable people is distributed, but I acknowledge what the noble Baroness said. This is a particularly vulnerable group.

My Lords, I regret that the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. That concludes the Virtual Proceedings on Oral Questions. Virtual Proceedings will resume at 12.15 pm for the Private Notice Question on public transport.

Virtual Proceeding suspended.

My Lords, Virtual Proceedings of the House of Lords will now resume. The Virtual Proceedings on the Private Notice Question will now commence.