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Vulnerable People: Essential Costs

Volume 688: debated on Monday 25 January 2021

What support her Department is providing to vulnerable people to help meet essential costs in winter 2020-21. (911271)

The £170 million covid winter grant scheme is supporting disadvantaged people through the challenging winter months to the end of March with food and utilities. The first wave of funding was given to councils in November. The next tranche of payments is due next month and support for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales is already included in the pre-agreed Barnett funding. I have been pleased to see councils go beyond just issuing food vouchers. For example, in Telford and the Wrekin, where a large number of pupils had reportedly been going to school without a warm coat, some of the funding will help ensure that these disadvantaged children are warmly dressed for the cold winter months.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that statement. As well as providing those on low incomes with food boxes, the charity SOFEA in my constituency works with utility companies to try to drive down the costs of people’s bills, recognising that food is not their only challenge. I am hugely supportive of the covid winter fund, but does my right hon. Friend agree that what happens to those on low incomes is not just about what the Government do, and that we need all businesses to look at what more they can do to help drive down the cost of living?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that all businesses can play a part. I praise those mobile phone and internet companies that have offered low-cost packages to people while they are on benefits. In particular there is the warm home discount scheme where my Department works closely with utility companies on data matching. Nearly 1 million eligible claimants received the £140 discount automatically and did not need to apply.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, by providing funding to support families with children of all ages, including pre-school children, the covid winter grant scheme will give local authorities the flexibility they need to ensure that no child goes hungry this winter?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The terms of the condition of the grants to councils were clear that they needed to reach out to support children of all ages who are disadvantaged. Councils have the ties and the knowledge that make them well placed to identify that. I commend Shropshire County Council, which has received £850,000 over the scheme, for drawing on this information to target its support to help children of all ages, including pre-schoolers and care leavers who are exactly the groups that I hoped would also benefit from the support.

Too many pensioners face a harsh and challenging winter. Deep concerns about the high rates of coronavirus have been made worse by the effects of the severe weather and isolation from the usual networks of support. Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that the Government will take urgent action both to raise take-up of pension credit for those most in need and to take other steps to protect pensioners? The Government have dithered for too long, and they need to set out a comprehensive package of support for our vulnerable pensioners.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place and congratulate him on his new role. On supporting pensioners, I genuinely believe that the Government have gone a very long way with the triple lock. We continue to see that boost with the basic state pension. He may not be aware of the extensive advertising in GP surgeries, post offices and similar that took place in 2020 to encourage people to take up the pension credit. We will continue to consider how that can be improved.