Image Credit: Birmingham City Council
With the UK Government still pressing ahead with their cut to the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, which was introduced as a “temporary measure” in March 2020, the City of York Council has decided to put £150,000 towards a Free School Meal voucher scheme.
The scheme will begin from half term this Autumn and will remain in place until half term in February 2022. £78,000 will also be put aside to help community support schemes. Families will be relieved to hear that support will include a week in the Christmas holidays, as this was not covered by the Holiday Activities and Food Programme Fund.
With 7.7 percent of York Central’s constituents claiming Universal Credit, Cllr Nigel Ayre and Executive Member of Finance and Performance said that the council had recognised “how worried many people were about the impending end of the £20 Universal Credit uplift” and the extra-funding put in place for what will be a “difficult winter period” aims to “alleviate that pressure.”
MP for York Central, Rachael Maskell, voted against the £20 cut to Universal Credit and tweeted “shame on all those who don’t.” During the pandemic, the number of Universal Credit claimants rose from three to six million, according to the Department for Work and Pensions’ data, and contrary to common belief 37 percent of those who take advantage of the support are in work.
With gas prices set to rise this winter, inflation increasing and food shortages hitting supermarkets, Cllr Ayre spoke of the importance in ensuring that “residents with lower incomes can secure the right support over what will be a difficult winter period.”
Last winter, Marcus Rashford was successful in forcing the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to U-turn over ditching free school meals for students during the school holidays. In response to Rashford’s activism, the government promised to fund a £170 million Covid winter grant scheme and their food programme will run until the end of next summer. The decision to remove the £20 uplift, despite newspaper commentators such as Clare Foges highlighting in The Times that “recipient’s needs have not changed dramatically over the course of 2021”, will inevitably lead to a surge in demand for food banks.
Extra-funding in York for free school meals is desperately needed, as the number of school pupils eligible rose from 2,721 in Jan 2020 to 3,347 in Jan 2021. York's Foodbank is supported by Trussell Trust, although it is extremely reliant on donations with over 90 percent of the food it distributes coming from the public. The closest place to the University for donations to York’s food bank is outside Waitrose at Foss Islands.
As well as boosting school meals funding, the City of York Council is setting up a further three schemes. These include: a £20,000 Early Support Fund, a £35,000 Early Intervention scheme and a £23,220 “100 per - cent Digital York project." The Early Support Fund has £40,000 of existing funding and has been part of a pilot run over the past 18 months. The city’s Local Area Coordinators will be responsible for administering the fund and its priority will be providing small grants to families facing desperate financial situations.
The Early Intervention Scheme intends for Benefit services to take a more “holistic view” in supporting residents “break the cycle of debt.” With 13 percent of York’s residents not online, the Digital York Project will tackle “social isolation” and seek to prevent residents missing out on “the financial benefits of being online.” Cllr Denise Craghill and Executive Member for Housing and Safer Neighbourhoods at City of York Council said that the advice these schemes would provide to help residents “out of debt” was “important” for people’s “financial security and mental health.