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Core Cities leaders urge government to continue Household Support Fund

Liverpool City Council Leader Cllr Liam Robinson and leaders of seven other major English councils yesterday wrote to the Prime Minster and Chancellor urging them to extend funding provided to local authorities by the Household Support Fund.

Leaders of Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield Councils, all part of the Core Cities group, have set out their concerns that ending the funding would affect thousands of vulnerable people.

Cllr Robinson and Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources Cllr Ruth Bennett had previously written to the government in January in support of the Local Government Association’s call for the fund to continue beyond 31 March 2024.

The full text of the letter:

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing as leaders of the eight English Core Cities to urge you to extend the Household Support Fund (HSF) that makes a vital difference to thousands of our most vulnerable citizens.

While we understand that the intent was for the HSF to be a time-limited initiative, we believe that not extending it beyond March will be catastrophic for many people in our poorest communities as recent rises in the cost of living continue to bite, for example average annual energy bills are still 59% above their summer 2021 levels.

The fund itself has been successful at alleviating poverty and hardship and providing emergency assistance. It is a great example of what government, working together with councils and the voluntary sector, can achieve. In poorer areas of Bristol for example, distribution of free school meal vouchers via schools saw redemption rates top 90 per cent.

In Manchester the fund has paid for 40,000 children to receive free school meals and 6,000 young people have received support from holiday activity funds. More than 400 care leavers have also been supported via HSF.  We estimate that withdrawal will only make inequality in Manchester – a city where more than 60,000 people have a disposable income of less than £124 a month – worse.

In Liverpool some 330,000 residents over the three-year period have been helped with food, fuel and emergency costs in the form of hardship payments, including a woman caring for her terminally ill mother who was facing financial hardship at Christmas.

In Birmingham 169 of the city’s food banks have been supported to feed 24,000 people per week, while the network of 300 Warm Spaces now has a capacity to host over 60,000 struggling citizens.

And in Leeds the fund has allowed targeted support to some of its most vulnerable residents, including women fleeing domestic violence who need help with food vouchers and utility costs.

Similar examples can be seen in Bristol, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield, as well as other towns and cities across England. During 2023-24 the eight English Core Cities received more than £96m from HSF.

The uncertainty over the fund comes at a time when our city councils are under severe financial strain due to cost and demand pressures. It will simply not be possible for us to replicate HSF from our own budgets. If the fund does end in March, it will leave thousands of poorer households at the risk of immediate food and fuel poverty.

We argue that our cities are the engine rooms of the economy and with the right freedoms and powers could generate £100bn extra for the UK every year. But to truly reach their potential we need to make sure that everyone has access to and is included in local economic growth. Failure to do this only adds to the costs of the local and national state and forsakes the potential that exists in all of our communities, particularly amongst the young.

We would urge you to give our vulnerable households and our city councils the clarity they need by confirming an extension of the HSF before the Spring Budget.

We would also argue, and suspect you will agree, that continuing to extend temporary funds is no way to tackle deeply ingrained inequalities in both income and opportunity.  We would be more than happy to discuss some of our longer-term policy proposals that we believe will achieve inclusive economic growth across our great Core Cities.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Bev Craig, Leader, Manchester City Council

Cllr John Cotton, Leader, Birmingham City Council 

Mayor Marvin Rees, Mayor, Bristol City Council

Councillor James Lewis, Leader, Leeds City Council

Cllr Liam Robinson, Leader, Liverpool City Council

Cllr Nick Kemp, Leader, Newcastle City Council

Cllr David Mellen, Leader, Nottingham City Council

Cllr Tom Hunt, Leader, Sheffield City Council

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