Children and families in need to get winter support

Help will be available over the winter for children, families in need, and individuals whose lives have been affected by COVID-19.

Oxfordshire councils have received £1.37 million from the government’s new COVID-19 Winter Grant Scheme to run local support schemes for those in greatest need.

The Winter Grant Scheme is principally aimed at families with children, assisting with the costs of food and basic living costs. There will be some additional support available for families and individuals without children.

Oxfordshire County Council is working closely with the city and district councils to identify those most in need of assistance within the rules of the scheme and the most effective ways of delivering support.

The county council will be administering a holiday-hunger scheme to support families around school holidays for those in receipt of benefits-related free school meals.

Over the Christmas, February and Easter holidays, £15 per week per child in food vouchers or equivalent support will be provided through schools for each holiday week. The county council is working in partnership with schools so that all those who may be suffering hardship can benefit from the scheme, including ensuring flexibility so that those not currently accessing free school meal, can receive the support they need.

All councils are also looking at the possibility of equivalent payments to those families with children in early years settings who are most at risk of economic hardship and with very young children or other children not in formal childcare. A scheme to support care leavers at risk of hardship is also being considered.

Provision from the voluntary sector remains vital to supporting those in need. During the autumn, Oxfordshire councils have funded community food providers, including food banks, with total grants of £250,000 to help ensure support is available when needed.

In addition, county councillors have supported community food organisations with £32,000 of Councillor Priority Funding. Oxfordshire councils will continue to work alongside the community and voluntary sector providing additional funding where it is needed.

Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “This Christmas will be different and difficult for every one of us, but I am determined that no resident will go without essentials. Families who are struggling because of the impact of COVID-19 will receive essential support to get them through the winter.

“Our schemes are aimed at supporting families with children, with most of the money to be spent on this group. Other households struggling directly or indirectly due to the impact of COVID-19 will also be assisted with the costs of food and other essential items.

“We know that ‘holiday hunger’ remains a serious concern for many families and we are determined to do everything we can to alleviate those worries.”

Councillor Barry Wood, Leader of Cherwell District Council, said: “We know that this will be a difficult winter, not least for families facing hardship over the school holidays. Schools are uniquely well placed to identify not just children who qualify for free school meals, but also other families in their area who are facing hardship. This funding will have a really positive impact on improving their access to food and other basic living costs. In the coming weeks we at Cherwell District Council will be using our allocation of this funding pot to offer extra help to our partners who are working to provide access to food and essential supplies, including additional support for homeless people and those in temporary accommodation.” 

Councillor Marie Tidball, Oxford City Council’s Cabinet Member for Supporting Local Communities, said: “This funding offers a welcome relief to many families who are struggling this Christmas from the financial impact of the pandemic. It is good that the government has acknowledged the need to extend support for those on free school meals through the holidays. While the priority is to help families with children, this grant will also enable us to offer some extra support to other families and individuals who are especially struggling. I want to encourage anyone who is eligible but not signed up for free school meals to please sign up so that you can access this support.”

Councillor Suzi Coul, West Oxfordshire District Council’s Cabinet Member for Community and Public Health, said: “This money will help support families and children at a very difficult time. We have been working tirelessly with our communities since the start of the pandemic to help and assist residents wherever and whenever we can and that will continue. No-one should go hungry at Christmas and these funds will help prevent that from happening.”

Councillor Emily Smith, Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “We don’t know the extent of the impact of lockdown on our economy. We do know that there will be more families than usual worried about having enough food and paying their heating bills this winter. This funding is absolutely essential as, through our Community Hub we continue to make sure support is available for anyone in our community who needs it.”

Councillor Sue Cooper, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “This funding is going to be crucial to ensure that our most vulnerable families have food and are able to heat their homes this winter. Our Community Hub staff are working with voluntary groups, foodbanks and others to make sure those who most need help receive it. We’ll be doing our best to ensure this money will mean no child or vulnerable person is left cold or hungry this Christmas.”