Ali Cooper, Senior Policy Advisor on Child Poverty at Barnardo's, explains what the Household Support Fund is and why it needs to be extended to help children growing up in poverty.
What is the Household Support Fund?
The Household Support Fund is practical support given out by local councils in England to help households struggling to afford things like energy, food, clothing or other essentials such as a bed for their child. The money “is aimed at anyone who’s vulnerable or cannot pay for essentials” (Gov.org.uk, 2023).
The money for the fund is given by the UK Government to local councils in England. Each council can decide their own criteria on who is eligible, how you apply and who can receive the money, vouchers or items they need. Ali Cooper, Barnardo’s Senior Policy Advisor for child poverty, explains that some local councils may give “cash payments or vouchers so families can buy essentials, while others choose to give advice and support to help people get the help they need. In some local areas families in financial crisis have been provided with furniture and white goods.”
Since it was first launched in 2021, the fund has been extended but unless the Government renews the funding, it will end in March 2024.
Senior Policy Adviser, Child Poverty
What will happen if the Household Support Fund is not extended?
Assistant Director - Children’s Services, Birmingham
The current funding is due to end in March 2024. If it is not extended it will leave a major gap in support which local government and the voluntary sector won’t be able to fill. Research by End Furniture Poverty found that 45% of local welfare assistance is funded by the Household Support Fund (End Furniture Poverty, 2022).
There have been 26 million awards made from the Household Support Fund, which shows the huge amount of need across England since its launch. We are concerned that families' budgets are unlikely to improve in the short term. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predicts that income is set to fall for everyone over the next year (House of Common's Library, 2023). However, when people are already living on a low income, an unexpectedly large cost can have shattering consequences. New research from Barnardo’s has found that families are having to prioritise food and heating over things like replacing mouldy bedding or broken beds (Barnardo's, 2023).
The Trussell Trust, who provide emergency food and support, forecasts that they will distribute more than a million emergency food parcels between December 2023 and February 2024, the equivalent of providing a parcel every eight seconds (Trussell Trust, 2023). Research by Joseph Rowntree Foundation in October 2023 found that there are now 1 million children living in destitution, up 88% since 2019 (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2023). Destitution is when people cannot afford to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.
Organisations on the frontline, like Barnardo’s, the Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, have seen how the cost-of-living crisis has driven more people into serious financial difficulties who then turn to their local council for support. All the evidence shows that it is vital there is a good safety net in place to help people when they are in desperate need of help. If the Household Support Fund is not extended, many families in crisis situations will have nowhere to turn.
What should the government do to help families in poverty?
Our report No crib for a bed: the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on bed poverty made three recommendations to government to address child poverty.
One of these recommendations is to urgently extend funding for the Household Support Fund before it runs out in March 2024. To cope with the increased pressures on family finances, we recommend the funding available is increased by 16% and extended for three more years. Alongside this, the Government should introduce a minimum standard across England so every child in every family can get the help they need, regardless of where they live. We also want to see the Household Support Fund guidance updated to encourage councils to use funds to support families with access to white goods and essential items of furniture, like beds and bedding.
Senior Policy Adviser, Child Poverty
How you can help families experiencing poverty
Ask your MP to take action to help children growing up in poverty where you live
Email your MP to encourage them to ask the Chancellor to extend the Household Support Fund. Complete our short form to be matched with your MP, then we'll suggest an email you can send to them.