Covid-19 support fund will help hard pressed Wandsworth families through the winter months

Published: Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Councillors are set to endorse details of a fresh round of targeted cash support for hard pressed families in Wandsworth through the winter months with the addition of a new Covid-19 support fund.

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Tomorrow's (Thursday) meeting of the town hall’s finance committee will be given details of an additional £836,000 that has been set aside to help support vulnerable families and individuals this winter.

The lion’s share of the cash will be used to provide assistance with food, energy and water bills, while around 20 per cent will help pay for other essentials like sanitary products, warm clothing, soap, blankets, boiler service/repair and the purchase of crucial household appliances like fridges and ovens.

Around £360,000 will be used to provide food vouchers for children eligible for free school meals, plus those whose families are required to shield and those with disabilities and other vulnerabilities.

A budget of £50,000 has been set aside to pay for the anticipated food and fuel costs of additional families in need of support who the council will work with as the pandemic continues.

An extra £55,000 will be awarded to local voluntary groups and charities to provide hot meals and food parcels to families they support.

Around £100,000 will be used to purchase between 500 and 600 laptops for children missing school who have not already received laptops and tablets. An additional £10,000 will be used to pay for broadband top-ups and wi-fi dongles so that these children have internet access.

The Wandsworth Discretionary Fund which offers crisis funds to families to cover household essentials will be boosted by an additional £170,000.

The council has also set aside a separate £640,000 budget to fund a range of wider community needs that have emerged as the pandemic has continued.

This money will help meet the needs of vulnerable and isolated elderly residents, support others with mental health issues, victims and survivors of domestic violence and abuse and private housing tenants threatened with eviction.

It includes £100,000 to support working age vulnerable adults and older people to better understand, operate and navigate the digital world. This will include providing them with laptops and tablets as well as internet access so that they can benefit from online opportunities.

And to help victims of domestic abuse, which has seen a sharp increase during the course of the pandemic, £70,000 will to be used to fund a wide range of support programmes.

Wandsworth’s finance spokesman Cllr Rory O’Broin said: “This is a comprehensive and far reaching package of support for vulnerable households, and especially those with children, to help them get through the difficult winter months.

“It is a continuation of the various hardship support schemes the town hall has set up since the beginning of the pandemic. The council is fully focused on making sure residents and businesses get the help and assistance they need to see them thorough this crisis.”

Children’s service’s spokesman Cllr Will Sweet added: “I’m delighted that we are in a position to offer so much help and support to the borough’s young people. Ensuring that children from our most vulnerable families don’t go hungry over the school holidays and making sure they can access online learning tools to support their education are both hugely important.”

Councillors at Thursday’s finance, resources and climate sustainability overview and scrutiny committee will be told that Government support for local businesses has included business rate exemptions and reductions to more than 2,500 local businesses worth a total of £68.7m.

Government grants to small businesses and retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, plus a discretionary business grant scheme set up earlier this year, has paid out a further £58.4m to a total of 4,136 businesses.

The council has also used Government grants worth around £2.3m to reduce or suspend council tax bills for those on the lowest incomes and set up an Emergency Assistance Grant for food and supplies plus to fund specialist advice from Citizens Advice Wandsworth to support residents facing hardship.

Since the pandemic began, and up to the year end in April 2021, the council is set to have shouldered an additional £43m in costs, including an accrued loss of income estimated to be around £19m. Government grant received to date will cover some but not all of these costs, with an anticipated overall shortfall of around £9m at the end of the financial year.

The committee report can be viewed here.