Jeremy Hunt Accused Of Being "Untruthful" About Cost Of Living Support
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the Household Support Fund will exist next year. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)
Work and pensions committee chair Stephen Timms has accused Jeremy Hunt of providing him with an "untruthful" answer in parliament on the future of the Household Support Fund and has called on the Chancellor to formally correct the record.
The Household Support Fund was introduced in September 2021 to help vulnerable households during the winter. Given to councils, the fund is distributed based on need through small payments for those struggling to afford essentials like energy bills and food.
After the fund was extended at several fiscal events, in November 2022 the Chancellor announced an additional £1 billion of support and an extension to March 2024. Anti-poverty campaigners had been hopeful another extension would be announced alongside Hunt's Autumn Statement this week as people continue to struggle with the cost of living.
When the support wasn't included in the economic set-piece, work and pensions committee chair Timms sought further assurance from Hunt.
"For the past three years, the Household Support Fund has enabled local councils to provide an important safety net for families facing the greatest hardship, will there be a household support fund next year?" the Labour MP asked during the Autumn Statement debate on Wednesday.
In response, the Chancellor said: "Yes, there will".
But a Treasury source has since insisted that this did not mean the fund is set to be extended again into the next financial year. "It expires in April 2024, so yes – it exists into next year," they told PoliticsHome.
They added that another fiscal event, the Spring Budget, is due to take place before the fund is set to expire and did not rule out an extension at that point.
"We didn’t make an active decision on extension yesterday. If ministers decide to extend that fund beyond April 2024, they’ll announce in the usual way," they said.
Timms told PoliticsHome he had tabled a parliamentary question to "clarify the position" of the government on the Household Support Fund, and felt he had been given an "untruthful answer" about its future if Hunt's response did not refer to an extension.
"My question was crystal clear, it related – like everything else we were discussing – to the next financial year. The chancellor's answer was: 'yes'," he said.
"The Chancellor needs to issue a correction, his answer was incorrect. And there's a mechanism for correcting untrue statements, and that's what he needs to do."
"The Chancellor has told me there will be a Household Support Fund next year, by which he and I meant next financial year. And I very much hope that the chancellor will fulfil that commitment."
Timms explained that the Household Support Fund was "a very important safety net" for many people struggling with the cost of living, particularly those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) due to their immigration status.
"For those families in the worst situations with no other help available, they have been able to go to their local council and get some local welfare assistance, which has been divided by households," he continued.
"It's a lifeline in many ways – for others, a last resort. And if there's going to be nothing there from next April, that is very bad news."
Principal policy adviser at the poverty-tackling charity Joseph Rowntree Foundation Katie Schmuecker told PoliticsHome that"failing to extend the Household Support Fund in the Autumn Statement leaves deep uncertainty on the future of local support".
"The Fund ends in March 2024 and local government and the voluntary sector will not be in a position to fill the gap," Schmuecker said.
“Cuts to funding meant that by 2022, 35 local authorities had no local welfare assistance scheme whatsoever. In the same year, almost four million people including around a million children experienced destitution – a figure that has more than doubled in five years.
"This means people were unable to meet their most basic physical need to be warm, dry, clean and fed. The Household Support Fund played an important role in bolstering local crisis support.
"The government should commit to making the Household Support Fund permanent, funded to at least £1 billion per year and providing certainty over at least three years."
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