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Lockdown: £170m winter support package to feed the vulnerable

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A further £50million is to be made available next year to provide food for children if the coronavirus crisis continues.

The initial £170million is to support the poorest families over the winter running through to March.

There will be subsequent support for holiday activities and the food programme will be expanded to cover Easter, summer and Christmas in 2021.

Healthy Start payments are also set to rise from £3.10 to £4.25 a week from April 2021. This scheme supports pregnant women or those with children under four, who have low incomes and are in receipt of benefits, to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.

 

Mr Rashford said he was “so proud” of those who had united behind his campaign and that he was “overwhelmed by the outpouring of empathy and understanding”, promising his supporters to “fight for the rest of my life” to end child hunger in the UK.

In a statement, he said: “Following the game today, I had a good conversation with the Prime Minister. The steps made today will improve the lives of near 1.7 million children in the UK over the next 12 months, and that can only be celebrated.”

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: “We want to make sure vulnerable people feel cared for throughout this difficult time and, above all, no one should go hungry or be unable to pay their bills this winter.

“We know this has been a challenging time for many and we have consistently supported the lowest-paid families, protecting nine million jobs with furlough and boosting welfare support by £9.3billion.

 

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan welcomed the aid.

He said: “This new scheme is a lifeline for vulnerable families who are struggling to feed their children and heat their homes this winter. It will also help prevent holiday hunger throughout 2021.

“We stand ready to work closely with government ministers, local authorities and other partners to keep children safe and healthy through this crisis and give them the best possible chance of a positive future.”

The Covid Winter Grant Scheme will be run by councils in England with funding ring-fenced and at least 80 per cent earmarked for support with food and bills. 

 

It will allow councils to directly help the hardest-hit families and individuals, as well as provide food for children who need it over the holidays. The Holiday Activities and Food programme, which has provided healthy food and activities to disadvantaged children since 2018, will also be expanded next year.

It will cover Easter, summer and Christmas in 2021, and cost up to £220million. It will be available to children in every local authority in England. The Government has also pledged additional funding of £16million for food distribution charities, and is holding conversations with FareShare and others as to how this is allocated.

The move has come after severe pressure from Conservative MPs on ministers to find a way to help poorer families during lockdown.

But Conservative MPs also want the Government to come up with a strategy that allows the economy to open and avoid further lockdowns after the current one ends on December 2.

 

Tatton MP Esther McVey, founder of the Blue Collar Conservatism Movement and one of 34 Tory rebels who voted against lockdown last week, said: “We cannot just keep locking down. We need to find a way to live with this disease even if there isn’t a vaccine.”

It is understood that a bigger rebellion was seen off after Chancellor Rishi Sunak had a series of one-to-one meetings with unhappy MPs to discuss next January’s budget.

There are also concerns that Boris Johnson has lost control of the crisis and has allowed Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to take charge.

One senior source said: “Boris jokingly calls Gove ‘the boss’.”

A former minister added: “Gove chaired all the Brexit Cabinet committees and it seems he is now in charge of the Covid Cabinet committees as well. Boris needs to get a grip or he is going to find himself pushed out.”

Yesterday there were 24,947 new Covid cases and 413 further deaths in the UK, up on Friday’s 23,287 cases and 355 deaths.

Statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter at the University of Cambridge defended the “dramatic action” of an English lockdown, saying it had been needed to reduce transmission from its current “unsustainable” levels.

He told BBC Radio’s 4 Today programme that infections were broadly stable, but added: “It looks like the tiers have been working but slowly, and not enough to bring R down well below one.”

He also pointed out that deaths in hospitals and hospitalisations were going up slowly as winter approaches and said: “That’s not sustainable in terms of what the health service can deal with.”

Liverpool’s mass testing, part of the Government’s Operation Moonshot, is also to be extended to secondary school pupils within days after agreement was reached.

Parents at 10 schools will be sent letters asking for permission for their child to be tested as part of a pilot scheme introduced on Friday. Director of Public Health, Matthew Ashton, said: “The more of us who get tested, the more we can stop the spread of Covid-19 in our city.”

And as the current firebreak in Wales ends tomorrow, Dr Chris Williams at Public Health Wales reminded people that “this does not mean a return to normality”.

Wales recorded 958 new cases and a further 32 deaths yesterday.

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