Families across the Harrogate district struggling to pay their bills could receive one-off support of £20 thanks to North Yorkshire County Council.
The money is in addition to the £15 per week food vouchers the authority will give to families entitled to free school meals.
It was revealed at a meeting of NYCC’s executive today that the government has provided additional funding to help families, and the authority agreed to let headteachers use their discretion about which families should receive the money.
NYCC’s deputy leader, Cllr Gareth Dadd, told the meeting:
“With the best will in the world, nine or ten of us sat round this virtual table do not know where those families are that are in real need.
“I would suggest that schools, headteachers, touch those families every day and would be better placed to help identify where it’s going to make the biggest difference: so just about managing, those who have perhaps have just lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic or whatever, that might need that bit more support…
“Quite often there are those that fall through the cracks – hard-working people that perhaps are just having a little bit of a bad time of it.”
The executive was originally going to vote on distribution of the food vouchers to families through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme, funded by the government. However, an amendment was made when additional funding was released to local authorities, enabling NYCC to add the £20 vouchers to support families struggling as a result of the pandemic.
The nine members of the executive voted unanimously in favour of the measure. They also agreed to allow the corporate director for children and young people’s services, Stuart Carlton, to use his discretion to allocate future funding through the scheme in consultation with the relevant executive member, without having to bring each decision to the executive for approval.
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Meanwhile, a new Holiday Activities and Food scheme is set to be brought into effect to support families on benefits from the Easter holidays onwards.
The county council is working to develop a scheme of holiday clubs and activities, including providing healthy meals, for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Pilot schemes have been running elsewhere in the UK since 2018, but are only now being introduced in North Yorkshire. A report to the executive said:
“The rationale behind the scheme is that families may experience increased pressure points in holiday periods because of increased costs – such as food or childcare – and reduced incomes.
“This potentially leads to holiday experience gaps with children from disadvantaged families less likely to access organised out-of-school activities, more likely to experience ‘unhealthy holidays’ in terms of nutrition and physical health, and more likely to experience social isolation.”
The scheme proposes offering four weeks of activities in the summer and a week each at Easter and Christmas. However, the current situation with covid guidelines means the programme will be delivered virtually this Easter, using online resources as well as activity packs including sports equipment and healthy recipes.
NYCC has been awarded almost £1.2m of funding for the project for the coming financial year and will work with other organisations to deliver it, including North Yorkshire Police and community groups. Existing council resources, such as libraries and the early help service, will also be used.
The council could add to its funding through contributions from “philanthropists, businesses, supermarkets or other organisations”.
Any family in receipt of free school meals would be eligible for the holiday programme, though NYCC said it did not expect every family to apply.