Coronavirus lockdown fuelled desperate pleas for help with food and bills across Brighton and Hove

A growing number of people have turned to the council for help with food, fuel and other essentials in Brighton and Hove since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

Most were single parents or single people – often struggling with debt – and many were known to support staff at Brighton and Hove City Council.

But 99 families who had never sought help before were among the growing number who approached the council’s children services team since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed in March.

More than a thousand people applied for food, vouchers or help with paying for gas or electricity through the council’s Local Discretionary Social Fund.

Many of the people who asked for help with food were in council housing, temporary accommodation and emergency placements.

As more people asked for support during the lockdown, the council set up a community hub which handled more than 2,000 cases before the government started to ease its covid-19 restrictions.

A report to councillors said that the government had allocated £63 million for councils to spend helping those who were struggling to afford essentials.

The council’s share of the money from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) was £321,000.

The report, to the council’s Policy and Resources Recovery Sub-Committee, which is due to meet next Wednesday (9 September), sets out how officials intend spending the money.

It said that most applications were from people in five of the poorest electoral wards – East Brighton, Queen’s Park, St Peter’s and North Laine, Regency and Moulsecoomb and Bevendean.

And council staff were trying to help those seeking help to resolve wider issues with budgeting and money.

But the report said: “It is now recognised that many food banks are finding it hard to move people on from their support into a more sustainable situation.”

The proposals before councillors would “begin to address the ‘move on’ and sustainability issue”.

The report added: “It should be established why help for food is needed. In order to do this, we would need to know a household’s financial situation and then be able to offer a variety of solutions, such as budgeting, benefits, debt management, healthy eating/cooking within means.”

Where the money will go

  • Officials propose allocating £80,000 to the council’s Local Discretionary Social Fund to meet current need, with a further £71,000 going to the fund’s winter emergency budget.
  • They also propose giving £94,000 to food banks and hubs supported by the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership.
  • Some £45,000 will go towards supporting older people who need help with things like shopping, if councillors agree.
  • Children’s services will receive £10,000 to help families in need with essential items such as nappies, baby clothes and pregnancy kits.
  • Another £10,000 would be allocated to the Black and Minority Ethnic Community Partnership (BMECP) specialist food bank catering for diverse dietary needs.
  • City Mission and Hove Salvation Army would receive £6,000 between them “for central food banks with high demand for those in supported accommodation and emergency placements”.
  • And £4,000 would support the work of the school meals team with families needing food vouchers during the school holidays.

The council’s Policy and Resources Recovery Sub-Committee is due to hold a “virtual” meeting starting at 4pm next Wednesday (9 August). The meeting is due to be webcast.

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