West Sussex community hub supporting families in hardship throughout pandemic

Children and families in West Sussex who need support over the school holidays and the upcoming winter can access support through the community hub.

Thursday, 29th October 2020, 3:20 pm
After an extension to free school meals into the holidays was rejected by the government, West Sussex County Council is highlighting the support offered by its community hub for families in hardship (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images) SUS-201026-161344001

It was set up in March 2020 to give practical support and assistance to anyone adversely affected by Covid-19, has provided access to food and essential household supplies to individuals and families since its launch, together with information, advice and guidance.

To date the community hub has received more than 54,000 inbound calls and online support request forms, made over 37,000 outbound calls and delivered 3,437 urgent food parcels across the county.

Following the government’s decision to reject a Labour motion calling for free school meal vouchers to be extended into the holidays, West Sussex County Council has reiterated its commitment to providing assistance to vulnerable families and reminded people where they can get help.

Paul Marshall, leader of the council, said: “We don’t want any child going hungry and in West Sussex we have had support in place since March to make sure this pandemic does not leave families unable to take care of their children. Not being able to put food on the table is something no parent should have to experience and therefore I don’t want anyone to suffer in silence.

“Our community hub is totally confidential and there to support anyone who needs it. I know there is a lot national debate about this issue at the moment, but I want to be really clear that this council’s priority is the children and families living in West Sussex. We have really well established systems in place to support those in need and I want to make sure everyone who needs support, knows how to access it.”

Opposition calls for action

This comes after the Lib Dems called on the county council to step in and ensure no West Sussex children go hungry.

Kirsty Lord, county councillor for Burgess Hill South and Hassocks, said: “At a time of unprecedented health and economic crisis, it is appalling that the Conservative government including all but one of West Sussex’s Conservative MPs have decided that they don’t care if children go hungry over half term.

“In the summer, the government spent £552m on the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme but cannot spend just £20m to ensure the poorest children in our country are fed this week.

“I have called on the Conservative administration at WSCC to step in where the government did not and provide support for our children as other councils are doing. I will also be asking them to make contingency plans for the upcoming Christmas holidays should the government’s support still be lacking.

“Many businesses, charities and individuals across West Sussex are now working to ensure children do not go hungry next week. The Liberal Democrats thank them for their kindness and compassion but we wish they hadn’t needed to step in.”

Meanwhile Michael Jones, Labour group leader at County Hall, has submitted a notice of motion to next week’s Full Council meeting.

It asks the council to recognise that the on-going pandemic is causing hardship and poverty for many families within West Sussex and calls on the cabinet to follow the example of other councils around the country to step in and provide free meals for children entitled to free school meals during future school holidays during the current pandemic.

Support for families

Financial support is also given to families through the county council’s children and adult services in addition to the community hub activity and this activity has increased during the pandemic.

West Sussex County Council has received £737,319 in funding from DEFRA’S Local Authority Emergency Assistance Grant to support people struggling with food and essential supplies. This funding has been used by the Hub to get support quickly to those in need throughout the county.

£383,000 of that money has been spent directly on food or other essential supplies for vulnerable people.

In addition, £100,000 has been allocated to Citizens Advice and associated charities in West Sussex to operate the emergency utility scheme and refer eligible people needing assistance with food to the community hub.

A further £60,000 of the grant has been allocated via established foodbanks to provide food within communities. Discussions are ongoing with district and borough councils in West Sussex to provide further assistance to community-based organisations who are coming together to create local food partnerships.

The remaining £203,000 of the funding is allocated to supporting families and individuals in need as the pandemic continues. In addition, the county council continues to work with our partners including the district and borough councils and the voluntary and community sector.

Mr Marshall added: “Communities have been outstanding during the pandemic and many people have supported neighbours, set up initiatives and looked after those who need it. As a County Council we are here to support all of our residents, particularly our most vulnerable. I welcome the Prime Minister’s comment that no child will go hungry this Christmas and await with interest the Government’s future plans on this issue.”

The community hub will remain open throughout winter and the county council is already looking at what capacity is needed over the Christmas holiday period. West Sussex County Council will continue to work with district and borough colleagues and a wide range of partners to assist those who might be experiencing financial hardship, including supporting the development of food partnerships and offering help via Citizens Advice for those struggling to pay utility or fuel costs.

The West Sussex county-wide community hub is available seven days a week and staff will be on hand to respond to enquiries between 8am-8pm.

A dedicated telephone helpline is also available for residents who are unable to go online or would rather speak to someone in person: 033 022 27980.