The Government has been accused of an “11th hour attempt to save face” by announcing a £500 million fund for vulnerable families as it pushes ahead with the widely-opposed cut to Universal Credit (UC) payments.
Charities said the targeted Household Support Fund, announced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on Thursday, is “a fraction of what’s needed” and what is being cut.
It will be made available to councils in England in October to assist the community through small grants to meet daily needs such as food, clothing and utilities.
The funding is intended to help families meet “essential costs as we push through the last stages of our recovery from the pandemic”, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said.
It comes as the £20-a-week UC uplift, introduced to help claimants weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic, is being phased out from the end of September.
The move is opposed by six former work and pensions secretaries, charities, think tanks, teachers and MPs across the political spectrum.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation called the announcement of new funds an “11th hour attempt to save face as the Government presses ahead with an unprecedented overnight cut”, urging the PM and Chancellor to reverse the plans.
Deputy director Helen Barnard said: “The support available through this fund is provided on a discretionary basis to families facing emergency situations.
“It does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge facing millions families on low incomes as a cost-of-living crisis looms and our social security system is cut down to inadequate levels.
“By admitting today that families will need to apply for emergency grants to meet the cost of basics like food and heating through winter, it’s clear the Chancellor knows the damage the cut to Universal Credit will cause.”
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “The announcement of this support fund is an admission that the social security safety net does not meet basic living needs.
“It would be far better if the main benefit for people on low incomes did its job and allowed them to afford basics like food, clothes and heating.
“£500 million is a fraction of what’s needed, what’s been cut and what will be cut next month when £20 a week is removed from nearly six million families relying on Universal Credit.”
Chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said now is not the time for “stop gap measures”.
She added: “Grants offer no stability to millions of struggling households and will leave far too many out of pocket when the £20 Universal Credit cut hits.”
Dr Coffey said: “Over the last year, we have helped millions of people provide for their families.
“Many are now back on their feet, but we know that some may still need further support.
“Our targeted Household Support Fund is here to help those vulnerable households with essential costs as we push through the last stages of our recovery from the pandemic.”