Household Support Fund kept me afloat, says former nurse after scheme extension

A former registered NHS nurse who can no longer work due to a disability has said she would be “at rock bottom” without the Household Support Fund, which was extended for six months in the spring Budget on Wednesday.

Shirley Widdop, 56, from Keighley in West Yorkshire, said she has been unable to work due to a spinal cord dysfunction called degenerative cervical myelopathy, which she has had since 2011 and which required her to undergo two surgeries.

Ms Widdop claimed £140 on the Household Support Fund (HSF) in October 2023 to help her pay for her energy bill to heat her home where she lives with her 19-year-old son Jack, who has autism among other conditions.

The mother-of-three said she was “really pleased” the HSF had been extended until September, saying her initial thought was “thank God”, but added it “must continue” to help those most in need.

It comes as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the HSF, which was due to wrap up at the end of March, will be extended by six months.

A headshot of Shirley Widdop wearing glasses and smiling at the camera
Shirley Widdop used the Household Support Fund to help her pay for her energy bill in October 2023 (Shirley Widdop/PA)

The funding is aimed at supporting vulnerable households with the costs of basic goods and heating their homes through the cost-of-living crisis.

“Without it, I would probably be hitting rock bottom financial-wise,” Ms Widdop told the PA news agency.

“There’s only so much money you can ask to borrow from your families without causing offence or upset and there’s only so much you can put on a credit card.

“The (HSF) helps you to stay afloat and you may be treading water, but at least you’re not dragged down into the depths.”

She added that she has used the HSF two or three times, with the latest payment being used to help cover “around two thirds” of her energy bill.

“I’m someone who doesn’t put the heating on until I’m physically going cold and stiff – it makes my condition worse especially in my hands and feet,” she said.

“At least for one month, I felt okay.”

Ms Widdop said she fell on hard times after facing domestic violence and abuse where she was forced her to flee her home with her three children.

A photo of Shirley Widdop
Shirley Widdop said the Household Support Fund ‘must continue’ to help those in need (Shirley Widdop/PA)

She added that she has been unable to work due to her disability which causes increasing paralysis in her hands and legs.

“I’m thankful to have had the Household Support Fund because it has helped me to stay afloat, but we are still literally clinging on,” she said.

“As soon as it comes into your bank account, it goes out, and it’s usually to pay for the big bills, the energy bills.”

She added that her initial reaction to the Chancellor extending the scheme was “thank God”, but added: “It’s not long enough.”

“It was the right thing for the Government to do and I’m glad they’ve extended it but the Household Support Fund must continue, not just for the six months but further on from that,” she said.

“Everyone deserves to have the security of knowing they have enough income to live on so they flourish and thrive in dignity.”