On 3 June 2020, CSAN called on the Government to extend provision for families on low incomes and small businesses affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Eight directors of charities in the Caritas network co-signed an open letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Rt. Hon. Robert Jenrick MP. The main points from the letter follow:
“We recognise that the Government has offered a range of support measures during the public health emergency of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Government’s announcement on 27 May 2020 of the extension of the Free School Meals (FSM) Voucher Scheme through the May half-term holiday in England, following concerted appeals from local councillors and others, was welcome. Edenred vouchers are not redeemable in some supermarkets and many small, locally owned businesses.
“We encourage you to consider two further, exceptional responses as a matter of urgency.
“In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, local authorities can now offer parents the choice of cash payments by bank transfer, as an alternative form of support alongside food vouchers and parcels. Parents have welcomed this measure. First, it enables them to have increased choice and control over providing the best possible support in their household and local neighbourhood contexts. Secondly, it recognises the equal dignity of all families by removing the stigma attached to using vouchers. Cash payments would offer parents more choice to support local businesses. We would encourage you to direct councils in England to offer bank transfers to parents as an additional option alongside vouchers and parcels through the DfE arrangements with Edenred. This would bring England into line with the rest of the UK.
“As some schools in England receive funding from the DfE, which does not hold parents’ bank details, we ask you to encourage joint working with the DWP, which does pay child benefits direct into bank accounts.
Summer holiday provision
“There is every indication that the exceptional financial pressures on families, particularly those in receipt of FSM, will continue beyond the summer. We would ask the Government to extend the temporary provision of FSM entitlements over the schools’ summer break for this year, including for all households with no recourse to public funds. While this is principally a matter for the Secretary of State for Education, we believe it is important that the economic and social insights in your Department are clearly brought to bear in decision-making.”
Dr Philip McCarthy, Chief Executive Officer, Caritas Social Action Network
Bernadette Fisher, Director, Brentwood Catholic Children’s Society
George O’Neill, Chief Executive, Cardinal Hume Centre
Kevin Gallagher, Director, Caritas Diocese of Portsmouth
Mark Wiggin, Director, Caritas Diocese of Salford
Trish Spencer, Acting Chief Executive Officer, Caritas Diocese of Shrewsbury
John Coleby, Director, Caritas Westminster
Carol Hill, Director, Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds)
Dr Rosemary Keenan, Chief Executive Officer, Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster)
Picture credit: Ricky Willis, the Skint Dad Blog