The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) may as well be trolling millions of hungry children. Because two days before Christmas, it sent a effective ‘fuck you’ to all of them.
The Covid Winter Grant Scheme and the DWP
The Covid Winter Grant is a scheme for low-income households. The DWP’s Twitter account is currently promoting it:
☂️ The Covid Winter Grant Scheme is ensuring children are warm and well fed this winter.
— DWP (@DWP) December 23, 2020
Back in November, the government noted that:
Building on the significant support given to the most vulnerable during the pandemic, a new £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme will be run by councils in England.
The funding will be ring-fenced, with at least 80% earmarked to support with food and bills, and will cover the period to the end of March 2021.
The Guardian reported that the Tories put it in place after a campaign by Marcus Rashford.
Bowing to pressure?
The footballer had been speaking out about the lack of government support for children on Free School Meals during the holidays. But his campaign was broader than this. It was ultimately calling for measures to end child food poverty altogether. Following the government’s announcement on the Covid Winter Grant scheme, Rashford said:
I very much welcome the steps that have been taken to combat child food poverty in the UK
But he noted that:
There is still so much more to do, and my immediate concern is the approximate 1.7 million children who miss out on free school meals, holiday provision and Healthy Start vouchers because their family income isn’t quite low enough. But the intent the government have shown today is nothing but positive and they should be recognised for that.
Sadly, the reality of the Winter Grant isn’t quite what is now being trumpeted by the DWP.
Back in the real world
I live in Bromley, London. I know that the Winter Grant’s value is £45 in our borough. This is being explained to families via their child’s school. The grant will cover Christmas and the February half term only:
Hmm. As I tweeted:
£45 to cover both Christmas holidays and February half term, with some schools being closed for the week commencing 4th January?
That's £2.14 a day per relative school days; including days when a kid wouldn't be at school this is £1.55 a day.
Do people live in the real world? https://t.co/p786HlFObt
— Steve Topple (@MrTopple) December 23, 2020
£1.55 a day is just based on the school holidays for our son’s school, plus weekends at Christmas and in February. If, like the DWP said, you were to spread it out from December 2020 to the end of March 2021 it would be 37p a day.
I’m not sure what planet the DWP and the Tory government live on. But even with my high-end calculation of £2.14 a day, in the real world this doesn’t stretch very far.
Reality check one
Take my pre-payment meter-based gas and electric. The combined cost of these per day is around £2.20. And that’s with us limiting our use of the gas (I’m currently sat writing this in multiple layers of clothing). So, if like the DWP says I can use the Winter Grant to ‘ensure’ my child is “warm” – clearly it depends on your definition of this. At best, £2.14 wouldn’t cover my utilities for a day. Extra layers of clothes it is, then.
What about the DWP’s claim the grant is to keep my child “well fed”?
Our son is 14 years old. He’s nearly 5′ 11″, wears an adult size medium – although to be fair he is slim. Oh, and he eats as much as I do. So, based on averages – his food costs would be around £5.41 a day. Crudely divide that across three meals, and that’s £1.80 per meal. So, the DWP’s generous £2.14 would cover the lunch he would get at school if he was on Free School Meals. That would leave us 34p a day for utilities. In other words, about 3.7 hours worth of gas and electric.
Reality check two
So, thanks to the DWP I can either give my son:
- Nearly a full day of gas and electric.
- One meal and maybe a bag of crisps.
- One meal and 3.7 hours of gas and electric.
This is best case scenario. At worst, my bottom end calculation of 37p a day would go unnoticed in most families’ budgets. Moreover, schools give it to you in the form of a supermarket voucher. Technically, you should probably divide the voucher up between the equivalent number of shops you’ll do while your child is off school. In reality, most people will use it on one shop and that’s it. People don’t have the time to be budgeting to that level of detail.
Herein lie the problems with the Covid Winter Grant Scheme.
Money for bombs but not for hungry kids
Firstly, it would be easy to think that it’s designed by people who don’t live in the real world; those whose intentions are well-meaning, but don’t really have a clue. I don’t think this is the case.
What we’re seeing with the Covid Grant, as we’ve seen with (for example) the £20 a week increase in Universal Credit, is political spin. The DWP announced that it was spending £170m “to support children, families and the most vulnerable over winter”. To many people, £170m would sound like a lot of money. But in terms of government spending, it’s tiny; 0.09% of the DWP’s total spending on pensions and welfare in 2019/20, for example. Or to put it another way, 0.7% of the increase in the defence budget over the next four years. So, as always – we’ve got the money to pay for bombs and technology capable of killing people. But we can only afford a fraction of that to support millions of hungry children in the UK.
£45 is nothing to many families in the real world. We should stop accepting the meagre scraps off the Tory government’s plate, and start demanding proper wages, proper social security, proper housing, and ultimately a right to a fair and decent life for all. Because all it’s offering is lip service.
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