Covid winter grants made available as half of Hackney children found to live in poverty

Over autumn half term, volunteers gave out free packed lunches to children in Hackney’s London Fields. Pic: Yui Mok

A £1.1m “winter grant” will be made available to vulnerable families, Hackney Council has announced.

First to benefit from the scheme will be 2,000 children under five identified by Hackney child centres, and 12,000 children on the council’s free school meal register, who are set to receive food vouchers worth up to £45.

The grant was announced in the face of bleak figures, as councillor Caroline Woodley revealed at a council meeting last night that 48 per cent of Hackney’s children live in poverty. Thirty-five per cent claim free school meals, a three per cent increase from pre-pandemic rates.

While the council hopes that the grant – most of which is reserved specifically to help with costs of food and utilities – will help offset the financial effects of Covid, parents’ reluctance to ask for help raises questions about the grant’s efficiency.

“I think there is a substantial group of pupils who are entitled to free school meals but are not claiming them,” said Richard Brown, the head teacher of Urswick School – which has the most disadvantaged pupils of any London school according to the Department of Education – at the meeting.

Brown said that he is worried that families will not claim the financial help made available to them out of shame.

Woodley agreed that “maintaining dignity” has been a priority in other support schemes run by the council, admitting that previously she too struggled to ask for help as lone parent. She added that the council will run promotional campaigns in order to reach children who have previously been reluctant to claim free school meals.

The reminder of the grant will be used to fund a fuel voucher scheme, open to direct referrals, which the council hopes will open before Christmas. Any unspent money will then be directed into community project and towards support of free school meal claimants over the Easter holiday.

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