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A renewed action plan to support families struggling with living costs has been tabled at the first Cabinet meeting of Swindon Borough Council’s new administration on 12 July.

Targeted action to help residents pay for food, fuel and other living expenses is a key priority of the new administration, linked to one its three long-term missions to combat inequality.

The updated action plan sets out how the Council will continue to work with local partners and charities to support those residents most in need.

It would see food and energy vouchers distributed to thousands of Swindon families as part of £3 million worth of support measures administered by the Council in 2023/24, funded through the Government’s Household Support Fund.

Up to 7,000 local children will benefit from free meals and healthy activities provided during the schools holidays. The plan also allocates around £65,000 in grants to local charities to help with food provision, including £12,000 for the Swindon Food Collective which currently supports around 11,000 residents each month to access free food and toiletries.

Funding will also pay for the provision of more slow cookers and health grills to struggling families, together with lessons on how to use them to make healthy, cost-efficient meals. The Council also will to continue to provide an Emergency Assistance Fund to provide lifeline support to residents.

The plan would extend to all year round the availability of over 38 community ‘Welcome Spaces’ across Swindon, to provide shade and protection in hot weather as well as refuge from the cold in winter. Many will also offer activities to help combat social isolation and loneliness.

Citizen Advice Swindon, which receives grant funding from the Council, is a key partner in the delivery of the action plan. Its established team of Financial First Aiders has so far helped 190 Swindon residents to increase their income by accessing unclaimed benefits or grants totalling £439,234 – worth on average £2,311 per person.

A renewed Council-led cost of living campaign will ensure residents are kept up to date with the latest information on the local and national help and support available, maintaining a dedicated section of the Council’s website where residents can check 20 things to support with the cost of living: www.swindon.gov.uk/costofliving

Councillor Jim Grant, the Cabinet Member for Communities and Joint working, said: “At the recent Cost of Living Roadshow events, I heard first-hand how residents continue to struggle to make ends meet. Inflation remains very high and food prices have risen at the fastest rate for several decades. The stark reality is over 11,000 residents rely on food bank supplies each month.

“It’s a Council priority to support those residents most in need and this renewed action plan sets out the practical, targeted actions to help them. This will see over 7,000 local children offered a place on a programme where they’ll benefit from free healthy activities and meals during the school holidays, and thousands of Swindon households receive food and energy vouchers. I’d urge residents to check the Council’s website to see if you are missing out on any of the financial assistance and other support measures available.

“Longer term the Council has set out a priority mission to tackle the root causes of inequality that have left too many households exposed by this cost of living crisis.”

Claire Newport, the Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Swindon, said: “’The cost-of-living crisis is still here and it’s not going away. At Citizens Advice Swindon we helped 20% per cent more people in January to May 2023 than in the same period of any other year on record. The crisis has been broadening out to hit new cohorts of people who would have otherwise never needed our support including people who are in employment.

“Our Advice and Financial First Aid project funded by SBC has allowed us to reach many more people who need support with benefits, budgeting and energy issues. We want to encourage people to get in touch if they are struggling, there is help available. Even if you are receiving your full benefit entitlement, we can often help people access support including grants, social tariffs and energy vouchers.

“We want to encourage people to get in touch if they want to train as a volunteer adviser and help us reach more people as demand continues to rise.”

Cher Smith MBE, from the Swindon Food Collective, said: “The impact of the cost of living crisis has meant that more people who are working are now seeking help from the food bank. Through our 11 distribution centres, we’ve given out over 122,000 kilos of food, toiletries and household products to help those who are finding the current financial crisis difficult in the last year. We’re currently receiving one ton of food less per month than we did this time last year.

“We need tins of meat, fruit, puddings, vegetables and soup along with jars of pasta sauce, packets of sugar and toiletries such as shampoo and conditioner, sanitary wear, deodorant, plus household items such as laundry pods and washing up liquid.”