STRUGGLING families on the cusp of being plunged into poverty will be given vital financial help this Christmas due to record numbers of people in the borough suffering hardship as a result of this year’s pandemic, leaders have revealed.

Barnsley Council is launching its Covid-19 winter grant scheme using almost £1m of funding provided by the government, boosted by a further £300,000 of the local authority’s cash.

The scheme will provide support to vulnerable households across the borough over the winter months, focusing on households with children who are eligible for free school meals, including those in pre-school.

Families will receive a £15 voucher for each child for each week of the Christmas and February half-term holidays, while a one-off payment of £80 will be given to put towards fuel and energy costs for 6,500 households.

According to the government, the ‘essential’ scheme will allow councils to directly help the hardest-hit families and individuals, as well as provide food for children who need it over the holidays.

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Ministers say local councils are best placed to ensure appropriate holiday support is provided - which is why they will distribute the funds, rather than schools, who will continue providing meals for disadvantaged children during term-time.

Council leader Sir Steve Houghton told the Chronicle: “The pandemic has hit families in our borough hard and caused a lot of financial hardship in the past nine months - we know the worst-hit are the ones who were struggling long before the pandemic arrived in March.

“We welcome the government’s support, but we felt it was right to increase the amount available to our residents because we’re all in this together.

“Individuals, businesses, families and the council have all been affected - nobody’s escaped the knock-on impacts of coronavirus and what it’s done to communities.

“Being in tier three, followed by another national lockdown, and now returning to our previous restrictions has made it more difficult for people to support their families.

“This will help approximately 11,000 children and 6,500 households in Barnsley during this continued difficult time and supplement the ongoing work of our emergency financial hardship funding, which remains available for our residents.”

Almost 5,000 hungry people have been fed by the Barnsley Foodbank Partnership in 2020 according to shock figures - including 1,843 children - with a quarter of those being handed vital supplies during the two spells of lockdown.

Sir Steve added: “I want to thank residents for their efforts so far and I appreciate it has been challenging, but we need to pull together and double our efforts to get us through this pandemic.”